Runtime: 94 Minutes
Director: Halina Dyrschka
By Bianca Garner
I shouldn’t be surprised that I haven’t heard of the artist Hilma af Klint. Unfortunately, one of the misfortunes of being in a patriarchal society is the fact that our history has been written by men for men. The hard work, struggles and achievements of many female pioneers have been swept to the side in order to place their male peers on a pedestal. In the same way I was stunned last year by the content of “Sisters With Transistors” (you can read my review here and interview with Lisa Rovner the film’s director here), I was left stunned and inspired by the sheer beauty and power of Hilma’s work. This outstanding documentary by German filmmaker Halina Dyrschka is worth seeking out* and an important addition to the conversation surrounding women’s involvement in the history of creative arts.
*And if you don’t believe me….then read Joan’s great review of “Beyond the Visible” here….
Hilma is a woman after my own heart. A pioneer who was ignored by her peers and misunderstood about her unique vision, Hilma has slipped through the pages of the history books. She was the mother of abstract art, whose work is so phenomenal that seeing it brought me to tears. She knew that there was more to life then simply getting married and having children, something extremely controversial during the 19th century. She was inspired not only by the scientific revelations of the Victorian era but also by the spiritual and religious revolution that took place during at the same time. Hilma’s perspective of the world and the universe as a whole is something difficult to sum into mere words, as they say “A picture speaks a thousand words”, well Hilma’s work doesn’t simply speak, it sings.
“I was left stunned and inspired by the sheer beauty and power of Hilma’s work. This outstanding documentary by German filmmaker Halina Dyrschka is worth seeking out and an important addition to the conversation surrounding women’s involvement in the history of creative arts.”
With so much of Hilma’s life remaining unknown, Dyrschka’s film is devoted to doing some serious detective work. Using her journals and writings regarding her work, Hilma’s own words give us a peak into her consciousness. Born to a naval family, Hilma’s story is typical of the lives of upper-class women in the Victorian era. Education was seen as a way to keep women occupied until they married. At the art academy she excelled and also shocked those around her when she sketched male models in their full glory, genitals and all. In the early stages of her careers, her work was to the typical standard of the time, she was a successful portrait painter and illustrator. However, none of this success satisfied Hilma. At the birth of the 20th century, something sparked something new and infectious inside Hilma and her art transformed into something that had never been experienced by the art world before. Unsurprisingly, the art world was not ready for this new art style and when Hilma began her abstract work in 1906, she was met with such rejection that she didn’t work for four years.
Up until her death, Hilma continued painting abstract art form but she didn’t remain truly hidden in the shadows. Dyrschka helps to dissolve the myth that Hilma never exhibited her abstract work in her lifetime. In fact, after doing some extensive digging, the filmmaker discovered that Hilma did in fact exhibit her work in 1928. However, due to the sexist prejudices of the time, Hilma’s work was never recognised by the Museum of Modern Art and as a result she was left out of the history books. When she passed, Hilma’s entire collection was left to her nephew who was instructed not to allow her work to be opened until 20 years after her passing. She was smart enough to realise that the world wasn’t ready yet to fully appreciate her work.
Dyrschka’s film is a beautiful ode to the work of Hilma af Klint, featuring stunning cinematography by Luana Knipfer and Alicja Pahl as well as a powerful score by Damian Scholl which helps amplify the work of Hilma. The use of interviews with important figures of the contemporary art world such as Josiah McElheny and Julia Voss bring up some interesting talking points which leaves you with a lot of food for thought. At 94 minutes, the only downside to this documentary is that I was left wanting more, but that’s a good thing. How many more artists like Hilma have been ignored and rejected? I was left eager to do my own detective work and rediscover other pioneers. It’s hard not to be inspired by the work of Hilma af Klint, and also feel frustrated and maybe even angry about how biased history actually is. Slowly but surely films like “Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint”, “Sisters With Transistors” and “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché” are helping to rewrite the history books. Do yourself a favour, and embrace this new educational revolution.