This is a short text that accompanied an exhibition at Chelsea Space in London, January 24th - March 3rd 2007
The ice trade, that is the trade in huge cubes of ice hewn from the frozen lakes of North America or Scandinavia and shipped to warmer climes, exists somewhere between brute fact and fairytale.
The trade existed, flourished even, throughout the later part of the 19th century. Grainy photographs depicting sawn meter square cubes of ice, cut from the frozen crusts of freshwater lakes are waiting, stored as documents in relevant archives. You can visit luxury loft apartments inserted into the hollow remnants of bunker-like Ice houses – warehouses for frozen water - found in many former ports of Britain, especially in Bristol, Liverpool, and London. There is also compulsive testimony from the American author, naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau writing one of the foundational texts of the environmental movement, Walden (published in 1854). Thoreau records the cold winter of 46/7 when from the window of his forest cabin he sees the frozen skin of Walden pond being stripped by a hundred Irish labourers, and carted away.
‘[….] in a good day they could get out a thousand tons, which was the yield of about one acre.’