Up in Lights

For "Passion & Pain," a large shot of a single lick of flame has been paired at the gallery with a black metal stand. The stand holds a glass lens that has been mirror-finished and as a result reflects its image onto the ceiling. The bowl-like lens is filled with bleached chicken wishbones--because, says Lowe, "passion and pain both begin with a wish."

The other fire-based piece, "Self," takes Lowe's topic of universal loss to a highly personal level: It refers to a serious head injury the artist suffered in a 1988 auto accident. "I would look down at my hands and not recognize them," he remembers, which explains why the piece features a lifelike human hand created by Denver sculptor John Andrea, a longtime friend of Lowe's. "It knocked my life out of whack for a period of time." Indeed, the accident's effects were so grave that Lowe considered giving up his art career. But as "Self" reveals, he had a change of heart. "I couldn't do anything else even if I wanted to," he admits.

Though many other contemporary artists also combine photography and sculpture to create installations, few have done so for as long as Lowe. And his signature approach effectively sets the stage for something completely different: Lawder's half of the Ed & Stan show, a stereoscopic installation titled "Mile-Hi Maiden."

Lawder, who became a part-time Denver resident fifteen years ago, has led several lives as an artist. Though trained as an art historian, he went on to teach filmmaking and film history at Yale and Harvard and at the University of California at San Diego, where the 61-year-old scholar remains a professor emeritus. In addition to his academic career, he made his own films in the 1960s and '70s, at which time he drew attention for his daring use of 3-D effects.

"I fell in love with the sensation of the stereoscopic technique," he says. But by the mid-1970s, Lawder felt that experimental filmmaking had run its course and so gave it up. Nonetheless, he remained interested in stereoscopy and began to create 3-D photos and projections. The unnerving "Mile-Hi Maiden," which fills the first floor at Emmanuel, is his latest offering.

In order to create this installation, a darkened space was needed. The solution at Emmanuel was to use heavy black curtains backed with particle board to enclose the space. The curtains form an ominous-looking black wall across the front of the main gallery.

Before entering the installation, viewers are given polarizing 3-D glasses provided by the gallery. They then enter through a dog-legged corridor that serves as a light trap. The corridor is lined with movie-theater-style footlights, which are necessary to guide us but also recall Lawder's film background. So does an accompanying soundtrack, which lays Italian opera over a piece by Denver composer Mark McCoin.

In front of us, a three-dimensional scene is projected onto a ten-by-ten-foot screen. The photos that form the background were taken from the roof of Lawder's Cheesman Park high-rise. In the foreground is Capitol Hill, in the mid-ground downtown Denver, with the Front Range in the background. But most of the view is of the sky, onto which Lawder projects 28 different images of a nude young woman that dissolve into one another. "The piece is continuous, with no beginning or end," he says.

The successful stereoscopic illusion of "Mile Hi Maiden" took no less than six slide projectors and a computer to create. And the kitschy result is visually stunning and unforgettable--even if it's hard to say what it actually means. It may also take a physical toll on viewers susceptible to eye strain--the main reason to see Lowe's efforts before viewing Lawder's.

The pairing of Lowe with Lawder in Ed & Stan at Emmanuel might be unexpected, since their work looks nothing alike. But as the exhibit unfolds, the viewer begins to understand how inspired a choice it was for gallery director Keller to pair them up. Obviously, she saw the light.

Ed & Stan at Emmanuel, through February 11 at the Emmanuel Gallery, on the Auraria Campus, 556-8337.

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