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Sensory responsive exhibition at the Govett- Brewster Art Gallery

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

An upcoming exhibition at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery’s Len Lye Centre links Len Lye to a younger generation of artists who share his interest in the capacity of sound and music to elicit sensory responses.

The exhibition Sensory Agents opens a new view onto the use of sound in Len Lye's kinetic sculpture, highlighting his keen sense of play and experimentation. Presenting kinetic sculpture, archival material and audio recordings from the Len Lye Foundation Collection and Archive, the exhibition looks to some of Lye’s musical influences and collaborations. These connections range from London and his work with Jack Ellitt in the 1930s, through to his encounters with composers John Cage, Morton Subotnick and Ann McMillan in 1960s and 70s New York.

Sarah Wall, curator of the exhibition, says that when Len Lye branched out into kinetic sculpture in 1958, his ideas were closely connected to music.

"Lye believed his kinetic sculpture was naturally suited to music as both movement and music are ‘forms of energy involving rhythm, harmonics and vibrations,’" Wall says. "Working with materials such as steel, Lye developed a range of techniques to heighten the sound-producing qualities of his sculpture, incorporating bells, ‘clankers’ and percussive strikers."

Sensory Agents includes a special presentation of Lye’s sculpture Grass - seen and heard like never before. Rows of fine steel rods known as ‘music wire’ set in an oak plank gently seesaw touching one another to produce a gentle rustling sound. In keeping with Lye’s ideas, Grass will be amplified to produce, in effect, an electronic instrument, revealing a previously unheard, unexpected range of sounds.

"Working at various times as a sculptor, painter, writer, and filmmaker, we see how Lye’s approach to the relationship of his kinetic sculpture to sound was informed by developments happening elsewhere in film and music, with the 1960s the peak decade to witness Lye’s exploration of sound and movement," Wall says.

Throughout the spaces of the Len Lye Centre, the exhibition will also include installations, projections and new commissions by Yuko Mohri, Sergei Tcherepnin, and Danae Valenza, three international artists working across sculpture, sound and musical composition. Whether working with musicians, synthesizers or sounds made by everyday objects and forces, the artists’ works all exude a spirit of experimentation, improvisation and extra-sensory perception and play - principles that were essential to Lye and shared by many other avant-garde artists and composers of the 20th century.

A series of commissioned compositions by musicians using the sounds of Lye’s sculpture are also in Sensory Agents. The commissions draw inspiration from Lye’s own idea to record his sculptures and make their sounds available to musicians and composers to use as source material for their compositions. These are presented alongside material from the Len Lye Foundation Collection and Archive, casting new light on Lye’s work in terms of sound and music, to consider them, in Lye’s words, as ‘musical instruments rather than visual kinetic works of art’.

Also opening on 4 August at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre:

Projection Series #11: An Oceanic Feeling, curated by Erika Balsom, the Govett-Brewster’s 2017 International Film Curator in Residence. Through a series of screenings of recent artists’ film from around the world, An Oceanic Feeling explores how the seas are thoroughly imbricated in human histories of colonialism, slavery, exploration and labour.

Len Lye: Heaven and Earth, curated by Paul Brobbel, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery Senior Curator. This exhibition explores the environments that inspired Lye’s sense of wonder, from the crashing waves of his New Zealand childhood to the marvels of the heavens, both the scientific and mythic.

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