Public Art Ice-Breaker: A Frozen Car Thaws in Michigan

frozen car model.jpgFrozen cars are nothing new in Houghton, the town on the western side of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that is home to Michigan Tech University. But even the most frigid conditions don’t imprison autos in massive blocks of ice. For that, you need artists.

Enter Mary Carothers and Sue Wrbican, a couple of RISD graduates (now professors of photography at University of Louisville and George Mason University, respectively) who have collaborated on art projects since 1994. Next week on the Michigan Tech campus, they plan to unveil their latest project: a 1978 Chevy Nova frozen into a block of ice (a model is shown above). As the car thaws through the spring, Carothers and Wrbican will document its demise and interact with those who come to see the project.

Making a car popsicle in northern Michigan may sound easy, but it’s quite an undertaking, as the artists’ Frozen Car blog makes clear. After towing the gutted car to campus, they parked it in a car-sized container built by local high school students. The artists then began gradually filling the container with water, leaving it to freeze into icy layers.

“The frozen car points to the classic struggle of culture versus nature,” says Wrbican, who also notes how the automobile has stood for freedom and power in American culture. And the artists’ choice of model was deliberate–the ’78 Chevy Nova being one of The Big Three’s last true “gas guzzlers.” On their website, Carothers and Wrbican also compare their project to another freezing scheme: “The act of freezing references ‘cryonics,’ a procedure which hypothetically preserves a diseased body until a cure is found.”