“3Essays on Imagereality is the photographic picaresque: a world of image-multiplicity, failed theory and a 24-hours reflecting on the image, the truth and the knuckleball within the walls of the museum.” – Paul Brobbel, Len Lye Curator at the Govett – Brewster Art Gallery
Haunted by photography and fueled by failure, Carlos Spencer-Bayard is an insomniac anythingarian boozehound, who is known to his friends and family simply as “Ghost.” A keen observer of the strangemotion of his own mind, he spends his days engrossed in the daily demands of parenting (i.e. liontaming), but at night, when the noose of nightmadness tightens and the turtle of thought is flipped onto its back, he wrestles with Imagereality. Understanding Imagereality is no easy task, as images are everywhere; and wherever images go, imagetheory must follow. Thus an imagethinker is a scholar of the cultural kitchen sink: nothing is verboten. Shakespeare’s Sonnets and potential self- slaughter, Gnostic intoxication, Gérard Depardieu’s inexplicable sex appeal, Talkreality (also known as Squawkreality), drag queens, author photos, absinthe, and endlessnessnessness: everything is permissible under Imagereality’s spectacular perspectival sun.
I was fortunate this week to have some time travelling in the South Island (including a rare visit to Dunedin to launch Tao Wells’ new publication EASIER). Having a few hours free between connecting flights in Wellington I was able to get my first look at Te Papa’s new Toi Art exhibitions.
My professional interest in the new exhibitions comes with the inclusion of Len Lye, represented by four of his experimental films, one of which Kaleidoscope (1935) lends the title of one of the key permanent exhibitions, Kaleidoscope: Abstract Aotearoa.
Te Papa has a great painting by Lye in their collection (one of the best), however, most know Lye through his kinetic sculpture and experimental cinema so these films give Lye a fairly prominent place in the new Te Papa project. One of the great aspects of Te Papa’s display of Lye’s work here is what they have included with Tusalava (1929).
Lye’s first film, Tusalava generally screens without a soundtrack. The premiere screening at the London Film Society in December 1929 included a live, two-piano accompaniment composed by the Australian Jack Ellitt. The score was torn up by the temperamental Ellitt and, since it was never recorded, the film has remained silent except for an occasional use of Eugene Goossens’ Rhythmic dance for two pianos, op. 30 (said by Lye to be similar to Ellitt’s original piece). What this means is that Tusalava is often treated to new soundtracks by contemporary composers, such as Alcyona Mick and Harry Harrison. Te Papa is exhibiting Tusalava in its silent form along with three optional alternative soundtracks produced by Matatumua Opeloge Ah Sam, Poulima Salima and Matthew Faiumu Salapu (aka Anonymouz).
These three soundtracks were composed in 2013 as part of the exhibition Len Lye: Agiagiā produced by the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Mangere Art Centre (curated by James Pinker and myself). Roger Horrocks reviewed the exhibition in Art NZ #149 (From the Fringe to the Centre: Len Lye at Mangere Arts Centre) and Ema Tavola commented with disdain here. You can buy a copy of the catalogue here.
Photo courtesy of artsdiary.co.nz
Photo courtesy of artsdiary.co.nz
The new soundtracks featured as part of a public programme where three local (South Auckland) contemporary composers were invited to produce alternative soundtracks to the film, adding a new element to the Pacific character of Tusalava. Kelly Carmichael reviewed this event, noting
‘As public programmes go, New Compositions: Three Composers Respond to Tusalava was one of the most ambitious and successful examples of how cultural organisations can operate in an expanded field of practice.’
The soundtrack project within Len Lye: Agiagiā was driven by James Pinker. He and the three composers should be congratulated that the project lives on beyond a single public programme and now sits inside our national museum at a moment of celebration.
Te Papa has also included a further soundtrack option with Tusalava, an audio description for the visually impaired. This came about from an initiative at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery as part of our Len Lye programme and lead by Sarah Dalle Nogare. Tusalava was selected for a pilot project to see how audio descriptions for the visually impaired would work on pieces of experimental cinema. It seemed the narrative structure of the film would make this the most productive example to work with. Working with our partners at Ngā Taonga: Sound and Vision and Able we produced the descriptive soundtrack and then ran an audience workshop in New Plymouth to get feedback. The exhibitionOn an Islandwas the first opportunity to present Tusalava with this new audio and it seemed to integrate well into the exhibition. Hopefully, at Te Papa, many more visitors will make the most of this particular soundtrack. Meanwhile, we’ll be working on audio descriptions for further and the more challenging of Lye’s abstract films.
A quick note to report that I have been invited to present this year’s Estuary Art and Ecology Award. A tradition at Uxbridge Arts and Culture in Auckland, the Estuary Prize is Aotearoa New Zealand’s only art prize dedicated to contemporary art with ecology interests at its heart. More info on this year’s competition is here including details of the prizes and submission guidelines.
Last’s year’s first place work was by Kohl Tyler-Dunshea, selected by judge Ane Tonga.
