From The Desk Of Negativland: Len Lye

Negativland was asked to be guest editor of MAGNET this week, which poses a challenge to such a large collective of members with extremely disparate tastes and obsessions. Members Peter Conheim and Mark Hosler came forward to share what’s been on their minds lately and, indeed, what’s informed their thoughts and work over the years. The group’s new album is entitled It’s All In Your Head and, being entirely about faith, monotheism and why humans believe in God, comes packaged inside of an actual King James Bible. And while religion and intolerance are posing the biggest and toughest dilemmas facing the world today—well, excepting that climate business—Negativland will focus instead this week on such things as sounds, pictures and books. And the impending death of everything due to digital technology.


Peter Conheim: Collage music and collage film have inexorable historical linkages. Film collagists have long gravitated toward using pre-existing music to score their works. And to my mind, the short films by New Zealand-by-way-of-England’s Len Lye (1901-1980) are unequaled for their furious, unbridled energy and almost unbelievably detailed craft. Lye began making films as commissioned “adverts” for the GPO (General Post Office) film unit in the U.K., basically thin excuses for him to invent new paint-on-film and collage techniques, creating totally off-the-wall pieces of avant brilliance for a mass audience. Trade Tattoo is simultaneously an ode to British labor and a gentle reminder to “post early” for prompt delivery of mail, entirely created from discarded outtakes from other GPO documentaries and stunningly synchronized color fields and cutouts dancing across the celluloid surface. It’s impossible to place this 1937 film in historical context, as it’s so entirely of, and ahead of its time. It’s outside of time.

Video after the jump.