Obsessing over Ice
Ice House Detroit in pictures: Amazing.
Ice House Detroit in person: Average.
Truthfully, I don't know why I'm obsessing over this project. Perhaps it's the age-old argument of what is art. One art historian I know recently told me art is whatever the artist deems it to be. So if I decided to freeze my garage, I could legitimately call it art. Whether it is good or bad art, he noted, is the key question.
So is this good or bad art? I asked my 4-year-old son, who was in the car with me. After some prodding, he made this comment: “It is no progress.”
No progress. Definitely an interesting statement about the project as well as Detroit.
What struck me most about the Ice House is its nearby neighbors. As we drove up, I admit I questioned my GPS as to whether we were headed in the right direction. I found the address from a local Web site, so I knew we were almost there. Yet from all published photos of the area, the house appeared to be in a vacant field far away from any living creatures. The blocks we were driving through seemed perfectly sound. We saw some families coming home from school and neighbors hanging outside. People were coming and going, enjoying the day. There was even a kid throwing snowballs.
But once we hit the block the Ice House is on, the scene changed. It was frightening. I chose that word carefully. I don't like to describe Detroit as scary because mostly it is not. But seeing homes in a complete state of destruction is awful in every way. And suddenly there were dozens of them – burned exterior walls, a porch roof fallen to the ground, a front door hanging off to expose the sodden interior. It makes you feel a little sick to see homes in that condition. They look like some rotten shell, a horror show. And the area was still, as if everyone that once cared about this neighborhood had been frozen as well.
Then, just like an image from a magazine, there it stood. It is a small two-story home that looks like it deserves a picket fence rather than the yellow caution tape that now surrounds it. You first notice the bright blue school bus; that is where the artists are staying warm as they prepare the site, I suppose. Then you noticed blue tarp on the roof – the artists' way of desperately trying to keep the ice from melting.
Orange cones keep strangers away. The project's location is supposed to be secret until it is done, said to be as soon as Feb. 7. We parked the car across the street and tried to stay quiet. During the 10 minutes we sat here and stared, another three cars pulled up to do the same. And everyone took pictures.
On the grounds, there were two men milling about. You've got to feel sorry for these poor guys – photographer Gregory Holm and architect Matthew Radune – who are the brains behind the project. Here it is, supposedly the coldest months in Michigan, and we've got 36 degrees and sunny skies.
The poor ice doesn't stand a chance.
What remained was beautiful. Clear in some parts, blue in others. A yellow-rust color where something, perhaps residue from the roof, had gotten into the mix. The ice is curled up around every blade of grass and weed. The front door, hidden the most from the unfriendly sun, is a dull red behind its glossy coat. You want to touch it, but you're afraid to ruin the fantasy.
Even after a visit, I continue to have mixed feelings. It is a project with international interest. The artists are contributing to the local economy. They have helped a family stay in their home, contributed to non-profits, given food away to the homeless.
Still, if I were one of its neighbors, I would hate this project. I would want the two guys run out of town, literally. It seems a kind of mockery of the people who are just a block or so away, trying to live there. Sure, the dazzling ice makes for some fantastic photographs. But who wants to buy a picture that symbolizes the sickest side of Detroit?