|Len Lye, Tusalava, 1929 (film still). Courtesy of Len Lye Foundation from material preserved and made available by the New Zealand Film Archive Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua.|
|Len Lye, Universe, 1963, steel, wood, electromagnets, Edmiston Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1995|
Like Lye, Ellitt was living in Sydney in the early 1920s and was part of a thriving ‘Bohemian’ arts community. Like Lye he had embarked upon a project of radical intent in relation to technology and the synergy between art forms and an embrace of the modern that was also filtering across from Europe. Ellitt spoke of ‘sound colours’ and a release from conventional notions of harmony and melodic structures. After Lye moved to London in 1926, Ellitt followed and the two men continued their creative friendship in London (where they lived on a barge for while) in the circle of Robert Graves and Henry Moore. When Lye finally completed Tusalava in 1929, it was Ellitt who wrote the score. With no extant recording, Len Lye biographer Roger Horrocks believes the score was probably in the realm of Stravinsky’s two piano version of The Rite of Spring or Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique for two pianos.
Around two years ago when I was director of Govett-Brewster, James Pinker approached the Gallery and the Len Lye Foundation with the concept of an exhibition exploring Lye’s profound connection with Pacific Indigenous practices. The idea was long overdue and much needed, and it seemed perfect that the project would be occurring in South Auckland.
Len Lye: Agiagiā, an articulate and significant exhibition, curated by Pinker and Paul Brobbel, has been presented at Mangere Arts Centre over the past three months and the performance on the eve of its final day was an inspired and important occasion. It draws its name from a Sāmoan word expressing the notion of ‘natural billowing movement’. Pinker commissioned three Pasifika composers to create scores to accompany Tusalava. Very simply, the evening saw the three scores played consecutively alongside the film, while a lively discussion with the composers and the audience followed the screenings.
|Left to right: Poulima Salima, Anonymouz and Opeloge Ah Sam in conversation with James Pinker, co curator of Len Lye: Agiagiā. Photo credit: Anna Rae|
New Compositions – Tusalava is a project that spans two centuries and connects the radical work of a spirited cultural innovator – who was himself greatly influenced by Pacific cultural modes – to today’s moment of intense cross-cultural and cross-temporal influence. The project has not come full circle, 85 years later in an act of reclamation; rather Lye’s Tusalava has become a launching pad for unexpected points of reference and the subtle sensibilities of these three impressive, insightful and wholly generous composers. The process is not circular but expansive.
– Rhana Devenport, Director