Tag Archives: animation

Len Lye @ ACMI

“An artist in perpetual motion, Len Lye” is a retrospective at ACMI’s screen gallery. Filmmaker, poet, painter and kinetic sculptor or should that be kinetic sculptor, filmmaker, photographer, batik artist and doodler? There are many sides to the work of Len Lye.

I have seen Len Lye’s art in various exhibitions, art fairs and museums for the past two decades. Sometimes in surprising places like in the Belgium Centre for Comic Strips where he is noted for his pioneering abstract color animation. One year at the Melbourne Art Fair the gonging from his sculpture could be heard around the Exhibition building at regular intervals. Len Lye was this strange phenomenon of an artist going off in all directions simultaneously.

The Len Lye retrospective at ACMI helped me to get a view of this moving subject. Even as I looked at the exhibition I didn’t know if I was going to write about Lye’s connection with the Dadaist filmmakers, his kinetic sculpture, his interest in indigenous art or something completely different.

The exhibition, as you might expect from ACMI, shows many of Lye’s short experimental films. Lye’s short animated films with their jazz soundtracks are enjoyable to watch, there is plenty of movement and color. The exhibition also displays some film stock, the tools and techniques that Lye used to create them. Len Lye’s ‘direct filmmaking’ techniques of scratching and painting on the film owe their freedom to Dadaist’s like Man Ray, Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling. Lye was in contact with major European avant-garde filmmakers as early as 1929. Before this exhibition I didn’t know about his connections with Dadaist filmmaker Hans Richter, demonstrated by Lye’s photogram of Richter in 1947 and a group photograph including Lye and Richter from 1929.

The artistic freedom and novelty of abstract kinetic sculptures, combining movement with geometry, was a high modernist ideal. Len Lye’s kinetic sculptures are amongst greatest kinetic sculptures along with the mobiles of Alexander Calder. The formal beauty of Lye’s sculptures in motion can be easily appreciated in the large dark space of the screen gallery; they are well light and the moving steel sculptures stands out against the dark walls.

There was surprise of the exhibition, for me, as I am interested in the history of stencils in art due to Melbourne’s stencil art. Len Lye used stencils in his ‘direct filmmaking’ techniques used in Rainbow Dance, 1936 and also in Musical Poster, 1942. Lye used both metal (tin or lead sheet metal) and paper stencils. Using stencils allowed Lye to paint repeating patterns onto celluloid film. Lye also used stencils and sprayed lacquer on plywood in Ice Age, 1938.

After this free major retrospective exhibition I now have a much better appreciation of the art of Len Lye. This is not a review of the retrospective exhibition; there are so many facets of Lye’s art in this exhibition that someone else will find different topics to focus on. The subject of Len Lye keeps on moving.


Trouble in Toyland

On Thursday evening, 15 January, the Counihan Gallery had its first exhibition opening of the year and launched its annual program of exhibitions.

“Trouble in Toyland” is a gem of an exhibition; a small group exhibition by five notable artists from Australia’s eastern states, “exploring the seductive, sinister and anthropomorphic qualities of toys.” Toys are an obvious theme in contemporary art from Jeff Koons’s “Pink Panther” (1988) to Takashi Murakami “The castle of Tin Tin” (1998). Toys are a feature of contemporary life for both children and adults. Every movie has action figures (even “Reservoir Dogs”) and the computer game industry out grosses Hollywood.

Toys, like art, are part of the excess of culture. They occupy our spare time and are bought when the necessities of life have been paid for. Toys, games and art are part of the same excess in culture. “Poetry and pushpin” are not alternatives for pleasure as Bentham suggested but are part of the same excess that is the source of pleasure.

Martine Corompt’s kinetic sculpture “Scared chair with anxious cat” was very popular with all the little kids at the exhibition opening. The kids enjoyed the anxiety of the wondering if the toy cat, with a bass shaker fitted inside, would fall off its little chair as it vibrated around.

Christopher Langton’s very large inflatable figure “Plastic Man” also impressed the kids, along with the adults “Plastic Man” is modeled on Captain America and it is capable of shock and awe by its size, but it is not as friendly and ultimately just full of air.

Michael Doolan’s ceramic toy figures with platinum luster look beautiful. The toys that they are modeled on were not beautiful or elegant but cute and sentimental. Once they were soft and plush; now they are ultra shiny and hard ceramic forms highlighting the superficial quality of beauty.

Van Sowerwine has a series of videos using dolls and stop motion animation along with photographs of this miniature world. Using dolls Sowerwine creates a child’s world full of pathos. In contrast to the videos and photographs Sowerwine also exhibited a shadow-box sculpture with hand-cranked animated figures, a simpler version of the same vision.

Anna Hoyle’s whimsical delicate and detailed drawings of fluffy animals and psychedelic glitter decorations were the small stars of the exhibition. Squirrels wearing gym shoes pamper pompadour pets with phallic blow dryers. Hoyle creates a fanatic world of toys, consumer culture beauty treatments with a cute overdrive.

In the back half of the Counihan Gallery was Keiko Murakami’s first solo exhibition: Kizuguchi. (I presume that Keiko Murakami is no relation to the more famous Takashi Murakami). Keiko Murakami’s paintings and prints also depicts a troubled child’s world; the exhibition’s title ‘kizuguchi’, means a “wound or cut to the body” in Japanese. Murakami’s Goth-Lolita figures all bare a symbolic wound, a vaginal symbol imposing reality on their doll-like qualities.

The world is not safe for children; that is why they grow up.


%d bloggers like this: