A tearful meeting of ice and magnetite

The pure, crystalline and transitory ice meets the heavy, black and permanent magnetite. Slowly, the moulds melt away, revealing two figures: a man and a woman. Watching the process, seeing how tears seem to flow from the eyes and stream down the faces, is magical. Is it from the pain of being freed? Or is it the joy of finally meeting each other? Behind this remarkable encounter of ice and magnetite are Sofi Ruotsalainen, designer and artist, and designer Mikael “Nille” Nilsson. Both have worked as sculptors at Icehotel for 10 years, and sculpted ice installations and ice art in various bars throughout the world as well as at Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi.

How and when did you start collaborating?
 “The artwork at Icehotel is a collaborative effort. We discuss ideas and help each other to find solutions to different problems. Nille and I have been working together for about a year and a half. The first time was during the 2007/2008 season, when we built several suites together.
Nille elaborates: “Artistic collaboration at Icehotel sometimes has to do with whether a certain design will work or not, depending on the material characteristics. Here, experienced ice sculptors cooperate with artists who are encountering the material for the first time. This is a young art form that is constantly developing.”

What is it like to work as an ice artist at Icehotel?
“Oh, it’s a real perk,” exclaims Sofi.
Nille:“It’s incredibly free, fun and enriching. This is a very special, creative environment. And there is an unlimited supply of the material – ice. I think it allows an artist to be more adventurous, to dare to venture into the unknown. And it’s very inspiring to meet other artists from all over the world.”

Tell us how the two of you collaborate, practically.
“We generate ideas together, and then I make rough sketches,” explains Sofi. “Nille is good at the technique and knows the material, and he usually knows at the conceptual stage how the project is going to turn out. When he has figured out the technical aspects, we complete the sculpture or installation together.”
This is a meeting of ice and magnetite. Explain how you came up with the idea?
Nille: “The magnetite sculptures are moulded. We were discussing moulds when the idea to use ice came up. Technically, a difficult part of the job is to get the mould to release.”
Sofi: “We realized that ice could be an alternative mould. We understood that our manual work would be visible on the sculpture and that the ice would slowly melt and reveal the magnetite.”

The melting process alone seems like an art installation in itself?
 “Yes, watching the ice melt is magical. There are two sculptures: a man and a woman. To see them chained close together in the ice and to watch them being slowly released was a powerful experience.”
Nille: “If we’d known how visually interesting it was going to be, we would have filmed it, of course. The magnetite wept inside the ice, and tears rolled down the cheeks. By the light of the Midnight Sun, it was magnificent.”

Ice and magnetite make for a strong contrast. What were your thoughts about the materials?
 “It was the first time I had worked with magnetite. I have to admit I was nervous about the permanence; knowing that this sculpture would last, if not for ever, at least for a very long time. Ice, on the other hand, gives you new chances again and again”Sofi: “Yes, that’s true. The two materials are so totally different to work with. Ice is pure and transparent; the material has an intrinsic lightness. Magnetite, on the other hand, is heavy and much denser. Working in magnetite is a hard and dirty job.”

Sofi Ruotsalainen
Age: just old enough to understand something about this great life (44).
Birthplace: Kiruna.
Home: Kiruna (a circle that may not yet be complete…)
Drive: Subaru, Lynx and a Husqvarna brushcutter.
Favourite food: pork.
Like: being happy. Forest and water make me happy.
Dislike: unresolved problems.
Read: reflections on the self, life and the world, and pulp fiction.
Look at: the inside, life and the world.
Favourite artists: William Turner, Bård Breivik and Anders Rönnlund.
Lapland: is rich in contrasts and, for me, the pulse of life.

Mikael ”Nille” Nilsson
Age: 43 and still promising.
Birthplace: Stockholm.
Home: Boden.
Drive: Volvo.
Favourite food: seasonal; right now, lots of asparagus.
Like: my children.
Dislike: myself.
Read: computer literature, self-studies in CAD / CAM. Look at the computer screen.
Favourite artists: I like Andy Goldsworthy, but I have no real favourites.
Lapland: is BIG.