Nele Azevedo: Melting Men

Small ice sculptures in the shape of humans were placed on the steps of the music hall in Gendarmenmarkt public square in Berlin on Sept. 2, The Winnipeg Sun reported.


Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo made one thousand of the ice figurines, which began melting immediately on the sun-soaked cement. Many melted within 30 minutes. The installation was hosted by the German branch of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) to draw attention to climate change.


I moused around the web a little more and found out that Azevedo has been setting up her Melting Men in various countries since 2005. It turns out she originally intended the tiny, ephemeral multiples as a critique of the role of monuments in cities.

“The installation is part of an urban intervention project, called Minimum Monument,” she explains in a December 2008 interview with the Green Muze website.

“The project is a critical reading of the monument in the contemporary cities. In a few-minute action, the official canons of the monument are inverted: in the place of the hero, the anonym; in the place of the solidity of the stone, the ephemeral process of the ice; in the place of the monument scale, the minimum scale of the perishable bodies.”


(Photos above: Tobias Schwarz )

But environmentalists around the world have been adopting Azevedo’s Melting Men as climate change art. Azevedo is going with it:

In Sao Paulo there were 300 sculptures in April 2005. Later that year, 400 ice figures melted on the L’Opera Stairs and Mairie du Novienne, in Paris. In June 2006 more than 500 melting man were placed in Braunschweig Plaza and in September there were 1000 sculptures melting in the city of Porto.

This year the intervention took place in Firenze, Italy were 1200 ice sculptures were placed in the stairs of Instituti delle Inocenti at the Piazza della Santíssima Annunziata, built by the renaissance architect Brunelleschi. As it always happens, the people who were there were invited to help build the monument, placing the ice figures.

When there are more sculptures, the bigger the impact, and it reaches a monumental scale.

It’s an interesting full circle that has happened with Azevedeo’s ice people. She started with small works to draw attention to common people (rather than heroes). Now, even if the piece does take up the kind of space that makes the piece feel monumental, the feeling of perishable bodies – and a perishable planet – captivates attention. It allows an individual-to-individual (human-to-figurine) interaction that is rare in most discussions about climate change.

a passerby examines a Melting Man in Italy, 2008 (photo Kelly Winck)
a passerby examines a Melting Man in Italy, 2008 (photo Kelly Winck)

(P.S. Many other news sources mentioned this week’s Berlin melt too, but the Winnipeg Sun’s article has a great slide show so I recommend it as tops.)

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