[February 19 2016]
Last weekend I stopped by Ellie Rines’ new gallery space 56 HENRY deep in Chinatown, New York to check out Wade Oates’ latest project “MONO NO AWARE,” an ice sculpture in the form of a resting hermaphrodite. Commissioned in Queens to a commercial ice-sculpting company, the piece sits upon a wooden plinth and melts into an ice cooler below. Similar to the epicene Roman marble sculpture Sleeping Hermaphroditos on view at the Louvre, the bottom half of the figure is hidden beneath a swathe of blankets, leaving its gender indeterminate.
Paige Silveria — How was the work created? Did you just call up the ice-sculpting company and say, “This is the shape that I want”?
Wade Oates — No. It took a long time. There are companies that do it for events and corporate retreats and stuff. They just recently did some gigantic bear for a hotel. So traditionally, they don’t make them for art, you know? But sculpture is sculpture.
Paige Silveria — So you showed them a picture and described it?
Wade Oates — I made a small model. There are a lot of limitations with ice. You have to cut it with a chainsaw and you lose a lot of detail in ice quickly because it melts.
Paige Silveria — How did you find the company that you used?
Wade Oates — For some reason there are like six guys in Queens. I went with my friend Victor and we both asked every possible question. At a certain point one of the assistants turned to us and said, “Are you guys trying to start a rival business?” Apparently that is a big concern in the ice sculpting industry. Rivals will come and steal all of your techniques because they’re more commercial than traditional. So if someone can come up with a new technique on how to cut and sculpt the ice, someone else will steal it. You don’t really take classes. It’s a thing that’s passed between ice carvers.
Paige Silveria — An apprenticeship.
Wade Oates — Yeah.
Ellie Rines — You wonder how much they’re threatened by 3-D printing.
Wade Oates —Well it’s hard to cut ice with a computer. While other things are carved by computers, ice is still pretty much cut by hand.
Paige Silveria — You’d have to 3-D print a mold to pour the water into?
Wade Oates — That’s another thing: you can’t mold ice. Ice needs to be frozen clear and that takes a special technique of freezing from bottom up. So you wouldn’t be able to do a mold, because then it would be cloudy on the inside. It has to be carved.
Ellie Rines —This is another trove of Wade knowledge.
Wade Oates — Yeah, let’s just say that I finish every bag of potato chips. I eat all of the crumbs and that applies to everything.
Paige Silveria — So why a hermaphrodite?
Wade Oates — Well the idea came from this puppet I was making. It was a man and a woman puppet and in order to make the man puppet talk, you had the make the woman puppet shrug. It was kind of a joke. Through sketching that, the idea became a bit deeper; it was less of a punch line. I was also working on this separate project about mermaids–how a mermaid is defined by its upper half. Because you know, they can’t be defined by their genitals, which is what traditionally defines the gender of animals. And today, it’s kind of a topic. And then I was thinking about the hermaphroditic sculpture, Sleeping Hermaphrodite at the Louvre; it’s still very womanly. It’s defined by its lower parts, but they’re hidden in the sculpture. So I was thinking about having to show a little bit of a definition that isn’t sexual. It’s just humankind — unidentifiable —that’s what the hermaphrodite is to me.
Paige Silveria — Focusing on the humanity regardless of gender.
Wade Oates — It’s making a visual rendition of something that may be hard to describe. When you do drawing all day, you find strange things.
Paige Silveria — What materials do you like to use?
Wade Oates — Right now I haven’t found any that last for a very long time. I don’t know if it was going to work, but I was working on a shoe horn made of butter. But I can’t figure out how to display it. Because it can’t float, you know? It has to lean on something. That’s a big problem with sculpture; it always has to be sitting or leaning something. I was trying to do stuff under water, but that’s really hard.
Paige Silveria — What do you mean by that?
Wade Oates — Just things that float. I was working with fish tanks and I had this thing where there was a hole in the bottom. And there was a floating mouth guard. It was sort of a performance piece. You were supposed to take the plug out with your teeth so the water can escape. You’re voluntarily going into a system that drowns you and you’re escaping it by opening up the valve. It ended up being this strange torture game that you solve yourself. It’s not really there yet.
Paige Silveria — This is what you do with your time?
Wade Oates —No, not really. It doesn’t take up that much time. I just have a lot of ideas that progress. This ice sculpture started as a photo series that looked nothing like it at all. I tend to just draw stuff out and get a better visual. Sometimes the initial drawings end up being better than the idea they evolve into.
Paige Silveria — Then you go back to the drawing board.
Wade Oates — Yeah. If you write down an idea, it sounds different than it did in your head. And if you draw it, it’s like ten times weirder than when you write it down. Because there’s limitations in drawing. I’m not that good at drawing, which is kind of a help in a way.
Paige Silveria — It drives you to be creative.
Wade Oates — Yeah and it changes scale, which is cool. When you don’t have a mastery of scale, it can be a lot of fun. It’s a thing with musicians as well. A lot of classically trained musicians would kill to be stupid about music because you can look at a piano or guitar as a series of shapes in a row instead of seeing the language or alphabet. It helps.
Text and photo Paige Silveria