Len Lye: Motion Compositions

18 May - 17 Nov 2024

Much like a composer might write a musical score, Len Lye composed sequences of motion, harnessing intangible energetic forces to sculpt matter.

Why paint moving clouds when you could just conjure motion? Why depict movement when you could just move something? Much like a composer might write a musical score, Len Lye composed sequences of motion, harnessing intangible energetic forces to sculpt matter. Across his career, his artistic practice drew from observations of movement and bodily ways of knowing, combined with an intuitive sense of physics and the inherent nature of materials.

Lye had an enduring interest in the connections between energy, motion, and sound. An effervescent and original thinker, he was captivated by the allure of movement, and the idea that all matter in the universe is underpinned by an energetic pulse that is constantly vibrating—“I’m interested in the business of energy and getting a feeling of zizz.”

Producing countless ‘motion sketches’, Lye studied natural phenomena such as the flight paths of seagulls, ocean currents, and windswept grain fields—patterns of movement that would form his iconography: a visual language to notate the world. Similarly, Lye riffed with steel, exploiting its undulating wave forms, sonic frequencies, and light-reflective properties to produce dancing, temporal figures of motion. Central to his work was the desire to imprint movement into his bodily memory, the notion that this energy was transferable, and that audiences could attune to his kinetic sculptures in sympathetic resonance.

Motion Compositions brings together selected works from the Len Lye Foundation Collection and Archive. Featuring early studies of movement, kinetic ‘tangible motion sculptures’, and experimental films—rendered through the application of scratches and direct painting onto celluloid—the works on display exemplify Lye’s interest in choreographing movement and the inseparability of moving image and sound.

Len Lye is arguably Aotearoa’s most significant twentieth-century expatriate artist. His cross-disciplinary practice spans experimental filmmaking, kinetic sculpture, painting, as well as theoretical writing and poetry. While he lived abroad for most of his career in Sāmoa, Sydney, London, and New York, his preoccupation with energetic forces was shaped by his early life in Aotearoa New Zealand, with its wild coasts, cyclical tides, and seismic volcanic terrain.

Anna Briers – Curator Len Lye and Contemporary Art

Public Programmes 

Sat 18 May 2024 | 5:00PM | Book Launch: Stopped Short: Writings on Len Lye 1977 - 2017

Sat 08 Jun 2024 | 1:00PM | Motion Compositions: Curator tour and movement performance.

Sat 08 Jun 2024 | 1:00PM | Continuum

Sat 28 Sep 2024 | 1:00PM | Continuum

Sat 19 Oct 2024 | 1:00PM | Continuum

Sat 16 Nov 2024 | 1:00PM | Continuum

Weekends, Public Holidays, School Holidays | 11:00AM & 12:00PM | Ribbon play under Sky Snakes