I’m very pleased to be able to provide links to my text (with Simon Rees) published in the Getty Conservation Institute’s new collection of essays concerning the conservation of kinetic art. You can order a hard copy of Keep It Moving? – Conserving Kinetic Art (eds. Rachel Rivenc and Reinhard Bek) direct from the Getty store (shipping in April 2018) or otherwise access various digital versions of the whole publication here.
The collection covers issues of conserving kinetic art through the proceedings from the meeting organized by the Getty Conservation Institute, the ICOM-CC Modern Materials and Contemporary Art Working Group, and Museo del Novecento Palazzo Reale, Milan, Italy, June 30–July 2, 2016. Artists under discussion included Jonathan Borofsky, Chris Burden, Gianni Colombo, Joost Conijn, Len Lye, Heinz Mack, Aleksandar Srnec, Nicolas Schöffer, Ray Staakman, Jean Tinguely, and Thomas Wilfred. One of the charms of this collection is numerous videos of works under discussion (indexed here).
Here is the abstract of the piece followed by one of the videos included, Len Lye’s Loop in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Read the text itself here.
The New Zealand–born American artist Len Lye (1901–1980) is recognized as a pioneer for his experimental films and his “Tangible Motion Sculpture.” More than thirty-five years after his death, Lye’s artistic legacy is increasingly dependent upon the Len Lye Foundation to reconstruct and realize his sculptural works, particularly the engineering of larger-scale iterations of extant models. In this paper, curators Paul Brobbel and Simon Rees discuss the making of Lye’s sculpture in the twenty-first century and the exhibition of Lye’s work at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth, New Zealand.
Just back from Melbourne after a quick two-day trip to attend the opening of Antipodean Emanations: Cameraless Photographyfrom Australia and New Zealand at Monash Gallery of Art. Curated by the MGA, the exhibition takes over from the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery’s 2016 exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph (curated by Geoffrey Batchen) and considers cameraless photography from this part of the world in more detail.
You can see from the image above that Len Lye is a strong feature, as he did with the earlier Emanations (serving as the starting point for the whole project). The MGA’s exhibition casts a wider net for artists working with cameraless photography from Australia and New Zealand, including many not seen in the earlier exhibition and many others represented by different or more examples of their work. A few examples can be seen here. I’ll write in more detail on this in a separate post. I’d expect a fair few reviews of the exhibition to turn up in coming months. Here’s the first, from Anna Dunnill at Art Guide Australia.
The publication by Geoffrey Batchen,Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph continues to accompany the exhibition is its present form. A recent review has been published by CAA from Australian reviewer Natalya Hughes.
While I was in Melbourne I was able to make the last days of Runes at the Centre for Contemporary Photography. Curated by Justine Varga and Geoffrey Batchen, this was great to see alongside Emanations at the MGA as it included a few works from the Brewster’s earlier Emanations. Irrespective of that connection, this small exhibition was a fascinating group of photographs and the notion of readability.
I also had a little time to see the NGV Triennial which recently received a miserable review from the Australian, similar in tone to recent articles in the UK from Tiffany Jenkins. A more positive review is here from the Guardian.
PAE WHITE, ‘Untitled’, 2017
TEAMLAB, ‘Moving Creates Vortices and Vortices Create Movement’, 2017
Over the last year it has become clear that nothing sends a shiver down the spine of museum colleagues as consistently as a new peice from British journalist Tiffany Jenkins. Here’s this week’s piece in the Guardian – on crowds in museums. And here an earlier and releated piece from the Financial Times more blunt in reccommending entry fees as a way to keep the decorum in and the hordes out. It’s all far from the ugliest of Jenkins’ work (but still snobbishly calls school tours of galleries ‘desperate’). For that, work your way back from this response by Andrew Paul Wood in Eyecontact and this by Kathy Bowrey.
A while back I posted a link to Len Lye’s 1937 film N. or NW. This week MUBI published a great piece from Cristina Álvarez López on the same work.
Idle hands make for the devil’s play. Something like that lead my curiosity get the better of me this Saturday as I put aside my qualms about a near $40 entry fee and went to see the Art of Banksy exhibition at Auckland’s Aotea Centre. There’s a fair bit of hype around this $40m worth of Banksy touring to New Zealand and particular of attention drawn to the curator of the exhibition and former business partner, Steve Lazarides, not being on good terms with the artist.
The Mayor of Auckland praised the exhibition as a ‘huge win’ for the city yet Don Rowe at the Spinoff said pretty much all that can be said of this exhibition. It’s a pitiful experience, all the more remarkable for its size and the number of ‘hits’ included within and no exaggeration to say the inevitable gift shop climax to the exhibition was delivered with more care. I’ve never seen such a shabbily produced exhibition and the entry fee of $37.50 renders the whole effort shameful. It’s a remarkable thing for Auckland to be proud of given the stresses currently affecting its much more capable exhibition makers.