A compelling manifesto, written 76 years ago and held in the Len Lye Foundation Archive in New Plymouth, is being published for the first time.
Written in 1941 by highly original, New Zealand-born artist Len Lye in collaboration with the famous British writer Robert Graves, ‘Individual Happiness Now’ was their attempt to define the freedoms that millions of people were risking their lives to defend, as they fought against Hitler and the Nazis.
Drafted under the title A Definition of Common Purpose, at a time when the Nazis were close to victory, the manifesto explored Lye’s concern that the idea of freedom was defined too simply as freedom from fascism. Lye wanted to establish that freedom was for something rather than from something.
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery Director Simon Rees says that today, the questions raised by Lye and Graves – and their answers – have once again become deeply relevant, as terrorists and extremist politicians are challenging the basic ideals of our society.
“This ‘joint’ announcement is testament to one of the great creative friendships of the 20th century. Lye and Graves’ concept of ‘individual happiness’ is as relevant now – in a time of populism and demagoguery – as when it was written against fascism.”
Graves was the author of the I, Claudius novels which became a popular TV series, and of Good-Bye to All That, a vivid first-hand account of trench fighting during WWI. Graves shared Lye’s concerns, bringing his own experiences of war to their project and providing a literary polish to Lye’s ideas.
In the 1940s, the manifesto was circulated to many British politicians and media people. Its most enthusiastic reader was the American politician Wendell Willkie, who had strong backing to become the first Secretary General of the United Nations at the end of the war. He brought Lye to New York in 1944 to discuss his ideas, but Willkie died that year after a heart attack. The Graves and Lye essay was much discussed but never published – until now.
“This essay is 76 years old but it is amazingly topical today,” says Roger Horrocks, who edited the text for publication.
“Now, all over Europe and in the United States, there are extreme-right politicians questioning the idea of a diverse, free, democratic society, just as the fascists did. Also, the propagandists for ISIS on social media are making converts even among some young people in the West. Our leaders are not doing a good job of explaining the values we must protect. I think Individual Happiness Now will offer a great starting-point for that discussion.”
Horrocks explains: “The essay was written at a time when the Nazis appeared to be winning the war and were planning to invade Britain. Graves and Lye were deeply disturbed because they felt the Nazis were winning the propaganda war. Winston Churchill and other leaders were not explaining clearly what the Allies were fighting for. Politicians were afraid that ‘the moment they left the area of pious platitude, they ran into arguments and controversies. And so they kept to clichés. In response, Graves and Lye set out to explain what freedom and democracy really mean.”
The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre has published the book in association with the new exhibition On an Island: Len Lye, Robert Graves and Laura Riding (8 Apr – 6 Aug 2017).
Len Lye Curator Paul Brobbel says the manuscript is one of the most exciting works in the large collection of papers and works of art which Lye bequeathed to the people of New Zealand when he died in 1980.
The book is available for purchase at the Govett-Brewster Shop and online at www.govettbrewster.com.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
Monica Brewster Evening: Individual Happiness Now
Thursday 25 May, 6 – 8pm
Entry $15, Friends $10, Students with ID free
Roger Horrocks is the guest speaker at the Monica Brewster Evening, where he will discuss ‘Individual Happiness Now’, on Thursday 25 May, 6 – 8pm.
For review copies, high-res images or further enquiries please contact:
M: +275 839 2660
About Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre
The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is New Zealand’s contemporary art museum in the coastal city of New Plymouth, Taranaki on the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. Since opening in 1970, the Gallery has dedicated itself to innovative programming, focused collection development and audience engagement. It has earned a strong reputation nationally and internationally for its global vision and special commitment to contemporary art of the Pacific Rim. The Govett-Brewster is also home to the collection and archive of the seminal modernist filmmaker and kinetic sculptor Len Lye (1901–1980).
The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery was founded with a gift to the city of New Plymouth, from one of its greatest ‘Friends’ Monica Brewster (née Govett). A globetrotter before the age of air travel, Monica Brewster envisaged an art museum for her hometown that would be an international beacon for the art and ideas of the current day – the sort she had become familiar with on her global travels.
The Govett-Brewster continues in the legacy of Monica Brewster by taking on and presenting the most provocative, audacious and confident works of art in the global arts landscape.
The greatly expanded museum re-launched on 25 July 2015 with the addition of the Len Lye Centre. With its curved exterior walls of mirror-like stainless steel, the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre is the country’s first example of destination architecture linked to contemporary art.
This latest addition to the Govett-Brewster – the Len Lye Centre – is New Zealand’s first institution dedicated to a single artist, the pioneering filmmaker and kinetic sculptor, Len Lye.
In 1964 Len Lye said “Great architecture goes fifty-fifty with great art”.
The Len Lye Centre building, adjoining the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, is an example of innovative thinking in both engineering and architecture. The architects are Patterson Associates, one of New Zealand’s most internationally recognised architectural firms.
The new Len Lye Centre features Lye’s work in kinetic sculpture, film, painting, drawing, photography, batik and writing, as well as related work by contemporary and historical artists.
It also houses a state-of-the-art 62-seat cinema – a welcoming environment for audiences to experience Len Lye’s films, local and international cinema, arthouse and experimental films, and regular film festival programming.
The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery building in New Plymouth closed in April 2013 for earthquake strengthening, compliance, upgrades and construction of the Len Lye Centre.
About Len Lye
A visionary New Zealander, an inspirational artist, a pioneer of film; Len Lye is one of the most important and influential artists to emerge from New Zealand.
Len Lye was an experimental filmmaker, poet, painter, kinetic sculptor and creative visionary ahead of his time. Most of his works were so revolutionary that technology literally had to catch up to him – meaning much of Lye’s work was not realised in his own lifetime.
Lye’s iconic 45-metre kinetic sculpture Wind Wand sways gently on New Plymouth's Coastal Walkway. The Wind Wand that glows red at night, is the first large outdoor sculpture to be built posthumously from his plans and drawings.
In 1977 Lye returned to his homeland to oversee the first New Zealand exhibition of his work at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. He called it the “swingiest art gallery of the antipodes”.
Shortly before his death in 1980, Lye and his supporters established the Len Lye Foundation, to which he gifted his entire collection. His collection was gifted on the condition that a suitable and permanent home be created in which his works could be fully realised.
“Now, all over Europe and in the United States, there are extreme-right politicians questioning the idea of a diverse, free, democratic society, just as the fascists did..." - Roger Horrocks