Len Lye inspecting 16mm film reel, c.1975. Len Lye Foundation Collection, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Len Lye inspecting 16mm film reel, c.1975. Len Lye Foundation Collection, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Exhibition

12 May — 22 Jul 2018

Free Radicals: Cinema on the Wrong Side of the Tracks

This exhibition demonstrates the innovations of filmmakers working beyond the limits of conventional filmmaking, from the modern masterpieces of Len Lye and Oskar Fischinger to the contemporary work of Steve Cossman and Jodie Mack.

From his vibrant colour experiments of the 1930s through to his ‘scratch film’ experiments in the 1950s, the work of Len Lye inspires and leads a survey of modern and contemporary experimental cinema framed around his 1963 challenge: 'Is Film Art?'.

Curated by Paul Brobbel

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In 1958 Len Lye produced one of the world’s most admired pieces of cinema, the short experimental film Free Radicals. Lye's five minutes of dancing zig zag lines scratched directly into black film was a milestone in the history of cinema. Peers in the world of experimental cinema acclaimed Lye as the artist who had reduced film to its core elements of motion and light. Decades later the director Martin Scorsese would call Lye a ‘master’ filmmaker.

Free Radicals had an immediate impact, winning 2nd prize in the EXPRMNTL film festival at Knokke, Belgium (running alongside the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair). Unfortunately for Lye the success was bittersweet; a career high-point met with the realisation that he could no longer sustain his experimental film work without greater financial sponsorship and critical engagement from the wider art world. In 1963 Lye wrote the polemical essay ‘Is Film Art?’ for the American Film Culture journal. In the essay he declared he was ‘on strike’. From here on out Lye claimed he wouldn’t make another film until the dispiriting environment around fine art filmmaking changed for the better.

Free Radicals: Cinema on the Wrong Side of the Tracks presents Lye’s masterpiece Free Radicals and the essay ‘Is Film Art?’, prefacing a selection of experimental films by Lye and other modern and contemporary artists. This small selection of work recognises the spirit of experimental cinema that Lye considered essential in ensuring that the best films can get made. 

Free Radicals features films by Rodney Charters, Bruce Connor, Steve Cossman, Richard Lomas, Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye, Jodie Mack and the Parasitic Fantasy Band.

 

These documentaries accompany this exhibition:

Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film
Sat 12 May, Sat 16 Jun | 10.30 am
Sun 15 Jul, Sun 22 Jul | 1 pm

Len Lye Centre Cinema
A must see for expert cinema fans and the simply curious, this documentary takes its title from Len Lye’s masterpiece film, Free Radicals (1958) and serves up a compelling and personal history of experimental cinema by director Pip Chodorov. It also returns a favour, providing the subtitle to our own exhibition here.
Dir. Pip Chodorov, 2010, 82 min., France

EXPRMNTL
Sat 12 May, Sat 9 Jun, Sat 14 Jul | 3 pm
Len Lye Centre Cinema
If Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film left you wanting more, this brand new documentary from Belgium will take you deeper through the world of experimental cinema to the EXPRMNTL film festival held in the Belgian seaside resort of Knokke in 1949, 1958, 1963, 1967 and 1974. A legendary festival amongst filmmakers, EXPRMNTL had a profound impact on Lye’s career.
Dir. Brecht Debackere, 2016, 65 min., Belgium (subtitled)