new zealand electronic poetry centre


Len Lye

online works

From 'The Art That Moves'

I, myself, eventually came to look at the way things moved mainly to try to feel 
movement, and only feel it. This is what dancers do; but instead, I wanted to put the 
feeling of a figure of motion outside of myself to see what Iíd got. Ö I didnít know the 
term Ďempathyí Ė that is, the psychological trick of unconsciously feeling oneself into the 
shoes of another person Ė but I was certainly practising it. I got so that I could feel myself 
into the shoes of anything that moved, from a grasshopper to a hawk, a fish to a yacht, 
from a cloud to the shimmering rustle of ivy leaves on a brick wall. Such shoes were 
around in profusion. Ö

When not observing motion I felt it in my actions. For example, I worked outdoors for a 
living and I didnít move an inch without consciously trying to feel my various muscles 
working in rhythm while I enjoyed the motions my body made, shovelling, riding, sewing 
up wheat bags.

Indeed, I got my feeling for motion down to the most subtle of empathies, such as the way 
both ends of a pen waggled in relation to one another as I wrote, or how my eyeballs 
moved in their sockets as I scanned lines of print. There isnít a motion that one can not 
isolate and feel in relation to oneís own solid body.

Back in my studio I donít consciously go after any of these images of motion. I go after 
imagery only to find a particular form of motion which fascinates me because I canít make 
out why. And I go on with the work only while this magical mystery lasts Ė while it 
seductively preoccupies me above all else. Later I may see some association with the 
motion of a diving fish, but if Iíd seen this sort of thing at the start, Iíd more than likely 
drop the project.

When Iím not actually messing around in my studio with the mechanics of motion, such as 
metal springs or animation gadgets, I find that the most important way of practising to 
keep fit for my kinetic activities is my habitual practising of the "feel", the body English 
feel, of whatever motion Iím watching. For instance, about that porpoise: I donít only 
trace my empathy with its motion to my shoulder, but track it down, to find that its feeling 
starts in the sinews of my shoulder blades, right by my spine Ė so that now, or at any time, 
I have only to feel my whole right shoulder and how it "sits" in relation to the way a 
porpoise dives, to sense the action of the whole body of the animal turning into its diving 

How I tumbled onto my particular way of practising intimate bodily empathy with the 
imagery of motion came from a theory about what lay behind the marked three-
dimensional quality of African sculpture. Perhaps (my theory went) the reason why 
African sculpture looked so bodily right was because the Negro artist didnít carve eyes, 
noses, mouths, cheekbones, torsos, arms, legs, the way they looked in everyday life. He 
did not caricature their appearance but emphasized their dimensional feeling.

For instance, if you close your eyes and think of your nose and concentrate on the feeling 
of its shape, you can soon come to feel it is much longer than your mirror version of its 
image; it can seem to go right over your forehead. Soon you can make it keep going until 
it makes a high ridge over your head. Or, try to feel the shape of your face with your face 
(rather than remembering its mirrored reflection) and youíll find that it can seem either to 
be smooth and round and flat, or have undulation contours like smooth hills and dales. 
Still with your eyes closed, concentrate now on your cheekbones; youíll find they can be 
felt to protrude even beyond your nose; and the same treatment can give the bodily feeling 
rather than the brainís recollection of the shape of your arms, legs, and torso.


© Len Lye

Last updated 23 August, 2001