TROY, N.Y. — It’s after dark when Adam Frelin, an artist and college professor cruising through one of the worst sections of the capital region, pulls over. The lights are out in an abandoned bungalow on Fifth Avenue.“Sorry,” Frelin says, jumping out of his gray Subaru. “I’ve got to go in there.”Nobody lives in 2435, which is padlocked and set back from the street. But Frelin has the key. He’s wearing a headlamp that pushes back his curly hair, and he’s clutching what looks like a doctor’s bag in his right hand. It contains a 12-volt battery.
“Hello, hello,” he bellows, checking to make sure nobody is squatting inside.
The white house is one of 200 empty properties that make up “Breathing Lights,” a $1.2 million art project created by Frelin and architect Barbara Nelson in the browned-out, former manufacturing hub of Albany, Troy and Schenectady, N.Y. Using LED strips, portable batteries and programmed Arduino boards, they have built light panels and had them installed inside window frames. They’re looking to draw attention, through art, to abandoned spots once called homes.
The lights don’t just go on. They rise and fall in eight-second waves, from dark to glowing to dark again, creating a “breathing” effect. The glow is hard to miss. It radiates over beaten-down brick and peeling clapboards in the region’s hardest-hit neighborhoods.
“I thought it was some kind of electrical surge,” said Deryck Barker, who pulled over recently when he first saw the light coming from a crumbling brick building on Clinton Avenue in Albany.
Barker, 37, just paid $25,000 for a two-family home he’s renovating down the street. He views “Breathing Lights” as more than an art project. For him, it’s an illuminated for-sale sign, a potential beacon in a place where you can buy a brownstone for less than a used car.
“What it’s really about is bringing light to a place that’s underdeveloped,” he said. “It’s an opportunity. The amount of money it costs to light up these houses is not much compared to what it can actually do.”
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