Liliane Lijn

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Liliane Lijn, 1978. (Source)
Born December 22, 1939(1939-12-22)
New York City, United States
Lives in London, United Kingdom
Web Wikipedia
Liliane Lijn, Liquid Reflections, 1967-68.

Liliane Lijn (1939) is an American-born artist who has lived in London since 1966.

Utilising combinations of industrial materials and artistic processes, Lijn is recognised for pioneering the interaction of art, science, technology, eastern philosophy and female mythology. Lijn is particularly known for her cone-shaped Koan series. Lijn was the first woman artist to work with kinetic text (Poem Machines), exploring both light and text as early as 1962; and in addition, she is in all likelihood the first woman artist to have exhibited a work incorporating an electric motor. In conversation with Fluxus artist and writer, Charles Dreyfus, Lijn stated that she primarily chose to ‘see the world in terms of light and energy’. Lijn describes her work as ‘A constant dialogue between opposites, my sculptures use light and motion to transform themselves from solid to void, opaque to transparent, formal to organic.’

Early life[edit]

Lijn was born in New York City, four months after her mother and grandmother had arrived by boat from Antwerp. Both Lijn’s parents, Helena Nuischa Kustanovich and Herman Segall (cousin of Zvi Segal and an active Revisionist Zionism), were from Russian Jewish families, and the family lived at 697 West End Ave. Manhattan with her younger brother Dennis Leroy Segall (who is the founder of CRYS, Coalition for the Reform of Youth Services, and currently resides in Tampa, Florida). At the age of 9, her parents separated and Lijn was sent to a progressive boarding school, Hickory Ridge (which was subsequently burnt down), before attending a more conventional school in Pennsylvania. During Lijn’s sophomore year, her father moved to Geneva and took Lijn and her brother with him. Lijn’s mother decided to move to Lugano to be near her children. Lijn lived with her mother and went to school in Lugano, becoming fluent in French and Italian. She left school a year and a half before graduating, precipitated by a life-changing encounter with Nina Thoeren, her former classmate, whose mother was a Surrealist painter.


In 1958 Lijn studied archaeology at the Sorbonne and art history at the Ecole du Louvre, in Paris. At the same time Lijn began to draw and paint, (although she didn’t attend art school), whilst taking part in meetings of the Surrealist group, where she met the French writer, poet and theorist André Breton.

Lijn had already begun a lifelong interest in unusual materials. In 1960 she had used molten Tefon-Stift (polymer-based ski wax) vibrating it to make fine lines on Perspex sheets. In 1961 Lijn lived in New York, where she first worked with plastics, experimenting with reflection, motion and light, and conducted her first research into invisibility at MIT. Lijn began also working directly with manufacturers – a tradition that she has continued to this day. In 1961, Lijn married the Greek artist Takis with whom she has one son, Athanasios (b. 1962).

Lijn’s Poem Machines incorporating rotating movement and text (initially cut from newspapers and then Lettrasetted text and poems) were invented in 1962 and exhibited at the Librairie Anglaise in Paris, in November 1963. ‘Lijn’s emphatic desire for the words to be blurred by movement privileges the moving text over the static one for, although the objects are elegant and mysterious when still, these artworks are machines that need to demonstrate their purpose, in order to succeed as artworks.’ The American poet John Ashbery described the show at the Libraire Anglaise: ‘Electric lights flash on and off plexiglass constructions, creating a tangle of transparent shadows called Echo Lights by the artist. Her Vibrographs are wheels revolving too fast for you to read the words printed on them, but perhaps they affect you unconsciously like subliminal advertising.’

The writers and poets William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Sinclair Beiles and Brion Gysin were in the same circle as Lijn, and their book on ‘cut-ups’ entitled Minutes to Go had previously been launched at the Librairie Anglaise in 1960. In Art of the Electronic Age (p. 20) the art critic Frank Popper described Lijn as being ‘important among the artists who, through their practical and theoretical researches, established the passage from the mechanical to the electronic in art.’

Lijn frequented the world of the Beat poets and worked with the English poet Nazli Nour (see Get Rid of Government Time, 1962). At the same time the concrete poetry and music magazine Cinquieme Saison became a platform for demonstrating renewed experimentations with the word in the neo-Dada atmosphere at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. Lijn was also interested in the work of other kinetic artists working with light and movement in Paris such as the Groupe de Recherches Visuelles.

