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Tarpon Springs neighbors baffled by house, trees covered in aluminum foil

Nothing kept Piotr Janowski from his artistic endeavors, including the house’s utility boxes and meters.
Published May 30, 2015

TARPON SPRINGS — Neighbors haven't quite wrapped their heads around what's going on at 402 Ashland Ave., where aluminum foil covers every inch of a house on three sides and dangles like silver earrings from trees.

They've asked resident Piotr Janowski: Is he installing new insulation, pest control, antennas? He explains that it's an outdoor art project, inspired by Florida's beauty.

Someone called his landlord and code enforcement. A city arborist inspected the trees, some of them also wrapped in foil, and concluded they were not in danger. Code enforcement is still trying to determine if the project is violating any ordinances, said police Sgt. Ed Miller.

"This is art," Janowski said. "In their thick, bureaucratic books, I'm sure they have nothing against this."

Born in Poland, Janowski, 53, is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has created contemporary sculptures, prints, photography, and paintings and previously exhibited work at the Polish Museum of America in Chicago.

In December, he moved from Vienna to Tarpon Springs and rented a 1,180-square-foot house built in 1958 near Whitcomb Bayou. Once in Florida, he was enamored of the sunshine and the shadows of the palm trees.

"I was really happy with the location, the garden," he said. "And from that time, something was cooking in my head."

• • •

Janowski had painted on aluminum sheets before and decided to incorporate that into his idea. He bought Reynolds Wrap heavy duty rolls at Costco and covered two palm trees to highlight the trunks' texture.

Then Janowski went to Home Depot, bought chicken wire, and created structures resembling ears. He cloaked the wire frames in foil and attached six of them to trees in his front yard.

"The ears are a symbol of curiosity," he said. "This is also kind of a relationship between the nature and my work."

The project was completed in May when Janowski and his friend, Paul Mlynarczyk, bought about 12 aluminum rolls and carefully plastered the foil, covered in adhesive spray, onto three sides of the house, creating a reflective, silvery surface.

"This is a bit like you're making gold leaf," Janowski said. "The house was simply about the transformation, how easily you can transform an ugly, ordinary house to something else."

• • •

His neighbors are not impressed.

"I don't know what the heck that thing is," said Lynn Martin, who has lived across the street for about 20 years. "It's the strangest thing I've ever seen in my life."

Martin said she did not complain to the city but hopes the project doesn't draw crowds to the quiet neighborhood.

Another neighbor, Candy Labbate, said she first noticed the chicken wire structures, which she called "discs," a few months ago and thought Janowski was trying to improve his Internet signal. She later found out it was art.

"To each his own," Labbate said. "It's just odd."

The landlord declined to comment.

In about a month, the art will come down, and Janowski plans on contacting museums about creating similar displays elsewhere.

"It doesn't matter if they love it or hate it. It's very good for any artist," Janowski said of the criticism. "This is just really the beginning."

Times staff researchers Caryn Baird and John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com or follow @lauracmorel.

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