First person

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 August, 2006, 12:00am

After staging a hugely successful exhibition of dinosaur fossils last year, Cityplaza is currently hosting a recreation of the Harbin Ice Lantern Festival. Stephen Spurr, director and general manager of Swire Properties, explains some of the logistical challenges of bringing a world of ice to a Hong Kong shopping mall

Last year's dinosaur fossils exhibition was something that really caught the imagination of the general public. The logistics of the Harbin Ice Lantern Festival are probably as terrifying as they were with million-year-old dinosaurs. There are 200 tonnes of ice and the venue itself is a frozen world where we keep a constant temperature of minus 5 degrees Celsius.

When we were setting up, and during the seven days it took our 22 artists and engineers and sculptors to create the 16 exhibits, the temperature had to go down to minus 12 to minus 16 degrees - frostbite levels. Of course we were very conscious of people suffering from hypothermia and other difficulties. Fortunately none of that occurred.

In the seven-day period when they were doing the carving, they were working 24 hours a day. We have tremendous constraints in the shopping centre because we are surrounded by residential development.

It has been a wonderful cultural exchange. The Harbiners have been exposed to China's most cosmopolitan city coming from one of China's most traditional areas. It has been something of a cultural eye-opener for them, but we have enjoyed being with them and working with them. They have also proved themselves to be marvellous artists.

The highest sculpture is 4.5 metres high and 12 metres wide. That has used something in the order of 300 cubic feet of ice, which is just gargantuan. The ice slide is the second largest sculpture and it is something that the children have really taken to. It is 14 metres long and 2.2 metres high at its top-most point.

During the exhibition, if the temperature goes above minus five, we can have problems. The other day, for example, we had groups of 200 at a time coming into the ice cube and body temperatures began to affect the exhibits and some began to melt. The temperature went to minus 2 and then to zero and we had to get people out and refreeze, re-cool the area. We are now keeping the numbers to about 150 to 180 people at a time.

We are trying to encourage people not to touch the ice but of course they do and there has been some damage we've had to repair. I am more concerned about people's fingers. If you start handling ice it can affect not only your nerves but your skin.

The other day, we had to take action when a two-year-old girl arrived in her mother's arms, and was then put down. We have a CCTV camera inside the cube so we can see exactly what is going on. The girl was running around fine and then started to shiver, and her mother picked her up and she passed out. As they left the cube our staff saw she was sleeping and immediately went up with a thermal blanket - the mother hadn't even realised what was happening - and we called an ambulance. The child regained consciousness. It was hyperthermia, and it was all a little bit too much for a two year old.

More and more, we have seen the opportunity of using our shopping centres as performance stages.

We feel art should be very much part and parcel of our everyday lives and not something that is relegated to a concert hall or a museum or some rarified institution. The more people have access to and exposure towards projects of this type, the more they are going to build a greater appreciation of the qualities of life, travel and culture.

The Harbin Ice Lantern Festival in Cityplaza runs until September 17. Entry costs $20 and all proceeds go to the charity World Vision