The vital body of cinema: Len Lye's dream worlds of leisure and labour - a lecture by Luke Smythe

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Lecture by Luke Smythe for the Len Lye Symposium, Sept 10 2011, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand.

Abstract: This talk surveys Len Lye’s efforts during the late 1930s and early 1940s to use cinema to re-enliven the dulled sensoria of his films’ spectators. Exploiting the rhythmic and affective energies of colour, sound and movement, which he sought to transmit directly to his viewers’ bodies, in his films of this period Lye attempted to redress the somatically deadening tendencies of industrial modern life. Focussing on his engagements with four key arenas of experience—leisure, labour, the battlefield and the wider social infrastructure—I extract an implicit somatic politics from Lye’s early work, ranged against the corporeally confining excesses of an increasingly rationalised and routinised society.

Luke Smythe is a freelance art writer and curator based in Auckland. Having recently received a Ph.D. in Art History from Yale University, he is currently working on two book length projects, the first considering the role of embodied spectatorship in the history of abstract cinema and the second examining the function of abstraction in the work of Gerhard Richter.