Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Water works

A highlight of the recent New Plymouth District Council meeting about the Len Lye Centre was a quirky presentation by art patron and engineer John Matthews. One of Len Lye’s strongest advocates, Matthews presented images and videos of Len Lye creations in production. Included were mega versions of existing works (e.g. a 30 metre high version of Blade) and new stuff developed from Len Lye sketches or ideas (e.g. a serpenty thing that convulses across the floor). One of the giant products was a Water Whirler to be based on the much smaller one that is on the Wellington waterfront. Matthews told the Council that the engineering was incredibly difficult and it was still uncertain whether they could even get such a thing to work. Failure is always a possibility in experimental work but the risk is particularly high in the case of these works developed from Lye's sketches long after his death and without his continuing guidance or precedent.

Certainly failure has plagued Wellington's Water Whirler almost from Day One when it was installed in March 2006. Speaking to the people who keep it maintained, it turns out that practically every part has gone wrong at some stage. After being out of action for a while last year, it was briefly up and running for around a week in November. But then it stopped again and a small sign apologised for the break in transmission. Last night we noticed the sign had been removed so we waited around for the 9 pm show. A couple of young women climbed right out onto the podium and sat with their feet dangling over the water. We told them to watch out as Whirler was about to start. “It's ok, it never works,” they called back. And they were right.

Image: waiting for Water Whirler