No Way In–Richard Harrod at Marginal Utility

Richard Harrod’s latest installation A Larger Refrigerator (Marginal Utility, 1 April-28 May 2011) puts a chill on familiar interior views. The artist’s depictions of mundane spaces  use a variety of tricks thwart our entry and monkey with the norms of representation. A well-known figure in the Philadelphia art scene and a widely-exhibited artist, Harrod was a recipient of the Pew Fellowship (1997) and has shown internationally. Previous work by the artist presented cobbled-together worlds in similarly disconcerting fashion.

New York State, 2011. Digital print, drawing, paint

Harrod’s oversized digital prints beckon the viewer to look in on various scenes of a typical urban apartment: a shower, a window, a staircase, a mirror. Pleasantly familiar details, like an out-of-date plastic window shade or painted-over Victorian ornamentation remind us of someplace we have lived or visited. Yet on second glance, the spaces are impenetrable.

In several instances the artist places a bright light smack in the middle of an image, darkening the surrounding area. Instead of a view through a window or a reflection in the mirror, we see nothing but black. The weight and energy of the image thrusts back toward us, and spatial reading is undermined.


Another of the artist’s tricks is to pepper photographs with real-life objects. One pair of images, Open Shower and Shower (2011) shows a cramped tub—first without, then with a curtain. In fact they are the same photograph, but in the second Harrod has added a pencil line and a few strips of patterned toilet paper to represent rod and curtain respectively. The falsehood of these devices pokes fun at conventional representation even as it blocks our entry into the space. A photograph, we are reminded, is as flat as a piece of bathroom tissue.

Shower, 2011. Digital print, drawing, toilet paper

Harrod’s Stair Business (2011) takes the viewer on a wild goose-chase through a mocked up environment. Blob-like plaster casts hang in front of or are applied directly to the surface of a fish-eye view up and down a staircase. The piece promises to be a trompe l’oeil exploration, in which the casts move freely out of the photograph and into the viewer’s space. But some of the objects are out of proportion in relation to their position on the stairs, and the spatial reading again falls apart. The joke is on the viewer, and as if to rub it in, the artist has given his plaster appliqués a curiously scatological appearance. What kind of business, we wonder, has been done on these stairs?

Stair Business
Stair Business, 2011. Digital print, plaster rocks, applied prints

The artist’s ultimate expression, Retinal Burn 2, Cat and Mouse, actually hurts your eye when you look at it. You struggle to see into an array of broken-up mirrors, but their raking angles reflect only blank wall and ceiling. Meanwhile, a system of bright blinking lights burns a blue-green afterimage into your eye. The annoying string of dots that now crowds your line of sight is bitter payback for having tried to apprehend your own reflection. Promising a pleasant look into personal experience and everyday life, this uncanny and very effective show leaves you half blind.

Retinal Burn 2, Cat and Mouse, 2011. Mirror, bright lights, representation of retinal burn

Marginal Utility is located at 319 North 11th Street, 2nd Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19107. Hours: Friday 5:00-8:00pm, Saturday + Sunday 12:00-5:00pm