Trapped behind glass cases, the miniature human subjects of Lisa Swerllng’s Glass Cathedrals unabashedly perform daily rituals normally veiled from the outside world. The stunning pieces afford viewers with a whimsical type of voyeuristic indulgence. Like children before a set of dolls, we are invited to examine the many mundane moments that compose adult life, breathing life and meaning into each dollhouse-like setup with our own imaginations.
With its feet firmly planted in childlike curiosity, the series is unafraid to veer into tragic emotional spaces; caught staring into endless amounts of white space, many of the figures appear lonesome and fully aware of their smallness. A woman scrubs at a dizzyingly vast array of tired floors and walls, incapable of completing her work for her own tininess and permanently fixed position. Similarly, a man stares at his cow, a sole companion who does not return his gaze.
Though humorously seen, Swerling’s models are at times bitterly unaware. A group of people stand before a glass case containing the figure of a generic ghost labeled “god” with a sign stating, “In case of emergency break glass,” not noticing that they themselves are encased in glass, searching for meaning in the touchingly absurd. The viewer, in turn, is forced to face his or her burning existential yearnings within this magically adult dollhouse.
The idea of domesticity as it relates to femininity shines through in Swerling’s work in unexpected ways. A piece titled “A woman’s work is never done” features a woman sweeping pink glitter, erasing the suggestion of the usual portrayal of the home as unfulfilling; here and in a piece that features a woman serving dinner at the head of the table, glitter serves as a surprising and ecstatic symbol of female self-actualization. From the woman who examines herself before a mirror to an unwaxed redhead standing nude before circle of nuns, Swarling’s women embrace their activities unabashedly.
Hitting poignant notes that remind us of the power that lies beneath human smallness, isolation, connection, and actively defined identities, Glass Cathedrals serves as an alter at which we may worship our own condition. (via Foodie Bugle, Catto Gallery, and Lost At E Minor)