The films of New Zealand-born artist Len Lye have long been a presence in galleries and museums around the world. However, until a few months ago anyone seeking digital versions they could watch from home was out of luck. Most had never been authorised for digital release, which is one of the reasons we were so excited to work with the Len Lye Foundation to create the online exhibition Free Radical: Len Lye at 120. Now anyone can access Len Lye’s colourful, creative short films, which date from the 1920s to the 1970s, from wherever they happen to be. We hope this will help new fans of all ages to discover his exciting body of work.
To test that idea we asked young viewers (aged 6 to 13) to share their first impressions of films from the exhibition. They watched the films at home under lockdown, and came up with some great responses. Many thanks to Evie, Lauren and Tallulah for sharing their thoughts.
"An old man woke up. He started spinning the world around by hand. Then a young man in the desert in a car started to drive around doing cool tricks and driving up and down the pyramids. A strong wind blew him forwards and he crashed and died. Then a woman that looked like a mermaid played music to the skeleton and it rained oil which made him evolve into a robot.
The robot made a machine with a motor and the world spun by itself and now no one had to spin the world by hand. Which means that now the world is spinning around by itself.
I think that this is an advert and Shell Oil, the brand, is trying to convince people today to buy their oil because their oil is really good for making machines. Also, I think the rain was actually oil."
Evie also produced a torrent of art inspired by some key moments from the film. Unfortunately the originals went missing before we were able to get individual photos of them.
Lauren is another young viewer who was inspired to create art. This painting is Lauren’s response to Swinging the Lambeth Walk; she says the blobs are jellybeans.
"When I saw this short film the first thing that popped into my head was that every time the images changed it was in time with the beat of the music. I noticed that the music sounded kind of Latin. It bombarded me with lots of colours and I liked how interesting and weird every image was. I also thought that it was quite unique how the lines and the patterns sometimes wriggled with the music. There were parts that sort of reminded me of cancer cells. I liked all the transitions the images had, sometimes sliding from the left and right. It amazed me how well the timing worked and how hard it would have been to put everything together with the music."
Do you know a budding film reviewer? Got a younger whānau member who’d like to share their thoughts on a film in our collection? Email us short reviews or artwork, or post them directly to our Facebook.
Hero image: Erik Shiozaki, Portrait of Len Lye with ‘King of Plants Meets the First Man’, 1970s. Len Lye Foundation Collection, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.