Tip of the ICEHOUSE

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A respected artist whose work has been written about in Escape Velocity, an overview of techno arts, the bespectacled Therrien has been aptly described by the book's author as looking like Central Casting's idea of a "defrocked minister."

"I would like to think that I'm a sane individual, but other people don't describe me that way," says Therrien, echoing the sentiments of more than a few people interviewed for this article. "Having to be married to me is one of the worst things a woman can possibly imagine."

"I am good at pissing people off," he admits. "Maybe I should have done that as a job instead of a hobby."

Therrien's current plans include transforming the Hyster Building into an art space to rival the Icehouse. How a city that can't support one venue that large can possibly support two is a question that goes unanswered. "I just want to live my life as poetry," says Therrien. "I want to be in a city where there's a type of poetic vein that runs through."

So why doesn't he leave this city where fast-food jingles like Yo quiero Taco Bell qualify as free verse?

"I have left," the Phoenix native answers defiantly. "But I come back because it's one of the only cities where you can get a 20,000-square-foot-building in the middle of downtown for so cheap. In San Francisco, there's no way I could own a building this size."

But don't look for any public exhibitions at the Hyster Building anytime soon. Therrien and his son Carbon are scheduled to take off for a yearlong globetrotting art project within the next few months. The project, a multimedia endeavor titled "A Blue World," will ostensibly document the lives of strangers who offer overnight lodging to the pair as they videotape their way around the Earth.

If it accomplishes nothing else, the ambitious schlep will at least give Therrien a 12-month reprieve from what he calls "one of the most apathetic populaces in the United States."

"Everyone who lives in Phoenix is from somewhere else," he says, echoing a popular theory as to why the Valley sometimes seems a cultural wasteland. "We're living with the results of urban sprawl. Everyone lives in the suburbs. They don't care about their cities; they only care about the grass in front of their house."

Wielding a weed-whacker or reseeding Bermuda are a few things that David Therrien need never worry about; he's too busy hosing garbage, drug paraphernalia and puddles of urine from the front of his factory. On at least two recent occasions, he's been assaulted by homeless derelicts and crack addicts who constantly roam the desolate area.

"Maybe putting a morgue in the middle of downtown does make sense for Phoenix," he notes. "It makes sense because this is a dead city. And if you're trying to make a conceptual statement, that makes a lot of sense."

Helen Hestenes, meanwhile, is less interested in making sense of the senseless than bringing beauty and rejuvenation to an endangered area of grimy downtown history.

That's why she's not only interested in her own building, but saving surrounding buildings that the city and county might raze for a morgue and a jailhouse.

"Sometimes when I come down here in the morning, I'm so frustrated I just want to go back home," she says. "Then I remember how beautiful it was when I was living in Paris. And that's why I'm here, I think. To bring Paris to Phoenix."

And if the indefatigable Helen Hestenes can't transform what's left of grimy West Jackson Street into a chunk of the Champs Élysées, it won't be for lack of trying.

Contact Dewey Webb at his online address: [email protected]

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Dewey Webb