Since borders remain closed I thought especially for anyone offshore that the new online exhibition of Len Lye at 120 might be of interest! But before that a virtual visit to the gorgeous Govett Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth, home to the Len Lye Centre!
Seems they were cleaning it at the time Google drove past, but the polished steel facade is magic to view IRL!
Free Radical: Len Lye at 120
Len Lye (1901-1980) was an influential New Zealand-born modernist artist whose long international career encompassed sculpture, painting, photography and filmmaking. He had a restless creative mind, and as a filmmaker moved easily between animation, live action and Direct Film – an original technique that involved painting, drawing, stencilling and scratching on the filmstrip.
These are the definitive digital versions of Len Lye’s films, shared here in collaboration with the Len Lye Foundation and the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre. The original works on film are cared for by Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision in Wellington, New Zealand.
Curated in collaboration with the Len Lye Foundation, this is the first time Lye’s films have been made freely available online, including some recordings you’ll see nowhere else.
View the exhibition at Nga Taonga
Two favourite scratch films that I would highly recommend viewing, even if you have seen them before
1958 Free Radicals
Description via Len Lye Foundation:
“Some critics regard this as Lye’s greatest film. He reduced the film medium to its most basic elements – light in darkness – by scratching designs on black film. On screen his scratches were as dramatic as lightning in the night sky. He used a variety of tools ranging from dental tools to an ancient Native American arrow-head, and synchronized the images to traditional African music (“a field tape of the Bagirmi tribe”). The film won second prize out of 400 entries in an International Experimental Film Competition judged by Man Ray, Norman McLaren, Alexander Alexeiff and others, at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. In 1979 Lye decided to shorten this already very concentrated film from 5 to 4 minutes. Stan Brakhage described the final version as “an almost unbelievably immense masterpiece (a brief epic).” In 2008 Free Radicals was selected by the U.S. Library of Congress as a “classic film” that it would “preserve for all time.”
Me: Free Radicals was the first scratch film by Len Lye I saw that blew my mind! Tight sync to a field recording of drumming by the Bagirmi people of Chad & visual waveforms all scratched on a frame the size of your fingernail! From 2’00” the shapes appear to rotate in 3d space = genius!
1979 Particles in Space
Description via Len Lye Foundation:
“Lye completed his last great film a few months before his death at the age of 78. The film returned to the black-and-white techniques of Free Radicals. Lye created what he called “vibrant little images” or “zig-zags” with a sense of “zizz”. The clusters of small scratches gave the film a unique texture – the images looked rough but were in fact extremely subtle. The title Particles in Space referred to flashes of energy of the kind sometimes seen by astronauts in space. The soundtrack combined “Jumping Dance Drums” from the Bahamas with drum music by the Yoruba of Nigeria and the sounds of Lye’s metal kinetic sculptures. The opening titles demonstrated Lye’s mastery of the scratching of letters and words on film, a method imitated by other film-makers such as Stan Brakhage.”
Me: the 3d movement and granular swarms are just gorgeous!