Julia Adzuki

Posted: 10 Jul 2004  |  By: Annemarie Lopez

Julia Adzuki has just skied across a kilometre of frozen river. It is the best way home after a day experimenting on her new designs for the world famous Ice Hotel in Swedish Lapland. Literally carved and moulded from snow and ice, the hotel began as a painting exhibition in an igloo. Now in its 14th season, it employs 35 artists from around the world to design and build hotel suites accommodating 15, 000 guests each year. It has also become renowned as 'the' place for artists to hone their skills in ice and snow building.

A strawberry blonde, Adzuki says she has always had an affinity with cold places. Home in Australia is Hobart's snow-capped Mt. Wellington and she finds the emotional landscape of Lapland very inspiring. "There is a seamlessness about this place. Your feelings glide across it. When the snow melts it becomes harsher."

Wind: Fall from the "Body:Weather:Movement" series

In her recent work for the 2003/4 hotel season "Body: Weather: Movement", she explored the idea of weathering ice with bodily motion and gestures. One hotel suite involved 7 tonnes of ice and two metre thick walls carved with a chainsaw, chisel and rasp. "Ice is in constant transition," says Adzuki. "Even the nearness of bodily warmth over time will alter it." She moves with the material and allows it to move her. "Sometimes this means literally dancing with my chainsaw!" Adzuki also loves to draw on the river while ice skating and describes all of her work as "body relative".

While many artists create works with posterity in mind, Adzuki loves the mutable, ephemeral quality of her material. There were still guests sleeping in the hotel in April, but by mid-July her work will have melted and found its way back into the Torne River.

When she is not carving ice, she is designing and sewing seal skin clothing. Fur has a bad name in the west, but in the sub zero temperatures of the arctic regions, the food and fur of seals and reindeers has been, and in many cases still is, the means of survival for Inuit and Sami communities. Adzuki recently returned from Greenland where she sculpted interiors for a small igloo village in Kangerlussuaq and sewed seal skin for the Great Greenland fur house in Qaqortoq. "I was apprentice to a sewing room of beautiful Greenlandic women who taught me about the traditions of their culture, Inuit language, sewing seal skins, and the benefits of eating whale fat."

The idea of preserving craft traditions through contemporary art is central to Adzuki. Early sculptures were inspired by her grandfather, a jeweller, and a great aunt who made lace. She doesn't make a distinction between these traditional crafts and her own art practice. She seeks to preserve the techniques while keeping them relevant. When in Tasmania she works for the Resource Work Cooperative, rescuing items from the South Hobart Landfill. It is the perfect source of materials for her artworks and gels nicely with her desire to revive and translate the past.

Paradoxically this artist with a taste for preservation also loves to work with ice. "The ice work comes from another place in which I am free from the weight of history," she explains in a soft, thoughtful voice. "It's a momentary experience, like dance. In a way it's a relief."

Image: Wind: Fall from the "Body:Weather:Movement" series, Julia Adzuki, 2003, winner of Norwegian Ice Sculpting Championships, Målsalv.

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Issue 38