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Fire&Ice: all things hot and cool at the National Portrait Gallery

Wendy Johnson

It was a magic day. A clear blue sky. Oodles of sun and the Fire&Ice Winter Festival at the National Portrait Gallery on Sunday. The sharp contrast between fire and ice fascinated those who participated in the free activities scattered throughout the day, with something for all ages.

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Glenn Smith carves a bust of Sir Douglas Mawson from a large block of ice. Photography by Martin Ollman.

Visitors were mesmerised by Down Under Ice Designs’ professional ice sculpting, with Glenn Smith carving a large piece onsite of Antarctic explorer and academic Sir Douglas Mawson. Over a few hours he brought the solid piece of ice to life but that’s no surprise given that Glenn has been ice sculpting professionally since 1983 and has represented Australia in international competitions all over the world, including no fewer than nine times in Japan.

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Children interact with Victoria Lee's yarn art installation. Photography by Martin Ollman.

Creativity reigned in the Winter Wonderland activity space, with kids busy, busy, busy making snowflakes (no two alike!) and snowmen. On a grander and more serious level, visual artist Victoria Lees transformed Gordon Darling Hall with a giant sculptural installation of white yarn. It was a participatory installation with visitors offering ideas on how Victoria should ultimately form her major piece of art, which seemed to stretch for miles.

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Fire Twirling in the National Portrait Gallery's Forecourt. Photography by Martin Ollman.

Live performances included short sessions of fire twirling and a show by the highly entertaining and funny Etcetera Duo (Russell Garbutt and Julia Cotton) who put on ‘Winter Canto’, a magic, mime and illusion show that captivated adults and young ones.

Throughout the day visitors wandered at their leisure through the National Portrait Gallery’s impressive collections, pulled together to increase the understanding and appreciation of the Australian people – their identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity – through portraiture.

Visitors also watched three independent, local designers – who launched collections at Fashfest 2014 – create innovative garments out of unconventional material that were ultimately worn by two Ice Queens and one Fire Queen.

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MAAK's Fire Queen and Corr Blimey's Ice Queen. Photography by Martin Ollman.

Young emerging fashion designer, and owner of Canberra’s MAAK clothing, Charnè Esterhuizen, chose to create a Fire Queen. She started by asking “What is fire and how can I visually represent its strong and powerful characters? And finally decided that an historical armour look was the best approach.

Charnè spent a week betting ready for Fire&Ice. She cut thin metal into pieces resembling scales on a fish, and then spray painted them copper. She took the tops off dozens of white plastic forks and painted them black.  Charnè then layered and secured the metal and forks onto a basic foundation garment to form the jacket of armour for the Fire Queen. She made the skirt out of paper donated from her local newsagency, which she spray painted in golds and pinks. The end result was intense, dramatic and intriguing.

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MAAK's Fire Queen. Photography by Martin Ollman.

Designer Louisa de Smet of Corr Blimey created a frosty and slightly wicked look for her Ice Queen, using a bright white synthetic material made of high-density polyethylene fibres (Tyvek). She made soft sculptural snow mounds which looked like they had been truly been shaped by nature’s raw elements. She attached these to her foundation garment and mixed in pieces of Artic Blue cellophane, adding LED lighting underneath for an additional special effect. It was an ice spirit entity through and through.

The ever playful Mitch Thompson from Perpetually Five worked with origami (traditional Japanese paper folding technique), tying 200 clear polypropylene sheets together with 100 white cable ties. In exploiting stationery and hardware, Mitch created an ice robot look.

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Emma Dobbie as Perpetually Five's Ice Queen. Photography by Martin Ollman.

The outfits were then worn by three Haus Models who had spent a couple of hours having their hair transformed (by Chad Wijayatilake) and makeup applied by Suzzane Warden who used an airbrushing technique to create a dreamy snowy effect. The show was directed by Steven Wright with logistics support by Nick Ellis, both who work for Haus Models and Fashfest.

Fire&Ice is the type of event Canberra is becoming so well-known for. It’s exciting to see a true collaboration of creatives pulling together amazing and unique experiences that warm the heart and take the chill out of winter.

Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, a few decades ago. She’s been living in Australia since 1995, having fallen in love with eucalypt trees and kangaroos. Wendy is passionate about Canberra and all the nation’s capital has to offer. She loves to write (about everything and anything) and owns her own pr and advertising business.

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