Thursday, 25 November 2010

Len Lye, 'The Body Electric', Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK

Len Lye
'The Body Electric'
Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, United Kingdom

24 November 2010 – 13 February 2010
This work is by the innovative film maker Len Lye who is being shown at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, UK. Entitled, Rainbow Dance, it is set to a funky African soundtrack (click above). It dates from 1936 and was made for the GPO Unit, he really was ahead of his time, here is the press release....

Len Lye, Still from Rainbow Dance, 1936
Lye’s philosophy of ‘Individual Happiness Now’ – a belief in the possibility of ‘the best in human experience’ for all – is embodied in his work. Born in New Zealand, Lye travelled in the South Pacific as a young man, living for extended periods in Samoa and Australia, before sailing for London in 1926. There the quickly settled into an artistic community that included Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Cedric Morris, Christopher Wood and writers Laura Riding and Robert Graves.

During the 1930s, Lye’s main interest lay in film-making and he drifted into London’s film industry. Commissioned by the visionary film unit of the General Post Office, he produced a number of commercials that are now seen as seminal in the history of moving imagery. These camera-less works used Lye’s own distinct style and technique of ‘direct’ film-making, where colour was painted directly onto the celluloid film. Several of these films will be exhibited at Ikon, including Rainbow Dance (1936) with its Gasparcolour and stencil effects, and the later, more avant-garde films Colour Cry (1958) and Free Radicals (1958). Around the 1950s, having moved to New York and discouraged by a lack of positive critical reaction to his films, Lye began making kinetic sculpture (which he referred to as ‘tangible motion sculptures’ or ‘Tangibles’). 
Len Lye, with 'Tangible sculpture' - 'Fountain of Peace'
Of these works Lye said, ‘all of a sudden it hit me – if there was such a thing as composing music, there could be such a thing as composing motion.’ The Tangibles essentially consist of lengths of metal prompted into movement by a motor. Blade (1958) was one of the first, a 2m
high shiny strip of cold rolled steel with a steel rod and cork ball at the top. Its base, fixed into a clamp, is vibrated to make the whole quiver whilst making sounds like a knife swishing through air, before a climax of dramatic S-shapes cause the ball to rebound in a kind of frenzy. The Fountains (1963-76) were quieter, meant to evoke the “spray in a fountain” by the rotation of hundreds of vertical steel rods up to 2m tall clasped together at the base, bending under their own weight. 

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