Meet Liza Lou

While her classmates toyed with new media or tried to reinvent painting in the late 1980s, Liza Lou walked into a bead store, found her medium, and kept right on walking away from mainstream artmaking. On the way to international acclaim and a new way of life, she picked up a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2002. Her materials are low-tech but require high energy--and stamina. They include beads, needles, thread, glue--stuff you find in any craft supply store--but in Lou's hands, they become enormous, highly detailed, and articualted projects: an entire kitchen, complete with spurting water; an American backyard, each blade of happy grass a spray of beads; a trailer home; and more recently, a solitary confinement cell; a chain-link cage topped with razor wire; Islamic prayer rugs that seem to be disintegrating; and sculpture titled Continuous Mile, a mile-long rope of stiched black beads piled onto itself in a large circle. A new acquisition, it now anchors the museum's contemporary galleries. Born in New York City and raised in Minnesota and Califorina, Lou now lives and works in South Africa, where she and 44 beadworkers created the labor-intensive Continuous Mile over the course of two years. Last spring she installed the dark and gleaming sculpture in the museum's new east wing, painfully crawling a mile on her knees in the process. The sculpture is one of a pair; the other, made of white beads, resides temporarily in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. "One of the things I love about sculpture," she says. "is its silence. And yet the making [of it] involves a tremendous amount of noise." She has described her studio as a place where there is constant singing and sometimes dancing. "Embedded in the meaning of Continuous Mile is the way it was made and who made it. It was made in the townships of KwaZulu Natal." Northeast Ohio viewers may remember Lou's Kitchen installation at the Akron Art Museum in 2000. "Of course the work has evolved and changed since then," she says, "but I continue to be fascinated with many of the same issues, like how space defines us both personally and politically, and the ways in which labor-intensive processes can offer a context for social change." Lou returns to Cleveland on Sunday, September 13 at 5:00 p.m. to discuss her work and read from her Durban Diaries, about living and working in South Africa. -Amy Sparks, assistant editor, publications. From the Cleveland Museum of Art September 2009 Members Magazine

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