Between the Beads
Between the Beads
When it comes to the work of Liza Lou, nothing is as simple as it seems. Wall hangings of a single color reveal themselves, on closer inspection, to contain hundreds of minuscule glass beads, each catching the light at a slightly different angle and throwing into question all notions of a consistent hue. Pieces featuring several colors, meanwhile, take on a kaleidoscopic, slightly disorienting cast. Lou, 49, doesn’t just show you yellow; she shows you everything yellow can be.
The Los Angeles artist moved to Durban, South Africa, in 2005. She lived there over the next decade, employing and collaborating with a team of Zulu women beadworkers. The women often faced domestic violence, and while Lou provided something of a safe haven, she also learned what making can mean beyond the rarefied art world. In a 2015 speech at Art Basel, she discussed the Zulu phrase Umuntu ubuntu (“I am because we are”). The idea, she said, “is a reminder that there is a wider world beyond my studio.”
One result of Lou’s time in Durban is Color Field, a sweeping floor sculpture of multicolored beads that’s been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the Neuberger Museum of Art in upstate New York. In its assembled form, it presents the viewer with clean squares of almost clichéd colors – front-lawn greens and fire-engine reds – that become more potent the longer you look.
Assembling the piece, whether in South Africa or in the States, was a joy in itself. “There aren’t that many activities we have where people can gather as a culture in a noncommercial setting,” Lou told the New York Times when Color Field landed in the area. “It’s an opportunity to get together and make something.”
Liza Lou, Color Field (detail), 2010 – 13, glass beads, stainless steel, acrylic plastic, 20 x 26 ft. Photo: Pablo Mason, courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego