The moment we came across Lisa Swerling’s “Glass Cathedrals” in Selvedge magazine we started dreaming we owned a gallery, cafe, restaurant or shop to display them for everyone to admire. We would paint the walls white and then hang the cathedrals up very carefully, all at the same height, one after another, in a line. Our make-believe customers would walk in, glass of fizzy in hand, stand and stare, then fall about laughing whilst pointing at the boxes.
They are beautiful, imaginative and surprising works that display tiny little people grappling with small, medium and big issues in spaces that are wider, bigger and emptier than most of us could contemplate. These little worlds make you stop, think, smile, laugh and celebrate the human condition. In a world where we daily crush headlong into harsh vicissitudes how joyful it is to stop and look at ourselves in miniature proportions. We are all human after all.
So many of the situations she creates resonate with those in our daily lives: “In an Emergency Break Glass” it says on a glass cabinet containing a glass of red wine. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”: all cooks feel like that for sure, but how hard is it to keep kitchens clean? And just look at the lady sweeping the glitter in “A woman’s work is never done”: how diligent is she? And when life all gets too much we say: Go Party People!
Lisa’s career has been anything but conventional. She read PPE at Oxford and then studied art at St. Martin’s College in London. She moved to the Seychelles with her husband, Ralph Lazar, where they set up Last Lemon Productions, www.lastlemon.com, a graphic art licensing company. Back in London in 2006 they decided they wanted to set up an art exhibition and the idea for “Glass Cathedrals” was born.
This is how Lisa describes the creation of this work on her website:
“Glass Cathedrals comprise glass-fronted boxes housing miniature figures, and there’s something about the scale of these mini universes that makes their pursuits by turns heroic, tragic, humorous and wistful.
The ideas behind the Glass Cathedrals are based on the sorts of thoughts I’ve been having since I was six: Why do I have to tidy my room? Help, I’m going to die one day. I don’t want to jump in the pool, but I will anyway. Yay, glitter! Like a lot of people I have these moments of inspiration about what it is to be a funny little human traveling around this big planet. What to do with these thoughts? I started putting mine in boxes…
The Glass Cathedral concept is taken from an episode in the Peter Carey book Oscar and Lucinda – a life-size glass church, made by missionaries in the Australian outback, is seen floating down a river. A trapped dragonfly collides against the walls trying to escape, blind to the concept of glass. There is a parallel collision between the seriousness with which we take our lives, and the limitations of our understanding. The vast majority of us can empathise with the figures’ existential struggles. And also laugh.”
For the last five years Lisa and her husband have been living in San Anselmo near San Francisco, and she sends her cathedrals all over the world to a growing client base. She also set up the little girls’ clothing line, Bread and Jam, at www.ilovebreadandjam.com. Her imagination is unbounded, and we are going to keep a close eye on all the food and drink related cathedrals she creates, Tweet them on Twitter and display them in The Foodie Bugle.
You can order a bespoke cathedral from Lisa by going to her website at www.glasscathedrals.com and there you will also be able to see the little figures on a larger scale.