Tiny frozen figures coming to melt on college steps

MIDDLEBURY — Brazilian sculptor Néle Azevedo doesn’t want people to just view her art, she wants them to get involved. She brings her participatory brand of artmaking to Middlebury on Tuesday, Oct. 23, with the installation of as many as 500 little frozen ice men and women on the steps in front of Davis Library on the Middlebury College campus.
A group of students will join Azevedo and her assistants at around 4:30 p.m. in setting up the 21-cm-tall figures in an installation called “Minimum Monument.” Audience members will be allowed to join in and participate in the installation since it is meant to be a community intervention into public space, explained Cláudio Medeiros, an associate professor of theater who invited Azevedo to Middlebury.
“It’s a community event,” Medeiros said. “Whoever is there when Néle arrives will help. And whoever shows up anytime after that is encouraged to participate.
There are two types of figurines — a male and a female — and they are sculpted in a seated position.
After the figures are set up they will, of course, melt — it is a visual metaphor for climate change. Further, this piece, which has been displayed at many locations around the world, challenges the traditional meaning of the public monument by replacing the single large, stone statue of a hero that often rises in front of prodigious public buildings with many tiny representations of common people — anonymous and ephemeral.
“The idea is to take over the steps of an important building,” Medeiros said. “Monuments often come with buildings connoting power. Monuments imply heroes and hierarchy. They often come with steps leading to a higher status.”
After the installation is complete, Azevedo will give a talk about the work, with a question-and-answer period, beginning at 6 p.m. at the nearby Warner Hemicycle lecture hall.
The little ice sculptures usually melt in 60-90 minutes.
“The weather Gods will determine that,” Medeiros said.
While thought provoking, this art piece also depends on the involvement of viewers.
In fact Azevedo has already managed to get a lot of community involvement in the sculpture. Late last week she gathered a Burlington artist, some UVM students, a Middlebury professor and others to help create the 21 cm-high statuettes by pouring water into molds, freezing them, then to use small saw blades to remove the rough edges from the frozen people.
“Imagine a production line where timing is meticulously calculated because space in the freezers is precious.  The molds occupy more space and need a good 24 hours to yield solid statuettes,” Medeiros said. Finishing the pieces involved “cutting and scraping, until all that remained was the human form, sometimes male, sometimes female. Occasionally a figurine snapped in half in our hands and we had to start all over.  It was a labor of love and conviction.”
The crews planned to make 1,500 little female and male sculptures — 1,000 were to be used in an installation at UVM on Saturday, and 500 are bound for Middlebury. Medeiros was uneasy about getting the tiny frozen people to Middlebury safe and sound.
“We will unplug those freezers right before putting them onto a truck and bringing them down. We will have to secure the freezers super carefully and drive slowly to avoid bumps,” he said. “We can’t afford to break the sculptures. I am actually very nervous about the journey of those freezers back to Middlebury.”
And then the setting up and photographing and thinking and talking will begin. Organizers were very hopeful they could get many people to this art happening.
“I am hoping for a big showing of folks not necessarily associated with the campus,” Medeiros said.

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