Welcome to the Review Repository - an archive of reviews that were originally published in the Saturday edition of the Taranaki Daily News from September 2007 – April 2008.

The reviews were written for a general audience and therefore tend to be descriptive and educational in focus.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Burning Vision

Artists’ visions keep culture and society healthy. However, as history illustrates the populace often struggle to understand and appreciate the significance of an artist’s work in its full extent in the contemporary moment of its public display. Unfortunately this results in many artists getting a hard deal during their time only to be revered decades after their death. There are plenty of examples in art history that could illustrate this. In New Zealand one of the most prominent examples is the artist Len Lye. Despite having received awards for his more traditional art Lye’s passion was to pursue more edgy, exciting and less constraining art forms. However, New Zealand’s conservative culture of the 1920s would not have been able to stimulate Lye in such a way. Indeed, even Lye himself must have been somewhat of an oddity to many New Zealanders at this time since he is noted to have been a wild and eccentric character. So in search for an artistically stimulating and accepting community Lye travelled to Samoa, Sydney then finally escaping to London in 1926 by working his passage onboard a ship as a stoker. Within a day of arriving Lye charmed his way into London’s hip avant-garde art scene. Lye’s unconventional art and charismatic personality made an immediate impact in London - astounding the critics who lauded him as being more innovative than his English contemporaries. However, at this time Lye also received a somewhat brief, inaccurate and dismissive review in the Art in New Zealand Magazine. In fact Lye didn’t receive due recognition in New Zealand until much later in his career when the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery exhibited a solo show of his in 1977.

The current exhibition at the Govett-Brewster Five Fountains and a Firebush gives us some further insight into the innovative art of Len Lye while also drawing attention to his visionary legacy. The concept of the exhibition is inspired by a live solo performance of kinetic sculptures under coloured lights that Lye performed at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 1961. The exhibition consists of five different permutations of Lye’s motorised steel rod kinetic sculptures known as Fountains and one very similar work entitled Firebush. Each Fountain is distinctly different in movement, scale and display. What makes this exhibition of particular note is that it introduces two newly created works never exhibited before. One of these works is Fountain which was created this year based upon Lye’s plans. Fountain is a sweet ethereal wee creation that has a subtle pulsing and contracting movement of fine steel rods - which sometimes appear translucent in the blue light. Its movement resembles the propulsion and grace of a jellyfish.

The star of the show is definitely the work Firebush. Firebush is a 2007 replica of the original 1960 version which Lye performed live at MoMA. The work is operated by a button which simultaneously triggers African drumming music. The drumming seems to stimulate Firebush’s sinuous tendrils to vibrate and contort almost to the point of tying themselves in loops. Each individual thin steel rod dances a different erratic and improvised choreographed movement whilst electric with blood red and copper light shimmering in all intensity and passionate vigour.

The unique aspect of each Fountain reveals Lye’s persistence in choreographing the intricate interplay between movement, physicality, sound and light. Collectively each of the six works triggers a vast range of bodily sensations and thoughtful musings in the viewer - from intense excitement to tranquillity and meditative reflection. The different versions of Fountain also reflect that the concept was constantly evolving. Lye finally planed to make a fountain that would be 45.7 meters high. The installation of many Fountains at once gives us some understanding of what it might be like to experience the monolithic scale that Lye had intended.

This exhibition gives us a specific in-depth investigation of one small component of Lye’s kinetic practice – emphasising the laborious experimentation and planning that goes behind making only one idea a reality. This exhibition will also appeal to a diverse audience – since you don’t need any specialised knowledge to appreciate the visceral movements and visual spectacle that these works instil in the viewer. This effect and popular appeal was exactly Lye’s aim to unify diverse people under a common experience that speaks to us beyond the constraints of conventional communication. A universalism that Lye hoped would speak to our shared inner being while also inspiring us to live out our own unique individuality. A vision which was undoubtedly inspired by Lye’s working class background as a common labourer and his childhood adventures in the wilds New Zealand. It is a pleasure to have such a fresh and lively presentation of Lye’s artwork from which we can grasp some understanding of his visionary artistic philosophy.

Exhibition closes 24 February 2008