”Movement is unpremeditated being; it is the uncritical expression of life. As we begin to meditate we begin to stop living. . . First comes life; and if we meditate prematurely, if we lend to physical things a critical self-consciousness, we are substituting imagination for movement and sentimentalizing the physical past. Up to a certain point we must leave things alone and let them speak for themselves, in movement. We must understand the physical physically.”( Len Lye, Laura Riding, Epilogue, 1938 )
Its all in the kinetics. Len Lye’s idea of tangible motion sculpture brought to life images that celebrate motion. Driven by his passion to make movement real, Lye ( 1901-1980 ) created kinetic sculptures. There was a persistence of the human figure in his work regardless of medium. He set himself against representations of imagery and for a deep and profound study of the figures of motion.
He was at the far end of the learning curve, and never fit easy categorization of historic branding labels.Throughout his varied and prolific artistic career, Lye moved on the periphery of many twentieth century artistic movements- including the Surrealists, the Constructivists, and Abstract Expressionism, though never comfortably fits into any of these stylistic categories. However, he was close with poets Dylan Thomas, Robert Graves, and W. H. Auden, as well as artists Miró, and Georgia O’Keefe. The surrealist influence When, later, he began to draw his own pseudo-tribal images, that mystery, that lost or buried meaning, became a thing of his own and exposure was crucial though, in his pursuit of motion, he developed a recognition of its ”look” in all its complexity, and, given the influence of Surrealism, the step to locating the mystery fully within himself was a short one.
Its not over t’il its over, but, the art gamesman’s dream of educating the masses to appreciate the precious object sort of art will eventually have to be abandoned, along with the traditional art galleries, to a handful of square eggheads. Len Lye showd what sort of art it will be. And this art will not be anything like the bulk of what passes for avant-garde art today. Hopefully, to the chagrin of us in the art supplies business, the brush and paint tradition will may have finally played itself out, as the last tube is left to dry and decompose on the beach, like rotted fish washed up on the shore. Into the oblivion with it will have gone the rubbish collages, the old iron sculptures of imitation Tinguely’s, phony drip paintings of ersatz Pollocks, squashed motorcars of John Chamberlain, imitation giant baked potato and hamburger jokes of Claes Oldenberg, ad nausea, give me a Gravol, the indigestion of stale art smells like an old tuna fish sandwich.
The reactionary cult-of-the-precious-object-in-a gilt-frame complex is the foundation of the art game. An artist St-George slaying and burying the art beast, at the bottom of a museum pit for a 1000 years has not happened yet, despite the efforts of some valiant art knights and chevaliers like Dennis Oppenheim, Len Lye, Alexander Healy, Alexander Calder, Donald Judd and their more contemporary cadets like Dragset and Elmgreen.
” One morning, it had been raining all night, and there were these marvellous fast little scuddy clouds in the blue sky. As I was looking at those clouds I was thinking, wasn’t it Constable…who sketched clouds trying to convey their motions? Well, I thought, why clouds, why not just motion? Why pretend they are moving, and why not just move something? 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. After all, there are melodic figures, why can’t there be figures of motion? ”…an idea hit me that it seemed like a complete revelation. It was to compose motion, just as musicians compose sound. [The idea] was to lead me far, far away from wanting to excel in…traditional art ( Len Lye )
The beloved old men. : Picasso, Ernst, Miro etc. are like Joel and Ethan Coen’s, ” No Country For Old Men”, where the themes of fate and circumstance pushed the two millions dollars of illcit money in a satchel on them, and the stash in the satchel syndrome keeps changing hands and growing bigger as it becomes exchanged over time. That is to say, there is a certain amount of fraud involved in continuing to chase after the satchel when the game has gone elsewhere. The Sherrif’s have moved on. The inherent difficulty of expression of motion through paint on a canvas can only be bypassed through real motion, whose origins are deeply rooted and perhaps only understood by First Nation societies. Picasso realized the futility of painting imitation wood and newspapers through paint in their still lifes, and thus pioneered the elaborate arts of ccollage and constructivism. The desire for motion in art goes much deeper than publicity garnering gimmicks, though they may point the way to more serious studies.
Len Lye went on to create a vast array of art, pioneering forms of film making and kinetic sculptures. He also was a reputable painter, writer and theorist. A lot of his inspiration came from his personal studies of the New Zealand Maori, Samoans,head hunters of the Solomon Islands, and Australian aboriginal; and his belief that the best art is inspired by the unconscious or the ‘old brain’.He was expelled by the New Zealand colonial administration for living with an indigenous community.Yet, the lost or buried meaning of tribal objects, the scratching of myth and meaning, was internalized and ready to return to the old brain.
He worked as an anthropologist, locating the mystery, and regarded the process as an unpremeditated act of mind. This notation, or documentation involved a form of ”doodlng” involving kinds of attention meant to catch consciousness napping so that the mind can freely take its shapes. Shapes which constitute knowledge of what one is at the exact moment one is. and Lye spent most of his life dedicated to his idea of ‘making movement real’ or ‘ Tangible Motion Sculpture’ as he called it, reflecting what Allen Ginsberg expressed when he said, ”mind is shapely”.