Frozen in Time
by Jennifer Donovan, public relations director
They came to Michigan Tech to freeze a 1978 Chevy Nova in a solid block of ice for Winter Carnival, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. So visiting artists Mary Carothers and Sue Wrbican decided to pull their own all-nighters—all week.
“We are reversing our sleeping schedules to comply with Mother Nature,” they explain on a blog tracking the progress of the unusual art project, at http://frozencar.blogspot.com .
In the dead of night, you can find them standing there, spray nozzles in mittened hands, misting the slowly freezing bed of the box that contains the classic muscle car. Twenty minutes of misting, and then they give it 30 minutes to freeze while the artists warm themselves in the J. R. Van Pelt Library, whose big bay window overlooks the frozen car project.
Less hardy souls can catch the artists’ midnight misadventures from the comfort of their own computer screens. A live webcam is now broadcasting from the frozen car site. See http://www.admin.mtu.edu/urel/cams/frozen-car/motion.html .
It took longer than Wrbican and Carothers expected to build up a solid foundation of frozen slush inside the container, which was custom-built by volunteers from the Hancock High School industrial arts class. A few warm days saw them losing more than they were gaining. Then pocks and pockets appeared in the ice. The box sprang a couple of leaks.
But finally, last Friday morning before the sun came up, members of Michigan Tech’s grounds crew retrieved the Nova from Kevin’s Self Storage and lowered it into position in its ice box.
Carothers, an associate professor of fine arts at the University of Louisville, and Wrbican, who is an assistant professor of art and visual technology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., met in graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design. Since then, they’ve made a specialty of collaborative and unpredictable art. They have blown up a car, set a couch on fire, and created a colony of charmingly appropriate if fictitious road signs. For examples, see http://www.frozencar.com/past.html .
Wrbican and Carothers chose Michigan for their frozen car project because it is the birthplace of the automobile. They chose freezing as a way to stop time, to give us a chance to step back and examine how our choices today affect our world tomorrow. They chose to freeze a car, they explain, because the automobile is a metaphor for freedom and power. And they chose Michigan Tech because they heard it was cold enough.
A critic once described their art as an exploration of “the hidden mythology of everyday life and unexpected experience.” As always, the artists arrived with a goal in mind but no real road map for getting there. They take it as it comes and change course constantly in response to whatever happens.
Carothers and Wrbican fully expect to be navigating more unforeseen curves and slippery corners before the container drops away and the Nova named E.D. (for Ethyl’s Daughter) hangs frozen in space and time and ice. And that’s all right because, they say, “in our art, allowing for unpredictable twists, the wild card, becomes as important as the original concept.”