What are the odds of that?

It is time to place your bets on the winner of the Olay Vision Award for Women artists. Luckily, there's a new website where you can do just that. By Kate Mikhail
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The Independent Culture
THE WOMAN is trapped in time and space. She hitches up her long, heavy dress and descends the stairs, only to turn around and retrace her steps back up again - first in slo-mo and then quickly, as if by making a dash for it she will suddenly escape her confines and break free of the tiny world she inhabits. The black-and-white video installation, South of the 31st Parallel, by Rachel Lowe, named after a short story by JG Ballard, is undoubtedly beautiful, but claustrophobia wins the day as the viewer is sucked into the dimly lit stairwell and the woman's never- ending, hamster-wheel existence.

"I wanted her to feel trapped on the stairs," says Lowe, who deliberately hid her subject's features to make her a representation of a woman rather than a real individual, to maximise the timeless ambiguity of the piece.

The dark, shadow-filled, grainy footage recalls the ambience of early film, but also the work of the Victorian photographer and inventor Eadweard Muybridge, while the woman's dress suggests bygone times. How long are we to suppose she's been stuck in this moment, with no past, or hope of any future? South of the 31st Parallel is one of five works competing for the Olay Vision Award for Women Artists, in which all the artists use different new media.

Gravity and Awkwardness, by Louise K Wilson, is another claustrophobic piece that assaults the visitor's senses, creating an uncomfortable and disorienting environment. This multimedia installation envelopes the viewer, who is surrounded by sound and unsettling light patterns while standing on a rickety platform to cause further upset and unbalance. The flickering, abstract images projected on to a concave screen recall the work of Op artists such as Bridget Riley. Wilson, who uses motion-sickness footage in her work, is clearly in charge - toying with loss of gravity and the effect this has on the unsuspecting visitor's body. A small monitor within the installation shows film of a seated woman who is able to move, leaning backwards, forwards or to the side, only in response to orders from an unseen voice. The smallness of the screen and the inability of the woman to get up and run away is tortuous, making it a welcome relief to retreat into the adjacent gallery where there is nothing but space, mountains and drifting clouds.

The clouds belong to Mariele Neudecker, who has photographed her better- known landscape sculptures - contained in large, transparent tanks and submerged in tinted saline solution - and played around with the image- manipulation software Photoshop and After Effects to create a layered image where the distant mountains are one minute submerged in dense cloud, and the next exposed in all their awesome vastness, putting mankind in its puny place. The clouds are timed to drift between the two screens that house the desolate landscape, which is as soothing as watching fish in a tank, or real-time clouds overhead. Neudecker's work is frequently likened to that of Caspar David Friedrich, the German Romantic painter, who filled his canvases with fog-drenched images of the sea and mountainous landscapes.

Outside the gallery, passers-by who let their eyes wander above street level will find themselves dwarfed by a towering inferno. Huge colour transparencies fill each of the gallery's four windows, carrying scenes of city life, and of skyscrapers engulfed in ravenous flames. Jane Prophet's images are based on a tale of the life of a cyborg, taken from a graphic novel CD-rom she is currently working on. The CD-rom is multi-layered and the sci-fi narrative is thorough in its detail, which, unfortunately, the exterior images can only allude to.

The last contestant for the award is Nina Pope who has, appropriately, set up Safe Bet, an on-site, up-and-running bookies' shop, which focuses on the competition in hand. Pope, who has a record of producing public, live art relayed over the Internet, wanted to put together a work purely relevant to the here and now. "I wanted to get people to think about what it's like being in an art competition," says Pope, who has also set up a Safe Bet website so that gamblers can make an informed decision before parting with their cash.

Wannabe performance artists can have a walk-on part in Pope's installation by simply placing a bet. The winner will be announced on 7 June. Until then art-lovers and gamblers alike are invited to visit the show, pick up a betting slip, and head down to their local Ladbrokes.

Lux Centre, 2-4 Hoxton Sq, London N1 (0171-684 2785) Wed-Sun to 20 Jun. www.safebet.org.uk/