A Film of Real Time
Leon Narbey


Leon Narbey
A Film of Real Time
Production date:
Accession No:
16mm film
16mm colour film

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth

The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery opened for the first time on 22 February, 1970 for an exhibition by recent Elam School of Fine Arts graduate Leon Narbey. Narbey’s work, Real Time, was an immersive light and sound installation that filled the entire gallery space. Viewers were plunged into a discombobulating, sensory landscape of flashing neon light, darkly glittering black plastic and booming, ringing sound. As an event to signal the arrival of the Govett-Brewster in New Zealand’s cultural landscape it was spectacular. Daring and whole-hearted, the exhibition was an unqualified commitment to an emerging artistic talent, and it polarised audiences.

Narbey, now an acclaimed cinematographer, produced a short film to document his multisensory installation. However, A Film of Real Time goes much further than straight documentation. Narbey used the medium of film creatively to capture an almost physical sense of the installation. A Film of Real Time opens with footage of the crowds attending the opening event. Narbey’s editing is staccato. We are shown flashes of men in suits, ladies in hats, drinks in hand. A palpitating sense of nervous excitement is tangible. Inside the darkness of the exhibition, Narbey’s camera is everywhere. Extremely high and low perspectives, close-ups and fast editing effectively recreate the disorienting effects of the work. The film captures the ripple and sway of the exhibition, the buzz of neon light and the rhythmic clank of machinery. Children run, giggling, through this fantastic playground. Shadowy figures emerge from the maze of light, with faces illuminated by red and blue neon.

In A Film of Real Time, Narbey pushes the medium of film to create a physical response in the viewer’s body. People are central to this work, as they were central to Real Time. Because Narbey set the light and sound features of the installation to be triggered by viewers’ movements, Real Time literally performed in real time. With no one in the room the installation would fall silent and dark.