“Nature, Energy!” – Tales from a Kinetic Art Addict

Drum beats. Scratches. Thumbs up. Chanting. Swinging. Constant motion and motion and motion. Twists, turns, tests and more tests. Patterns. Jazz! Utterly cool, utterly joyous. Giving, giving, giving. Springy springiness!

Len Lye’s Universe is one of my all-time favourite kinetic sculptures. “Nature, energy.” Stalking the streets of New York, I think of Lye often. Seeing the same sky he saw, marveling at how he saw it so differently. Willing the tall buildings to bend and wink, wishing the lampposts to dance.

Somehow, kinetic sculpture has become a running theme for me this year. It started back in Auckland, when, over the fence from the Laneway Festival in January, while I was in the queue to get beer in a plastic cup, I spied Michio Ihara’s Wind Tree in its new home. Polished, gleaming, a subtle sway to it.

Even when it stood, forlorn in the old QEII Square, I loved it. Many people didn’t, but I couldn’t resist its staunch playfulness; monkey bars-meet-steel leaves. After too many years bent and buckled in a lock-up, it is now magnificently sited by the sea, there to be adored by more than windswept office workers running to the bank. Look!

In January, I couldn’t have predicted that by June, I would be on a train, making a pilgrimage to Concord, Massachusetts, to meet Ihara-san himself for an upcoming story. How wonderful he is. What a privilege to be in his studio, where materials lie, hard-edged and static, waiting to be shaped and linked and connected and lifted up and sent into motion. And to discover that, alongside the solid materials and shelves of tools, there are folders and folders and folders full of paintings, beautiful, gestural, delicate, inky paintings. Glorious contrasts in time and space and movement.

Michio Ihara

Michio Ihara

New Zealand, March: City Gallery Wellington holds an exhibition of Len Lye’s works. Clang, clang, clang. Cacophonous, punk-rock noise! Universe was there. A baby version of Len’s ultimate vision: that we could all one day walk through Universe as if it is a gate for all people. I want that. Watch him talk about it here, in Shirley Horrocks’ documentary.

North Carolina, September: We are at the start of a new kinetic journey: a documentary about a brilliant young man. An adventure in patience, in observing, in counting, in multiple failures and small, happy successes. Filming never seemed like meditation before, but I think I’ve found my art-world version of Baraka. Watch this space.

Want to be happy for a few moments? Swing the Lambeth Walk!


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