‘Truth’ melted: Ice sculpture dissolves on the National Mall to protest post-truth politics

Media Credit: Tyara Estrada | Hatchet Photographer

A 2,000-pound ice sculpture that spelled out the word “truth” was stationed on the National Mall Saturday.

Truth dissolved in the District.

But not in the way you might think. A 2,000-pound ice sculpture that spelled out the word “truth” was stationed on the National Mall Saturday and left to melt over the course of about five hours. The work, designed and built by the artist duo Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese, said the piece is meant to spark a public conversation about the state of truth in the United States.

“Ice is the perfect medium to do these word projects because it has so many qualities about it,” Ligorano said. “The fact that it disappears really captures the urgency of the issue, or the construct that we are presenting.”

Sparkling in the sunlight on Saturday, the 100-inchlong sculpture was made entirely of ice. The sculpture sat in contrast to the Capitol Building in the background, which Ligorano said was a move intended to make the project more meaningful.

“To make a statement, or to make people think about this, is a head-scratcher,” Ligorano said. “But these two pieces together – the temporary monument and this monument of power and legal power – are really married.”

The sculpture is one work of an ongoing series called “Melted Away,” with political buzzwords made of ice melting over time, that the artists have worked on for the past 12 years.

The artistic duo presented their first ice sculpture, which spelled out “Democracy,” in Denver and Saint Paul, Minn. in 2008. The original piece was assembled in response to the War on Terror and the Democratic and Republican conventions, according to their website. Since then, “Economy,” “Middle Class,” “The Future” and “The American Dream” have melted away in cities around the United States.

“Now is the time to explore what truth is,” Ligorano said. “Is it disappearing? And given the current climate, it’s an urgent conversation that we need to have.”

Alexander Welling | Hatchet Photographer

The sculpture stood in front of the Capitol Building.


After presenting “Truth Be Told” in New York City this year on the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, the artists decided to bring the project to the District due to its centrality to politics, Reese said.

The artists kicked off the weekendlong event Friday night at Busboys and Poets, located at 450 K St. NW, where 12 poets used spoken word to cover a variety of topics centered around truth and the news.

Magus Magnus, a participating poet based in Alexandria, Va., read an original poem that compared the imagery of the ice letters melting to abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He said his work was incited by the slew of immigration rights news over the past year, and this served as inspiration for his poem.

“Poetry is a way of engaging life, of engaging on a deeper level,” Magnus said.

In a panel discussion at the Flagg Building Sunday, Reese said the featured writers and poets added to the larger conversation the ice sculpture tackles, tacking personal experience onto perceptions of “Truth.”

“What the writers do is that they provide a voice,” Reese said. “It’s really a discursive work and that’s why the writers are there, to help us speak.”

The two artists officially unveiled the ice sculpture on the National Mall at 11 a.m. Saturday, where it was reduced over the about five hours into a puddle.

With the help of Baltimore-based ice sculpture studio Ice Lab, the one-ton figure was assembled on a black platform fit with a drainage system to collect the melted artwork. Onlookers and passersby clapped and cheered when the cover obstructing “truth” was peeled away and the sculpture was revealed.

Ligorano said planning for onlookers was one of the most interesting parts of the installation, because the artists could not anticipate how the public would react. For the duo, the sculpture acts as an “open question,” according to the exhibit’s press release.

“I think truth is shifting, pretty much as ice is,” she said. “Ice changes its form and we don’t know what it is going to look like. We don’t know where it is going to go, and we don’t really know what the truth is either, especially right now.”

As “truth” began to perspire Saturday, its message was magnified — which the artists hope will rouse D.C. politicians to better represent their constituents.

“I would hope that if politicians see the truth disappearing before them, that they would work harder to make it last longer,” she said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.