Len Lye Free Radicals tote bag

$38.00 NZD

Made from thick cotton, these new black tote bags boast Len Lye’s hand scratched words, adapted from stills of his 1958 film ‘Free Radicals’.

The Christchurch born artist wrote about this film: “I was messing around with a particularly vibrant little image I was composing on film. The image had a kind of zizzy quality. I chased it around high and low for some music and at last I got some African drums that had the same quality of zizz in their short sharp rhythmic figures as I had in my visuals”.

Some critics regard Free Radicals 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”). 

Free Radicals 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.”


Len Lye Free Radicals adapted from a film still 1958. Courtesy of Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre and the Len Lye Foundation, from material preserved and made available by Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision