Freeze Frame

An abandoned Detroit home encased in ice is just the tip of the iceberg highlighting abandoned and foreclosed real estate
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In scientific circles, the “observer effect” refers to the phenomenon of how the act of simply looking at a subject or system can change it. A pair of Brooklyn-based artists is testing that theory in Detroit, with chilling effects.

Ice House Detroit, a collaborative effort between architect Matthew Radune and photographer Gregory Holm, is the first in a series of large-scale architectural installations the duo have planned. With the support of Michigan’s land bank, they will select an abandoned home scheduled for demolition and encase it in ice, while documenting the process.

“It’s a simple study, almost making a house disappear under a different type of material,” says Radune, who hatched the plan several years ago, before economic conditions further highlighted the abandonment issue. “Now that we’re in this time of recession, and Detroit is in this new evolution, the project takes on other significance.

“It becomes more than just a minimalist artwork; it becomes about us contributing, in a small way, to the future of Detroit.”

Those contributions will come after the thaw. The Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit, a non-profit organization that recovers building materials that otherwise would go into landfills, will recycle materials from the house. The Ice House lot will then be converted to either an urban farm or a green space, Radune says.

“We want to do our art project, but we want to have a positive effect on changes that are already happening in Detroit,” he says.

Ice House Detroit is not without its critics. “Now that Detroit is so bad, now you’re interested,” one naysayer noted on Kickstarter.com, which helped fund the project (see sidebar). “Where the hell have you been all this time?”

Holm, a freelance photographer and Detroit native, says “a lot of people don’t like the idea of two white guys from Brooklyn coming here to work on an art project.” 

Radune says their project wouldn’t have worked in Brooklyn for a very pragmatic reason. “There’s a lot of cheap real estate [in Detroit],” he says.

Others have criticized the project’s use of funds. As one Web site respondent noted: “Covering a house with ice as a ‘statement’ is a gross waste of money.”

Holm replies, saying he’s using his own money to help a family move into a home by paying the back taxes on a foreclosure.

And the collaborators say the Ice House is raising all-important awareness. “I think that Detroit is only going to grow stronger though all of this publicity,” Radune says. And that publicity has not been in short supply. Ice House Detroit has caught the attention of the The New York Times and National Public Radio — a spotlight that could spur a January thaw.

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