The first space orbit by the Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin not only paralleled her interest in orbiting forms and her involvement with NASA today, but also her preoccupation with the weightless body and her reading of Buddhist texts. As the curator and art historian Sarah Wilson notes: ‘Takis took Lijn to Greece – an éblouissment - a dazzling encounter with land, light and sea: with ancient mythologies, with the skin and surface of things versus oracular depth, with passionate love and loss.’ Lijn is also known for her drive to ‘re-encounter the archaic Greek as a form of Western primitivism, as a primordial field of culture and representation for contemporary techno-culture.’ In the mid-1960s Lijn and Takis designed and built a circular house at Gero Vouno near Athens, combining many aspects of her work, philosophy and life.

In 1965, Lijn began work with cone-shaped Koans which continue to this day. As Lijn stated to video poet and visual philosopher Sarah Tremlett, her aim with her text-based Poem Machines and Koans is to use kinesis to ‘re-energise the word, to give it back power and fresh meaning’. The word Koan is taken from Zen Buddhism meaning a puzzling, often paradoxical statement or story, used as an aid to meditation and a means of gaining spiritual awakening. The conic shape also refers to the Greek hearth goddess Hestia’s conic symbol – a mound of white ash. After reading Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths early in 1961, Lijn became intrigued by a ‘feminist mythography which countered patriarchy.’

In 1966, Lijn and Takis separated and Lijn moved to London where she invented kinetic clothing. She also began her series of rotating Linear Light Columns. These works combine surface variations made to metal cylinders, then wound with copper wire, with reflected light. The completed wire wound coils use reflected light to make visible invisible connections between time and frequency. These were followed by her series of works made with tank and gunsight prisms. Her work In Sua Memoria (1971–72) made in memory of her father epitomises her use of reflected light in a darkened space. As the art critic Jasia Reichardt observes: ‘There is an intersection (in Lijn’s work) at which science fiction, religion and quantum physics converge.’ And the writer Hilary Spurling states that: ‘Physics supplied Lijn with the syntax and grammar of an evolving kinetic language.Her subject was the structure and patterns of matter.’ It was during this time that Lijn’s interest in Buddhism and in quantum and solid-state physics inspired her to write Crossing Map, an autobiographical prose poem which tracks an invisible human travelling at the speed of light and is illustrated by organic drawings.

In 1969 Lijn decided to make London her base with photographer and industrialist Stephen Weiss, with whom she had two children, Mischa (b. 1975) and Sheba (b. 1977). By 1971 she began receiving commissions to design and make large public sculptures, such as White Koan, currently located at the University of Warwick campus in Coventry, UK. In 1974 Lijn staged the performance The Power Game, a text-based gambling game and socio-political farce for the Festival for Chilean Liberation at the RCA. In 1975 she completed her first 16mm film, What Is The Sound Of One Hand Clapping?. Lijn’s early works were primarily concerned with light and text, but in 1979 she began to make larger than life ‘biomorphic’ goddesses which symbolise female energy and power – see her work Conjunction of Opposites comprising Lady of the Wild Things (1983) and Woman of War (1986). With particular reference to Lijn’s figures and works from her own body Hilary Spurling states that: ‘Lijn’s work can be read on many levels as a dialogue between contemporary and classical form, decay and growth, death and rebirth, constraint and liberation.’

From 1983-90 she became a member of the Council of Management of the Byam Shaw Art School. In 1986 she exhibited the computer-controlled drama entitled Conjunction of Opposites at Arte e Scienza at the Venice Biennale XLII. During the 1990s, Lijn turned her attention inward, using her own body often with video functioning as memory encapsulated in light.

Guy Brett, the art critic and early curator of Kinetic art, states that much of Lijn’s work is an attempt to ‘integrate light (neon, video, fire) with bronze. To transmute a traditional material into a new and vibrant element by juxtaposing it with new technologies’. In 1992, Lijn's work The Inner Light was erected on a site overlooking the River Kennet in Reading, England.

In 2005 Liliane Lijn received an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Letters, from the University of Warwick and an ACE International Artist Fellowship - a residency at the Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, in partnership with NASA and the Leonardo Network. From 2005-2009 Lijn developed, in collaboration with astronomer John Vallerga, Solar Hills, a large scale solar installation in the landscape. Further outcomes of Lijn’s NASA residency were Stardust Ruins; installations using aerogel and video projections; an exhibition at Riflemaker, London in 2008 and Inner Space Outer Space, a digital film made with Richard Wilding using interviews with scientists both at SSL and NASA, and previewed at the AV festival in Newcastle upon Tyne, 2010.

