Liza Lou's The Vessel was created for her first solo show in London in 2006. Made famous for her ambitious sculptural installations that replicate entire domestic environments in glimmering beads, Lou's London debut took her in a new and darker direction. The exhibition responded to conflicts in the Middle East, the death penalty and the often-damaging pursuit of religious ecstasy.
In The Vessel Lou presents the viewer with a life-sized Christ-like figure buckling under the weight of his heavy burden. Yet this seemingly unrecorded station of the cross confers a further indignity on the suffering Christ by beheading his meticulously beaded body. The red tunnel of his trachea forms the vessel of the sculpture's title, into which mankinds pain and torment might be poured. Lous familiarity with this universal embodiment of torture and agony reaches back into her childhood in the Bible Belt of America. The Los Angeles based artist was raised by Pentecostal parents in Minnesota, and was witness to the exorcisms, tongue-speaking and blind hypocrisies of their beliefs. But The Vessel is not an explicitly personal narrative, but may rather be seen as a symbol of arts ability to fulfill a spiritual dimension in life.
Lou has described her astonishingly labour intensive process of creation as a meditative act that combines both conceptual and craft elements. Her sculptures are painstakingly constructed from thousands of beads laid onto their foundation with tweezers. This gives The Vessel its halo of luminosity and creates a tension between the whole and the sum of its parts. Recalling the Minimalists obsession with repetition and materiality, Lou uses the minutia of her materials to seduce and hold our gaze. Every bead acts as a reminder of the hand that placed it there and the belief it took to do so. To observe The Vessel is therefore a humbling and contemplative experience that conveys a sense of hope and light despite its sombre subject.