The Len Lye Collection an active laboratory - April 2016
01 Jun 2016
A dramatic kinetic artwork designed by Len Lye is taking shape in Christchurch, and will eventually be displayed in the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre.
Snake God and the Snake Goddess features rippling metal that undulates and rears into the air before shooting a 3m bolt of lightning into a large golden sphere.
It is on a list of 10 kinetic sculptures that the Len Lye Foundation plans to scale up in size as per Len Lye’s designs, one at a time and as funding allows. The artwork is one of several in a special programme the University of Canterbury’s engineering department has dedicated to scaling up Len Lye’s kinetic sculptures. The department has assisted the Foundation for more than 25 years.
Len Lye Foundation Director Evan Webb says the engineers are aiming to have the artwork ready for exhibition at the Len Lye Centre in either autumn or spring next year, but no date has been confirmed.
“We first have to find a workshop big enough to thoroughly test it, then we have to be satisfied the sculpture is fit for public exhibition,” he says.
“Also, it’ll be displayed first in Christchurch to acknowledge the work of the university’s engineering department.”
A video of the kinetic sculpture being tested is on the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery’s Facebook page.
Mr Webb says the Len Lye Foundation Collection is an active laboratory as much as it is an archive, with several artworks currently being maintained, restored, constructed or reconstructed from Len Lye’s plans, drawings and models.
“We don’t know what can be done until we attempt it,” says Mr Webb.
“That work includes building new versions to replace obsolete mechanisms and control systems that Len built in his time. We archive the originals before they are worn out or damaged through overuse in exhibition. We also have a duty to make Len’s work accessible through exhibition, with more robust reconstruction of the works with contemporary mechanisms,” he says.
“This is a process of looking backward and forward all at once.”
Len Lye envisaged many of his kinetic sculptures on a giant scale but was not able to realise this goal during his lifetime, as there wasn’t the technology or materials available. For instance, there were several versions of Wind Wand made before the Len Lye Foundation finally constructed the 45m-high version on New Plymouth’s foreshore in 1999.
Last year two University of Canterbury engineering students researched and developed the scaling up of Len Lye’s Rotating Harmonic 10 times larger from a 4ft thin metal rod to a 40ft fibreglass pole that oscillates backwards and forwards until it creates a virtual volume in space. Rotating Harmonic is Len Lye’s precursor work to his Water Whirler installed since 2004 on Wellington’s waterfront.
Kinetic sculptures reconstructed and scaled up by the Len Lye Foundation with the assistance of the University of Canterbury engineering department include Big Blade and Wind Wand.
Works like the new and largest 8m high Fountain IV currently installed in the Len Lye Centre’s Large Works gallery draws on the engineering knowledge largely developed in engineering programmes at universities, says Mr Webb.
“The relationship between art and engineering, particularly in respect to Len Lye’s works, is an essential one and the Foundation values its long term and productive relationship with the University of Canterbury,” he says.
Image: (L-R) Evan Webb, Director of the Len Lye Foundation, Alex O'Keefe, John Matthews, Chair of the Len Lye Foundation and Dr Shayne Gooch photographed with Alex's re-construction of Len Lye's Snake God and Snake Goddess in the engineering workshop at the University of Canterbury
NOTES TO EDITORS
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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.
“We don’t know what can be done until we attempt it” - Len Lye Foundation Director Evan Webb