Len Lye (1901-1980) is to the general audience a rather unknown artist from the previous century. Despite this his works are well known among artists, as well as filmmakers. His kinetic sculptures are made of steel, wood and fibreglass, often dramatically staged with lights, and his films were groundbreaking.

This exhibition shows six of his films made between 1935 and 1979: A Colour Box (1935), Trade Tattoo (1937), Swinging the Lambeth Walk (1939), Rhythm (1957), Free Radicals (1958, re-edited 1979) and Particles in Space (1957). In addition, we have a rich side programme with lectures and film screenings. Among other things, we are organising an evening with three commissioned musical pieces by Espen Sommer Eide, Lasse Marhaug and Maia Urstad to accompany one of Lye’s film, Tusalava from 1929.

Lye’s starting point was always movement, and his films were created with new methods: he scratched and painted directly on the celluloid film, making so called “direct film”. That way he could explore expressions otherwise not possible at the time within the medium of film in an expressive way. Lye also investigated scale with his sculptures, sometimes making several versions of the same piece in different sizes. By doing that he also questioned the idea of originality. In line with Lye’s interests HC Gilje and Anne Szefer Karlsen have curated a situation where the audience must move in relation to the screened films to see the exhibition. Usually exhibitions are premeditated displays and calculated presentations. Here, on the other hand you are given the opportunity to see all the films in different ways. Within a defined area in the gallery the films will move between the differently sized screens in a random order.

Lye was originally from New Zealand, but via Australia and England he moved to the United States, and wherever he was he was a natural part of different art scenes, closely affiliated to a variety of artists and filmmakers whose works we are more familiar to. His work has for a long time been closely linked to his biography, but in this exhibition we want to examine how we today can get carried away by the optimism his work evokes. As the films’ visual expression is closely connected to the music that accompanies them, they can be dismissed as both anti-intellectual and escapist, but we should remember that the expressions we see here once were revolutionary and innovative. The question we would like to pose is whether we can look at Lye’s work today without the distance the history of art dictates.

The films in this exhibition were made in a period of time during the last century which by art history is defined as High Modernism. The visual innovations from this time have become part of our visual memory, as they have been included in an art historical canon and in the visual mainstream. That way they have lost some of their initial revolutionary visual power. This mainstreaming is of course taking place today too, with current expressions. At the same time one can say that by looking at visual culture in that way one creates a linear and uniform presentation of history. We have created the exhibition in direct dialogue with the ongoing discussion and criticism of the notion of Modernity as something consistent.  Instead of “seeing” through art criticism and –history, we have created an exhibition where the works are in dialogue with the contemporary. Thus, this is not a retrospective exhibition in the sense that we try to give a definitive understanding of Lye’s oeuvre, but rather an investigation of how we can relate to his works today. It is also an homage to all artists who work without the public attention that media’s celebrity frenzy has trained us to look for.

There are more reasons why Hordaland Art Centre, as part of the centre’s 35th-aniversary programme, for the first time creates an exhibition with a deceased artist’s work. The most important is our continued commitment to investigating what artists today are interested in and want to discuss. Lye’s work was first discussed at Hordaland Art Centre when the artist HC Gilje did his artist talk in connection with his own show blink which was showed here in 2009. This time our institutional will is to seriously consider the interest an artist from Bergen has for another artist’s works.


To accompany the exhibition we re-publish Guy Brett's text Force Field and Sonic Wave in English and Norwegian at our website www.kunstsenter.no. This text first appeared in the book Len Lye, edited by Tyler Cann and Wystan Curnow, published by the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Len Lye Foundation on the occasion of the 2009 retrospective exhibition of Lye’s work at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne. Brett is an art writer and independent curator living in London. The author of the seminal Kinetic Art (1966), Brett has also curated exhibitions such as In Motion (Arts Council of Great Britain, 1966) and Force Fields: Phases of the Kinetic (MACBA, Barcelona / Hayward, London, 2001). In 2008 he co-curated an exhibition of the work of Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles at Tate Modern.

25. January: Per Kvist gives the lecture The Musicality of Modernism which places Lye’s films in the context of early avant-garde film. Kvist is an art historian, and formerly Dean at Bergen National academy of the Arts. Film screening after the lecture.

10. February: Screening of Flip and Two Twisters, a documentary on Len Lye by Shirley Horrocks. The film explores Lye’s career and ideas with the help of newly discovered historical footage of the artist. We are introduced to his kinetic sculptures, and the efforts made today to realize some of his plans to recreate them in giant versions. Introduction by art historian Eva Rem Hansen.

5. March: Len LIVE. We screen three films by Len Lye that is not part of the exhibition, All Soul's Carnival (1957), Kaleidoscope (1935) and Tusalava (1929). All Soul's Carnival and Kaleidoscope will be screened with the original sound while Tusalava will be screened with three different tracks: commissioned music by artist, musician and philosopher Espen Sommer Eide, musician Lasse Marhaug and artist Maia Urstad.


The exhibition is curated by artist HC Gilje and director Anne Szefer Karlsen and produced by Hordaland Art Centre, with valuable support from The Len Lye Foundation/The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and The New Zealand Film Archive Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua.



2011 marks the 35th year of the Hordaland Art Centre, and we are creating a programme exploring ideas of histories and futures based on different thematics and institutional frameworks.

Do we need to re-lecture the past? How do we prepare for the future? These are two immanent questions to ask in the present. Is it possible to act as if the present is suspended above both history and future? Or is it lurking below both? Maybe is it weighed down by history at the same time as it is longing and striving for the future? These and other related questions will be asked in this one year programme containing six exhibitions, several lectures and seminars, as well as text production and publications.

This anniversary programme intentionally avoids the institution’s self-mythologising approach, but rather focuses on the idea of history and future as the present’s support structure. Nostalgia and hope are two component of how we long for what has been and what is to come, and can act as poetic notions to understand the present.