White Cube

The White Cube is one of those cleverly designed spaces that suck you in. No sooner was I through the door, than I seemed to find myself standing in front of Security Fence, perhaps the most compelling of Lisa Lou’s exhibits for her solo exhibition at this gallery. This is seductive work. Lou’s dully glinting metal mesh fence, complete with razor-wire, is just as it says: a small section of security fence built into an open-topped cage. Its seduction comes from the fact that the whole thing – indeed, every piece of work in this exhibition – is covered in tiny beads; everything, even the nuts and bolts, and the razors on the razor-wire.

As someone who treads an uneasy path between craft and fine art in the world of contemporary glass, I’ve trained myself to hold firm against the seductive wiles of the material. I’m afraid I have to admit, though, that this work defeated me. I couldn’t help but get as close as possible, and try to work out how on earth it had been done. I couldn’t help but count up the hours it must have taken to do it. I felt that I let myself down.

There’s lots to say about Lou – that her figures such as Homeostasis and Seer somehow don’t do the same thing, or have the same quiet power, as the pieces such as Cell and Security Fence which use the vocabulary of absence most effectively. About the religious imagery of The Vessel and its relation to her fundamentalist Christian upbringing. About the wit and strangeness of the noose and bucket in Stairway to Heaven. But it is hard not to be bowled over by the beads.

If Lou is making a comment on the sometimes contrived separation of fine art and craft, then it’s a very adept one. Artists such as Tony Cragg and Louise Bourgeois use glass successfully, but it doesn’t cut so close to the craft/art line. With Lou’s work, you simply can’t help but consider the making. I did feel, however, that this pared down work was rather dominated by the process. Earlier work by Lou (not shown in this exhibition) – a beaded, full sized kitchen and backyard – seem more balanced.

Still, it is rare, and somehow refreshing, to come across someone exploring making and concept in glass so successfully in the contemporary art world. It’s a little disturbing, very weird, visually expressive and conceptually challenging. We could do with more of this.

Freelance writer and artist