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Ice Polar Bear in London's Trafalgar Square
By Sarah Jones
BBC Wiltshire

A full-size Ice Bear
How the full-size Ice Bear might look on Trafalgar Square

In amongst the broad beans and vegetable samosas, in a freezer in North London, are the latest creations of Wiltshire sculptor Mark Coreth.

Coreth isn't known for doing things by halves.

Back in 2007 he got his chainsaw around a mountain of polystyrene blocks to create a jumbo-sized (literally) African bull elephant in his garden.

Two years on and he's got another supersized project on the go, a life-sized ice bear on Trafalgar Square.

Few sculptors can boast a massive three-ton white African bull elephant, in their back garden, let alone two 12 foot long hunting polar bears in the freezer.

Polar bear skeletons in the freezer

But as of last month, Mark Coreth can when his latest creations - two Arctic bear bronze skeletons - went on ice in an industrial-sized freezer somewhere in North London.

Mark Coreth in his studio in Tisbury
Mark Coreth is planning to sculpt a life-sized polar bear

It's the extreme sculptor's latest project that will see Trafalgar Square's Northern Terrace playing host to a prowling ice bear in the run-up to Christmas:

"What in fact I'm doing," says Mark, "is to combine bronze and ice in a piece that I hope is going to be incredibly powerful.

"I'm going to carve the polar bear in ice. It will essentially be an ice bear and as the ice melts it will reveal a skeleton, a pool of water and a very powerful message."

It was back in 2007 that Mark made his first trip to the Arctic and witnessed first-hand the receding sea ice and the effects of global warming on the Arctic's polar bears. It was then that he decided to bring the Arctic to the world:

"I was sitting on the sea ice with this enormous and beautiful iceberg that had been born thousands of years back. And lo and behold along comes a daft little sculptor from Tisbury, with an ice axe, who starts to chip a polar bear out of it.

"That's when I thought 'wow' this is incredibly exciting. A little bit like graffiti a little bit naughty but very sculpturally pleasing."

With the idea of a life-size polar bear sculpture, hewn out of a block of white ice, Mark approached an ice sculpting firm in Wimbledon to get to grips with the techniques of ice sculpting.

But learning to get a chisel around a giant ice cube has been the least of his problems. And in fact creating a giant ice cube, big enough to chisel a polar bear out of, has been far from straight forward:

"Although it's taking six weeks to freeze, it's relatively quick frozen," says Mark.

"But the ice doesn't just freeze beautifully from inside outwards. So unless you keep that water moving, breaking it up and topping it up slowly you'll actually end up with a huge box of ice water."

Chainsaw massacre on Trafalgar Square

But leaking tanks and runny ice aside, the ice bears are now safely on ice in an enormous industrial warehouse freezer amongst, as Mark puts it, millions of broad beans, prawns and an unbelievable number of boxes of vegetable samosas.

With one ice bear destined for the World Wildlife Fund's Big Tent exhibition in Copenhagen, on 5 December, and the other for the North Terrace of Trafalgar Square on Friday 11 December, Mark has his work cut out for him. Especially when he's being restricted, by Westminster, with what he uses to cut his work:

One of Mark's many polar bear sculptures
This will be the first time that Mark has sculpted in ice

"To some extent the initial carve will be done with a chain saw but apparently," admits Mark, "Westminster is a little windy of me having a chainsaw massacre on Trafalgar Square.

"So I think I'm restricted to my chisel."

Armed with just his simple long-handled ice chisel, albeit with a blade sharp enough to shave with, Mark will be whittling a 12 foot long and 6 foot high striding 'big beastie' not only in front of the National gallery but in front of a crowd as well:

"I'm going to have a crack at doing it as fast as I possibly can," says Mark. "I'm hoping within the day but I do work quite fast. It will be a whole day of sculpting in a slightly theatrical way.

"It's actually visually beautiful because you've got this very sharp ice chisel and sort of slicing through it and particles of ice flying everywhere and as you carve another bit away you're revealing this bear."

Sculpting in underpants

But with the cost of freezing giant polar bear sized blocks of ice making test runs out of the question, it's not only going to be, as Mark puts, a little bit of belt and braces but hard graft as well:

"On the square at 7am," says Mark, "and as far as I'm aware the press invading come midday. So there's a pretty major time limit.

An ice bear
The ice bear is going to be 12 feet long and the best part of 6 feet high

"And it is a high energy form of work and I think you may well find me stripped down to my underpants but I promise to go no further."

With planning permission for the polar bear skeleton to remain on the square for just 10 days, and no idea of how long it will take for the ice bear to melt, Mark is keen to re-incarnate his ice bear in squares around the world:

"I'm hoping to send the skeleton to different cities around the world," says Mark, "where we'll go through the same process.

"Imagine if we can get a bear in Red Square, a bear in Tiananmen Square and to finish off at the Olympics in London would be, I think, very poignant."

If you want to see Mark Coreth in action, head down to Trafalgar Square from 7am onwards on Friday 11 December. Or if you'd like to get your hands on the ice bear, and Mark is keen to get thousands of people touching it, then the ice bear or ice bear skeleton will be on the Northern Terrace for a further 10 days.



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