Alice in giant land

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Like many things in Philadelphia, Girard College is a first. It’s the first private boarding school for underpriviledged children. Established in 1848 by Stephen Girard, revolutionary war era philanthropist, the school’s gated campus, like many things built 150 years ago, is dotted with grand buildings with overscale architecture and wondrous, decorative details.

Founders Hall, (pictured right), with an entry door that is scaled for giants and a pillared porch suitable for presidential oratory, dwarfs the humans who scale its marble steps.

What better place for art by Tristin Lowe — Girard College’s first artist in residence — that deals with the scale of objects and with issues relating to children and the child within us all. (pictured left and right below are Lowe’s inflatible “Alice” and the installation in Founder’s Hall)

Lowe is a Pew fellow known for his dark vision of a world of playful objects that tower over humans and in one memorable show at Project Room, objects that mimic life’s and the body’s less-than exalted tendencies. (there’s a link to my Philadelphia Weekly review of the show on the PR page).

In his new exhibit in the Founders’ Hall, Lowe presents a few big old things and some big — and little — new work. There’s nothing really human scale about any of it, yet its rootedness in the world of people and objects made by and for people allows a great interplay about construction, play, and the growth of children.

“fe fi fo fum,” is a journey into the odd, the off-putting, the comical, the sweet and the deliciously yucky.

Two inflatibles, Alice and the Pink elephant create the context for the work, standing guard, mascots to the unruly small chunks of architectural toys on the floor. There are several wall pieces made from what looks like leftovers from the object-making.

The new big kahuna is a colossal chair (shown below). It’s a canvas and wood slingback recreation of a classic beach chair that’s so understated it almost disappears into the ether.

In the face of the pink elephant, the cyclopsian Alice and the floor littered with little combination Lego-house/doggy chew-toys, the canvas chair is a moment of quiet, a wallflower to engage the eye and mind after it’s done digesting the raucous rest of the show.

Like the best playrooms for children who are both good and bad, this space evokes wonders and secrets — candy and stomach aches; prayers and curses; the wonders and the horrors of having a body.

There’s a clear plastic storage box that seems to contain the remains of the “puking man.” One can only imagine the smell. The impulse to save this particular work, in an archive-friendly box, is so anti-art I laughed out loud.

And, sticking its nose in where it is not really wanted, a reminder of the body’s revolting aspects, is a sculpture of a big hairy proboscis, a mountain of a thing. (shown left)

It sits enthroned on a pedestal looking for all the world like a cave with twin entrances waiting for some unsuspecting creatures to wander in and be gobbled up.

For another hit of Tristan, check Libby’s post which has a picture of another of the artist’s chairs. This smaller chair — human scale — is also in the Girard show and is also a wallflower. The artist pointed it out to me before I even noticed it amongst all the giants and minis.

Founder’s Hall is at 2101 S. College Ave. The show is open Thursdaya, Fridays, Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. For more information, 215-787-2680. Here are some directions from the college’s website.

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