This Artist Uses a Chain Saw

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This Artist Uses a Chain Saw

Kim Mu-jo owns a collection of chain saws, hand drills and at least 20 knives. Over 13 years, he has suffered gashes and broken bones in his feet several times, but he shrugs off the accidents nonchalantly. They are the hazards of his job.

Mr. Kim, 39, is one of the 100 members of the Korean Ice Carving Association and one of the top ice carvers at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul.

After winning an ice carving competition at the Chosun Hotel last year, he is preparing to represent Korea in the ice carving division of the 2001 World Pastry Cup in Lyon, France.

Asian countries represented also include Singapore and Japan.

France, which won the competition last year, is barred from
entering this year.

Mr. Kim, accompanied by two teammates from bakeries here, will leave for Paris on Wednesday. This will be Mr. Kim's first trip to France, which only adds excitement to anxiety.

"I'm not sure I'll win, but I'll do my best," he says.

For the World Pastry Cup, which will run from Saturday to Monday, Mr. Kim will create an ambitious 60-centimeter-by-two-meter
sculpture of a female figure reminiscent of Botticelli's painting "The Birth of Venus." Mr. Kim says his carving will be "a vision of universal desire." He has practiced carving the sculpture at least five times.

Although Mr. Kim has a sketch prepared for the competition, he will create his masterpiece from memory.

"You have to be able to hold a three-dimensional image in your mind," he says. "You have to be able to see a figure as transparent and your hands have to be skilled." He holds up his
hands, scarred by tiny nicks.

When Mr. Kim creates an ice sculpture, he first has a mental image that is then translated into dozens of sketches. He slips on gloves,
chooses his tools and starts cutting. Most ice carvers wear protective boots in case the 150-kilogram block of ice falls on to their feet. Mr. Kim forgoes the boots, saying, "They're such a
nuisance." As a result, he has broken bones in his feet several times.

The average block of ice is 50 centimeters by 25 centimeters by one
meter. A special freezing process extracts the air, making the ice as dense as possible.

"I'm always sharpening my knives," Mr. Kim says. "But even if they're too dull to cut into ice, they can slice into the skin."
If he makes a mistake while carving, he can still usually salvage the sculpture. But he recalls several instances where his designs were ruined. Once, after completing a sculpture, he dropped it.

"I ran back and made another one as quickly as possible," he says.
Ice carving is based on an apprentice system.

Mr. Kim learned on the job quickly, due to his extensive experience as a wood carver. He has since taught 30 apprentices aged 20 to
30. For half these people, ice carving is a hobby. The rest either make a living from ice carving, or give up.

Even though ice sculptures maintain their first shape only briefly, Mr. Kim finds beauty in all the stages of the sculptures, even as they melt.

"They either keep their shape as they melt, or change in a strange way," he says. "To be perfectly honest, though, the last time I see my carvings is usually when they're being set up.

I rarely see the melted version." Mr. Kim says North Korea would a better place for outdoor ice carvings. If North and South Korea unite, he envisions an international exhibition in North Hamkyung province in North Korea. Hamkyung is North Korea's most northern province, so the weather is colder.

Mr. Kim began making ice sculptures in 1988. "I don't remember my first design," he says. At the Shilla Hotel, he creates at least three ice sculptures a day, about a hundred a month or 1,200 icy creations a year for more than a decade.

Although Mr. Kim cannot recall his first creation, several have left an impression due to the stories surrounding them. Mr. Kim
made an ice sculpture of Michael Jackson for the singer's stay at the Shilla Hotel in 1999.

Jackson wanted to take the sculpture back with him. The best alternative to having the original was to have it cast in plaster.
Another ice sculpture was of a kangaroo on a slide. Small sculptures take 30 minutes to make, but it took all night to make the kanga-roo. "As the sun rose and shone on the kanga-roo's
paw, the sculpture looked like crystal," Mr. Kim says.

These are the mental pictures that draw him to ice sculptures.

"When I'm carried away on my project, and the flakes are flying everywhere off the ice, I feel like I'm in an mystical ice world," he says.

by Joe Yong-hee

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