Tristin Lowe/Richard Harrod

Blohard Gallery

After a year of presenting some of the more engaging shows in Philadelphia, artists Richard Harrod and Tristin Lowe’s Blohard Gallery recently closed. What distinguished Blohard from the start was the simple but remarkable idea of only showing artists from other cities, particularly New York. For local artists, who both benefit and suffer from their proximity to New York, this arrangement extended their possibilities of seeing and being seen. Such was the vision of Harrod and Lowe, and something of the shared sensibility that allowed them to sustain Blohard for a year is apparent in their parting gesture, an exhibition of their own work.

Lowe’s project continues to develop an imagined world of symbolic characters, here drawn from a private, homespun stock. Always sensitive to the spectacular/intimate dichotomy of shifting scale, Lowe constructed Blue Mountain (all works 1999), a twelve-foot-high mound kept inflated by a single tiny fan. Against this odd, noselike backdrop, a group of domestic scenes was presented. Smoking Bed is a humorous, all-too-human poetic figure. With the push of a button, an old metal cot shoots out smoke through a small hole in the center of its plastic mattress and becomes the reflexive embodiment of a would-be sleeper. Nearby, Pillow extended the theme of the bedroom. An empty bottle of Old Crow stands on the floor beside a pillow. Driven by an unseen pump, a small pool of bourbon, like an open mouth the morning after, breaks the pillow’s surface amid telling stains. With Frosty Lowe metaphorically steps outside to build a snowman, which for this curious artist means making snow. Using a characteristically low-tech approach, he attached one end of a hose to a freezer and the other to a copper-lined snowman’s head. An everyday vaporizer keeps the air moist, and through the magic of condensation Frosty appears in the unheated space.

Lowe’s most endearing invention, Frosty is also the most convincing paradigm of the artist as both divine creator and tinkering clown, simultaneously serious and playful. Harrod’s enterprise also reflects this twinned posture. Another Magic Box evokes the distant whimsy of its title, while announcing its (albeit cooler) connection to Lowe’s work nearby. One corner of a cardboard box rests in the mouth of a white plaster bottle, and a floor fan makes the box twirl in the air (a line of stretchy string, the magician’s secret, prevents it from falling). As raw material, the cardboard box recalls Harrod’s earlier, more disheveled strategies; as a turning cube, it serves as a bridge to the (apparently) sober persona of his other muse, the computer, which drives the rest of the work presented here.

In much the same spirit that Bruce Nauman used his studio as a generative locus for his ’60s films, Harrod casts his gaze around his own space to see what’s there to see. The capacity to transform idle staring into aesthetic contemplation is uniquely realized in After the Moment, a continuous-loop video playing on an old white television. Slightly altered overlapping images of a table and wall create an energy that gives breath to this otherwise inanimate scene: The table’s legs grow and shrink; its shadow comes and goes, moving between grounded fact and floating fiction. A more profound, multilayered perception is investigated in The Evolution of Closed Systems and Other Propagandas, a video game conceived in collaboration with Nicholas Muellner and programmed by Harrod. For one or two players, this grown-up version of the computer game Pong incorporates text that includes quotations from Mao Tse-tung and The Book of Excellence: 236 Habits of Successful Salespeople as well as comments by Harrod and Muellner on personal relationships. The game is enhanced by Harrod’s poignant score and a mesmerizing screen of choreographed rectangles playing modernist visual games of their own. With so much in play, winning becomes a richer objective.

Eileen Neff