Len Lye (1901-1980)
Composing Motion: The Sound of Tangible Motion Sculpture (1961-76)
These tracks comprise recordings of some of Len Lye’s kinetic sculptures. One of New Zealand’s most innovaive and remarkable artists, Len Lye became an internationally renowned animator, film maker and sculptor. Considered well ahead of his time, many of his kinetic sculptures have only recently been realised as they required technology and materials that have only more recently become available.
The Govett-Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth has the largest collection of Len Lye kinetic sculptures anywhere in the world and others have since been constructed:eg New Plymouth’s ‘Wind Wand’ or the ‘Water Whirler’ on the Wellington waterfront.
“Sound crazy people vibrate to sound and this disc is for them; it’s got some of the sharpest astringent zings of sound that ever cut the air, maybe because it’s all made with doctor’s blade steel, some of it the sharpest. … All I know is that when it’s set up in motorized vibrating and shaking devices, and struck with strikers, it cuts a new sound groove.” -- Len Lye
“So I went back to animating solid three-dimensional objects, like motion sculpture - something I did as a kid but now I realised that my particular sense of motion was tied in a lot with vibration. And instead of using an old handle to wind pulley-wheels, I used motors to transmit power to the object…a whole lot of springy metals, and the motorized mechanisms would flip them about.” - Len Lye
Len Lye began making his kinetic sculptures in New York in the late 1950s. He described them initially as ’Tangible Motion Sculptures’ - as motion made tangible. He used this term to distinguish them from Alexander Calder’s “mobiles” since at that time “mobiles” were the best known form of moving sculpture.
After a display of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961, Lye showed his sculptures regularly at the Howard Wise Gallery. It appeared in large exhibitions during the 1960s and received positive coverage in magazines from Time and Newsweek to Artforum and Art in America.
Lye’s work was not only unlike Calder’s mobiles, but also unlike most European kinetic art because he did not use geometrical forms and hi-tech control (in the spirit of the Bauhaus or the Constructivist movement). His work was very body-oriented – Lye’s sculpture dances. He emphasized vibration and sometimes ferocious energy.
Lye came to feel that size was important to movement -- in the way that a large wave has a very different kinetic feel to a small wave, even though the basic shape is the same. But he had great difficulty in funding large works because the material and technology were so expensive. Hence, a number of such projects did not get beyond the stage of plans and small models.
Lye once said: “My work I think is going to be pretty good for the 21st century. Why the 21st? It’s simply that there won’t be the means until then, I don’t think there’ll be the means to have what I want, which is enlarged versions of my work.” He entrusted the Foundation with the task of realizing some of his plans for large-scale works once the technology improved or became affordable. This work is on-going.