Research at the Len Lye Centre and exhibition at ‘Stony Batter’ on Waiheke Island, Auckland.

Earlier this year I was offered the opportunity to take my work overseas for the first time, to New Zealand for the opening of a new gallery. I was approached by Tim Moon, Design Director of Stony Batter, an historic monument on Waiheke Island, Auckland, to install my work ‘Community’ in the underground tunnels. Stony Batter is the site of a World War 2 gun emplacement and has extensive underground workings, including several large magazines previously used to store ammunition for the guns. One of these is to be a new permanent art space, with my work as the central installation.

Tim has described his vision for my work in the exhibition as follows –

“In terms of your response to the space- this is very much a Covid lockdown response- a collaboration from one side of the World to the Other. From Covid dominated to Covid free.

I would like your work to be the centrepiece representing a collaboration across time and space. I would like people to be able to walk freely around the work. I plan to project images (Lye) on to the walls, ceiling, floors, and through your work itself.”

A view of one of the underground spaces at Stony Batter

Tim discovered my work while researching Len Lye, a world-renowned New Zealand artist perhaps most famous for his large kinetic sculptures. He found a video of my array of 100 magnetic pendulums online [see below] and was drawn to the parallels with some of Lye’s early work. A mentor on my MFA, Simeon Nelson, had introduced me to the work of Len Lye when I first began experiments with kinetic art. I soon learned that the Len Lye Foundation, based in New Plymouth on New Zealand’s North Island, held a Lye archive and the nearby Govett-Brewster Museum had many examples of his sculptures. The chance to travel to New Zealand, collaborate with a new gallery on a site-specific iteration of ‘Community’ for their opening exhibition and, at the same time, explore Lye’s work at first hand, is fantastic.

I have since contacted Paul Brobbel, the curator of the Govett-Brewster Gallery/Len Lye Centre, and arranged access to Lye’s work and archive when I visit New Zealand. I plan to travel from Auckland to New Plymouth and spend time studying the documents in the archive and the many examples of Lye’s sculpture in the museum’s collection. I am especially interested in Lye’s film work and hope to use this in some way in my exhibition.

‘Community’

The work I will take to New Zealand is an array of 100 pendulums, most of which contain magnets. The magnets are arranged to repel one another, so if one moves it forces those close to it to move. These, in turn, push others and the motion spreads through the entire array. I have given the piece the title ‘Community’.

‘Community’ installed at MK Gallery for MK Calling 2020

In some ways the connected movement of the pendulums resembles the social links that bind people together. We are joined by invisible bonds and what affects one individual will, in turn, affect others. The array is geometric and ordered, but the motion of the pendulums is chaotic. Human societies are structured too, but the actions of individual within society are often unpredictable.

I have left some pendulums empty, without magnets. They remain still while those around them move. To me they represent those that are excluded, chose not to, or cannot, take part in society. Strangely, because there is nothing pushing them away, the other pendulums are closer to these ’empty’ ones, than they are to the ‘full’ ones.

Responding to the special character of the new gallery

There have been several iterations of ‘Community in the last four years. It has developed from smaller arrays, hung from the ceilings of galleries, to large, free-standing works. The largest of these was over five metres tall, three metres square at the base, and contained one hundred, four metre long pendulums.

The new gallery at Stony Batter is a unique space. It is in a domed magazine, deep underground. ‘Community’ will be modified for this installation, to fit within the limited height and exploit the acoustic and lighting possibilities of the room. Modelling the installation in my studio will be an essential part of developing ‘Community’ for this exhibition.

I have had some preliminary discussions with the Design Director, Tim Moon, about what we might do. However, the final decisions regarding the exhibition can only be made at the site. I have been sent the detailed dimensions of the magazine, and will use these to model the space as I work on ideas in my studio. It is clear that the full potential for using the resonance of the space and projecting light/images onto the sculpture, exploiting the optical properties of the perspex rods and mirrors, will only be fully apparent when ‘Community is installed.

Working with Tim Moon, and the staff at Stony Batter, will be an important part of my development. Tim has many years of experience working within the Arts sector in New Zealand, so I hope to learn a lot from him. Transporting my work, to the other side of the planet for exhibition, will be another chance to learn new skills and grow as an artist.

The most important things to me, however, are direct access the Len Lye archive, to see how he created his work, and to collaborate with and draw on the expertise of people at the Govett’Brewster Museum/Len Lye Centre. All in all, I think this opportunity to work in New Zealand could be the catalyst for an exciting step forward in my career.