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March 13, 2006 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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‘The least boring person who ever lived.’

Water Whirler
Len Lye
Franks Kitts Park

Christchurch born artist Len Lye had some pretty famous friends. He was buddies with poets Dylan Thomas, Robert Graves, and W. H. Auden, as well as artists Miró, and Georgia O’Keefe. Throughout his varied and prolific artistic career, Lye moved on the periphery of many twentieth century artistic movements- including the Surrealists, the Constructivists, and Abstract Expressionism, though never comfortably fits into any of these stylistic categories. He was a New Zealander who spent most of his life involved with both the European and American avant-garde. Not that we should necessarily measure success by international recognition, but Len Lye is definitely up there with New Zealanders in terms of international street cred. Roger Horrocks, Lye’s biographer writes, that “Lye’s exuberance, his unique taste in clothes, his quirky turn of phrase, and his free-wheeling life style made him a legendary figure among fellow artists and film-makers.”

People who come from Taranaki will know Len Lye as the artist who created the 45 metre high Wind Wand down on New Plymouth’s waterfront. So, all Naki ex-pats will be happy to know that another sculpture by Lye has recently been installed down at Frank Kitts Park as part of the International Festival of the Arts running at the moment in Wellington.

The Water Whirler is an impressive kinetic sculpture which has been created from the drawings and directions that Lye left behind after he died in 1980. Even though the ideas were there, Water Whirler could not have existed during the artist’s lifetime, simply because the technology didn’t exist yet. Even today, it was an extremely complicated and challenging project to put together. Not only because of the technical nature of the sculpture, but also because the creators wanted to stay as true as possible to Lye’s original concepts.

The Water Whirler’s choreographed performance runs for about fifteen minutes at a time. This is what happens: the wand in the middle starts to quiver from side to side, increasingly agitating the water which comes streaming out the sides. As the performance continues the wand flails around faster and further, its activity generated by its own kinetic energy.

The sculpture aptly illustrates Lye’s life- long interest in movement, and the way in which he sought to “compose motion itself as a form of art”. Working in a variety of mediums, photography, film, sculpture and writing, Lye focused on exploring the dynamics of movement, in capturing its different forms and manifestations. This interest is exemplified when watching the Water Whirler. Vigorous movement causes this thin, grey tube to behave like a vibrant, living creature. In keeping with Lye’s vision, movement redefines these materials, metal and water, and creates dynamic new forms.

This is also a considerate sculpture. It has its own in built ‘anenometer’ which measures the strength of the wind around the work. If the wind is too strong (above 20knots causes a problem) then the Water Whirler won’t turn itself on. You know how annoying it is when you are sprayed by the bucket fountain on a windy day? Well, never fear because this sculpture is programmed to shut down in excessively windy conditions so as not to “cause water spray to be a nuisance to the public”. Clever.

The running times are a little complicated so pay attention. During the festival, which runs until March 19, the Water Whirler will start every hour, on the hour, from 10am to 10pm. After the festival finishes, it will start every hour, on the hour, from 10am to 1pm, again at 3pm, then from 6pm to 10pm. It is impressive at night when it is all lit up, but it’s also well worth it to go down during the day, as since you are on the waterfront already you may as well get an ice cream from Kaffe Eis.

PS: Also strongly recommended is Roger Horrocks’ biography of Len Lye. Brilliant stuff.

Video Work from Berlin
Students from the Stan Douglas Class at
University der Kanst
Hamish McKay Gallery
Reviewer: Pippin Barr

Two black beanbags are in the centre of the wooden floor of the first room. A white Sony projector is on a wedge-shaped shelf on one wall. A white wire leads to a black DVD player with a yellow display. On the DVD player is a silver mini-system with a blue display attached to black speakers. The projector shows four videos.

In “Letter to Carlos” by Marius Schmidt a man walks into a German forest. He sets up a camera and tripod from his backpack and speaks to the camera in German with English subtitles. He talks about how he saw a wild boar here recently in a mud-hole, packs up, then leaves the way he came.

Next is “Feeling Better” by Jesse Finley Reed, which shows a man in a yellow room with venetian blinds talking loudly about a drug experience. A woman in jandals reaches over from her beanbag to turn down the audio. The video is inter-cut: close-up of a face, ticking clock, naked men dancing in a green-lit club. The man says, “That I, in a sense, made myself feel better.”

“Dr. Gordon” by Judy Ross shows a space filled with screens, projectors, and other objects. It alternates between showing this assemblage and what is on the screens: A bald man behind a steering wheel, a German woman in traditional dress on a swing, a woman in a nurse’s uniform leading someone in an animal suit on a leash. A woman’s voice narrates in German without subtitles.

The final video (“The Last Fax Machine” by Becket Bowes) is the longest. Most of it is a triptych: A man sits at a table in each of the first two panels, one with an iBook, the last shows part of a room. The men talk in rapid English about philosophy, crossing their legs under their chairs. To the far right, overlaid ghost figures dance around the room. Inter-cut with this: A desolate play-area with a child’s swing over a pool; a man standing in a jogging posture, breathing heavily and trying to keep still; TV-static and a computer-generated female voice. A man says, “if the speed of light is constant, then you can see how matter and energy relate to each other.”

A black TV sits on the floor in a corner with a grey DVD player tucked behind it. Two sets of black headphones are attached. On the screen is a DVD menu for playing three videos by Judy Ross.

“Detektiv Ross” shows a woman wearing a red wig, fake red moustache, and aviator sunglasses. She speaks in German, no subtitles, discussing a crime scene, illustrating on a model house. She re-enacts the murder of a woman in a bathtub. Her plastic-clad hand removes pieces of evidence from the house: a miniature gun, a blue toy car in a zip-lock bag.

In “On My Way To Amass Fame and Fortune” a range of images depict a woman dressed as a viking warrior with a large cooking pot-helmet and hubcap-shield in a ship or on a map. This is inter-cut with scenes from a pub, a whirlpool in a mug of beer, and a wheelchair at the foot of stairs.

In the final video, “Hasi”, a woman in a bright print dress walks into a building. She does her make-up in a mirror, irons a shirt in a room filled with straw. She lies on the floor, crawling toward a rabbit which hops away. Fast-forwarding, a figure in a polar-bear costume climbs out of a television, takes the rabbit, cooks it, and feeds it to the woman.

The woman from the gallery watches the projection with a man who arrived earlier. She goes to answer the phone in another room.

In the next room is a stack of A5 paper printed with an essay (“Was There Art in Eden” by Victoria Baker). The stack rests on a plinth. The essay is nine paragraphs long and a sign invites people to take a copy.

Three chairs face another projection (“There’s Nothin’ Exotic About it” by Kaj Osteroth), two together, one apart. The camera rustles through a fake forest-scape with sounds of birds and animal life. A couple arrives and sits. The man has aviator sunglasses balanced on his black cap. She has a copy of the essay.

The final room is naturally lit by a window. A packing case leans on one wall (“Handle With Care”). On two walls are eleven photographic prints of landscapes in muted colours (Becket Bowes). Each photo overlays one type of image: Sky, mountains, trees, buildings, houses, the sea.

The box for a PowerBook G4 leans against another wall opposite a white desk with a black, marbled working surface. On the desk are keys, books, a stapler, a jug and glass (both empty), sunglasses, a DVD, a tape dispenser, and an iMac. The woman who answered the phone and the man she was with are talking about a chair he has bought. He shows it to her on the internet. He shows her other things he has bought.

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Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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