Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint

 

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An artistic re-emergence for a Swedish painter for whom death did not after all come as the end.

 
Beyond the Visible
 

Here is a film that has a really worthwhile story to tell. Now that the art of Hilma af Klint has been the subject of an exhibition at New York's Guggenheim Museum she can no longer be said to be entirely unknown. Even so, hardly anybody was familiar with the work of this Swedish artist prior to that regardless of the fact the it can be claimed that she was the first abstract painter. Consequently, it can be said that endeavours to promote wider knowledge of her art perform a useful task and Halina Dyrschka's debut film does a very good job on this score. As often happens, the filmmaker seems reluctant to bring things to a close and a more succinct approach would have avoided a certain amount of repetition in these final scenes. But that's a small blemish in a very worthwhile film.

 

The valuable 2018 documentary Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché was devoted to a filmmaker who had largely been erased from cinema history on account of being a woman. Her fate and that of Hilma af Klint afford close parallels. The latter lived from 1862 to 1944 and, following on from earlier naturalistic paintings, she worked avidly between 1906 and 1920 creating the kind of abstract art that Wassily Kandinsky would claim to have originated although she had in fact done it first. Perhaps the best sequence in Dyrschka's film is one that puts side by side on the screen works by Hilma af Klint and distinctly comparable pieces painted later by more famous names.
Hilma af Klint came from an aristocratic family and had the means to live on her own terms: for twenty years she functioned in Stockholm and subsequently lived on Adelsö Island using a studio on Munsö which adjoined it. But, in spite of having the necessary determination and belief in herself to carry through her artistic experiments, she seems to have achieved only one exhibition of her later works in her lifetime and, fearing that they would not be understood, she stored them away with an order that they should not be viewed until twenty years after her death.

 

It cannot be doubted that Hilma af Klint put her art ahead of all else (she never married the one man in her life), but only now is it becoming apparent that she was talented enough to justify that. Her abstracts represented an attempt to go beyond form by using images that sought to express higher states of consciousness. That she believed in mediums and séances and felt that some of her images reached her in this way is a fact acknowledged here. However, to challenge any notion that this undermines her potential stature, it is stressed that at the time her belief in the spirit world was widely shared by many distinguished people (indeed, while some might sniff at such attitudes, nobody seems to question the notion of the composer Stravinsky when he declared that he was the vessel through which The Rite of Spring passed). In any case the luminous palette that Hilma af Klint developed is entirely down to her own eye and experts as well as family members appear here to tell her story and to speak up for her vision, one that reflects the belief that all is really one. Her life and her art together make for a very engrossing documentary justifying the significance of a woman who would ultimately be buried alongside her father in a Stockholm cemetery but without any marker attesting that fact.

 

Original title: Jenseits des Sichtbaren - Hilma af Klint.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Josiah McElheny, Julia Voss, Iris Müller-Westermann, Ulla af Klint, Johan af Klint, Eva-Lena Bengtsson, Anna Maria Bernitz, Elisabet Ersmann, Valeria Napoleone, Ernst Peter Fischer, Ceri Hand.

 

Dir Halina Dyrschka, Pro Halina Dyrschka and Eva Illmer, Ph Luana Knipfer and Alicja Pahl, Ed Antje Lass and Mario Orías, Music Damian Scholl.

 

Mindjazz Pictures International/Ambrosia Film-Modern Films.
94 mins. Germany/USA/Sweden/UK. 2019. Rel: 9 October 2020. Available in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. U.