“Nothing beside remains…” – Percy Shelley, Ozymandias,1818
In this immaterial age, the medium of ice seems like the perfect material for sculpting the impact of seemingly invisible, yet strongly felt forces at the beginning of the 21st century. The artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese, who collaborate as LigoranoReese, embrace this idea creating ice sculptures, which they call “temporary monuments.”
The impact of politics cannot be divorced from culture or art any more than the impact of art or culture can be divorced from politics. Ligorano and Reese develop artworks to further public discourse about civic and socio-political issues — inviting the viewer to participate in their work. Their installations provoke conversation, engaging the public to question the world in which they live.
Ligorano Reese install site-specific sculptures carved in ice on location during national events in the United States imbuing the sculptures with the political theater of the moment. In 2008, they unveiled large ice sculptures of the word Democracy at the political conventions in Denver and St. Paul. On the 79th anniversary of the Great Depression, they erected an ice sculpture of the word Economy in front of the New York State Supreme Court in Foley Square. And in 2012 they installed the word Middle Class at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in Tampa and Charlotte, respectively.
Creating installations based on ice sculptures seems like a simple process; truck the ice in, set it up, watch it melt away. In actuality, the preparations are detailed and extremely complex. When created for a specific event, the installations take on a monumental quality functioning as a commemorative monument, though with a despondent sense of despair as they disappear and vanish into thin air.
In the hands of LigoranoReese, ice sculptures become expansive, conceptual structures that change over time, acting as physical and virtual stages for public interaction. The familiarity and materiality of ice creates an accessible space for the viewer to engage. People easily approach the sculptures. They touch them with their hands, seeming to sense the bodily shift from solid to liquid, as if the sculptures themselves were succumbing to a fever’s heat.
There’s the knowledge that the strong, beautifully frozen presence viewers are witnessing is also an elusive and fragile one; within hours, the sculptures totally disappear. Virtually, LigoranoReese use the Internet as a secondary stage for public input and interaction streaming the event live. The artists record the lifecycle of the sculpture, expanding it into a documentary: viewers are videotaped, their comments recorded, and featured in short video segments on the project’s website.
Deteriorating and melting to bits, these temporary monuments are not meant, sadly, to advertise permanence. In 2008, after eight years of the Bush Administration, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, and the War on Terror, the prospects for democracy were hardly positive— thus the perfect time for a Democracy ice sculpture to disappear. That same year, as Lehman Brothers teetered on the brink of insolvency, an ice sculpture of the word Economy in lower Manhattan drastically captured the moment of financial decay with crystalline clarity.
The objective of the artists is to breakdown and breakthrough accepted interpretations and responses. One may suspect that current events indicate certain political trends, but seeing hallowed values like the word Democracy or The Future literally disappear before one’s eyes transforms those suspicions into tangible belief.
Taken as a whole, these monuments are perfect markers for the opening decades of the 21st century, not just in America but around the world – first, democracy is broken, then the economy is ruined, the middle class is disappearing and the future may have already evaporated.