In 2017 Rodeo started representing Liliane Lijn. They had two solo shows in 2018, Lady of the Wild Things in Rodeo London and Cosmic Dramas in Rodeo Piraeus. Lijn is Artist in Residence at Universe 02, Astroparticle and Cosmology Laboratory, Paris since 2017. Lijn was commissioned by University of Leeds for a major sculpture, Converse Column, a nine-meter high kinetic text work to be completed Winter 2018.

Selected public collections[edit]

  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia
  • Arts Council of Great Britain
  • Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
  • The British Council
  • The British Museum
  • Evelina London Children's Hospital
  • Fonds national d'art contemporain, Paris
  • Government Art Collection
  • Henry Moore Foundation, Leeds
  • Kunstmuseum, Bern
  • Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
  • New York Public Library, USA
  • St Thomas' Hospital, London
  • Tate Gallery, London
  • University of Warwick, Coventry
  • Victoria and Albert Museum, London


  • 1976 - Alecto Award, Bradford Print Biennale
  • 1976 - Arts Council Award
  • 1981 - Arts Council Publishing Award for Crossing Map
  • 1982 - Arts Council Bursary for Holography
  • 1996 - London Film Production Award
  • 2005 - Arts Council England International Artist Fellowship
  • 2006 - Arts Council England and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Award
  • 2009 - NaREC Residency
  • 2010/2011 - Culture Lab Residency, University of Newcastle
  • 2012 - Arts Council Award for Caution Matter (2012), collaboration between Liliane Lijn and Jamie Allen
  • 2018 - Universe O2 Residency, Paris


  • 1971 - Spectrum Fountain, Arts Council of Great Britain and Bebington Civic Centre for Bebington Civic Centre, Liverpool
  • 1972 - White Koan, Peter Stuyvesant Foundation and Arts Council of Great Britain for The City Sculpture Project. Purchased in 1974 by the University of Warwick, Coventry
  • 1980 - Circle of Light, Milton Keynes Development Corp. and Arts Council of Great Britain for Central Milton Keynes
  • 1982 - Extrapolation, Norfolk & Norwich Triennial Festival for Norwich Central Library, now located at East Anglia University, Norfolk
  • 1982 - Split Spiral Spin, Warrington Development Corp. and Arts Council of Great Britain for the Birchwood Science Park, Warrington
  • 1984 - Steel Koans, Findlay Publications and Olivetti for the 1984 Machinery Awards for Innovation in Production Engineering
  • 1987 - Zigzag Blues, Hamilton Associates for Churchill Plaza, Basingstoke
  • 1988 - Argo, NM Schroder headquarters, Poole, Dorset
  • 1988 - Carbon Black, Laboratory of the Government Chemist, Teddington
  • 1993 - Inner Light, Kumagai Gumi (U.K.) Ltd and Ranelagh Developments for Prudential Insurance headquarters, Reading
  • 1994 - Dragon's Dance, Marks & Spencer for Culverhouse Cross, Cardiff
  • 1997 - Land Sea Light Koan, Isle of Wight Health Authority for Saint Mary's Hospital, Isle of Wight
  • 2003 - Inner Light II, Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Charity for Saint Thomas' Hospital, London
  • 2005 - Starslide, Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Charity for the Evelina Children’s Hospital, London
  • 2011 - Power Game Online for Resonance 104.4 FM for Digital Futures, Netaudio Festival, London
  • 2012 - Solar Beacon, Art and Science collaboration in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, University California Berkeley for the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
  • 2012 - Light Pyramid, MK Gallery and Milton Keynes Parks Trust for Campbell Park, Milton Keynes
  • 2013 - Peace Koans, Este
  • 2013 - The Dance, shortlisted for the Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, London
  • 2013 - Crossing Map, with Sharon Gal, Resonance FM Jerwood Commission
  • 2014 - Image to Word, Frieze Magazine
  • 2016 - moonmeme, Barnaby Festival 2016, Macclesfield
  • 2016 - Spinning Dolls, Il Museo della Canapa, Sant’Anatolia di Narco
  • 2017 - Converse Column, NEXUS Building, University of Leeds


See also[edit]