Laura Gascoigne: Do You Want Ice With That? – May 2017

Kitty Kraus – Untitled

Ever since Anya Gallaccio made her name by exhibiting an ice block called Intensities and Surfaces in an East London pumping station in 1996, I’ve been monitoring the advance of ice through the contemporary art world, where it seems resistant to climate trends prevailing elsewhere. While the polar ice caps recede, the phenomenon of ice art only grows.

I wouldn’t mind if a) against the artists’ professed intentions, this didn’t actually contribute to global warming, and b) the ice wasn’t usually engaged in lecturing its audience in an uncool way. I remember grumbling at the time of Gallaccio’s exhibition that if I was going to hear from an ice cube, I’d rather it addressed me from a gin and tonic. Little did I suspect that over the next two decades I’d be on the receiving end of a chorus of sermons from ice cubes, not one of them accompanied by so much as a zest of lemon.

The big attraction of ice to conceptual artists is that the medium is the message, and the message is obvious. Conceptual art simply adores the obvious, and so it has taken ice to its bosom where, as with climate change, a cool start has been followed by accelerated warming. Here is an easy-reference 20-year calendar to prove it.

1997 – Francis Alÿs pushes an enormous ice block through Mexico City until it shrinks to a cube, then instead of popping it into a Tequila Ponche, like any normal hot and thirsty Mexican, he christens it Paradox Praxis and declares it “an allegory about failed modernisation strategies in the region”. Que?

2009 – Andy Goldsworthy cuts a circle of ice in a frozen river with a rope compass and lets it float away. “The circle was locked and then, suddenly, it was joyously made free to move

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