Filmmaker, sculptor, poet, essayist and doodler Len Lye was born in New Zealand in 1901. He was always searching, always experimenting with the relationship between our physical and sensorial experience and the epic trip-out of “art.” One time, he got kicked out of Australia for living in an indigenous community as a white person. He set his work to music, like Don Baretto and His Cuban Orchestra. He worked his way to London trimming coal on a steam ship, and started making experimental films by painting onto the film itself and scratching into black emulsion to make dancing sky shapes and aura explosions – this is his Swinging the Lambeth Walk. He was a quiet and dexterous master of his arts, and we salute him.
Len Lye stated that he approached every film project trying to do ‘something not previously done in film technique’; with a focus on physical sensation and non-rational experience he strove to create a new language of the medium. His sense of movement was always kinaesthetic and physical. He was not interested in moving objects or in visual patterns, but in what he called 'pure figures of motion’.
Free Radicals (1958) and Particles in Space (1966) are maybe the films in which he comes closest to this idea. In making them Lye reduced the medium to its most basic elements, scratching marks onto the black film using a variety of scribers ranging from dental tools to an ancient Native American arrowhead. In Free Radicals the result is a dancing pattern of flashing lines and zigzags, creating equal associations to microscopic movements and gigantic lightning bolts in the night sky. Synchronised with the sounds of rhythmic drumming and singing by the African Bagirmi tribe, these pure figures of motion become hypnotic. [+]
Len Lye - Free Radicals (1958) is the first selection of “The Weird and the Banned,” a new regular column by Creative Time’s Director of Global Initiatives, Laura Raicovich. Featuring works in film and video that are notable for being odd, censored or both, the series highlights the provocative impact culture makers can have on society.