TONIGHT: Epsilon Spires hosts film, discussion on Hilma af Klint

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BRATTLEBORO — Adam Silver, a Brattleboro gallery director, only knew vaguely about Hilma af Klint before attending a retrospective of her work at the Guggenheim Museum in New York last year.

He now calls her a "trailblazer" in abstract art.

The relatively unknown Swedish artist's work was hidden until decades after her death in 1944. Scholars now say she created the first abstract paintings many years before well-known names such as Wassily Kandinsky and Francis Picabia.

Tonight, May 6, in a virtual event hosted by Epsilon Spires, Silver, co-director of C.X. Silver Gallery on Western Avenue, will lead a discussion on "Beyond the Visible," a 2019 documentary on af Klint by Halina Dyrschka. The film is available to stream through May 20.

"In the movie, there are some wonderful juxtapositions of what she did and what later, some male painters did," Silver said. "Her work is at least as, if not more, profound than theirs, and she did it way before they did."

Silver will offer a presentation on Klint's work at 8 p.m., followed by a discussion.

Jamie Mohr, creative director at Epsilon Spires, said she was drawn to the visual beauty of af Klint's paintings, and was surprised to learn they were made as early as 1906.

"The more I read about this extraordinary artist, her fascinations with the occult and her creative process, I became even more intrigued," Mohr said. "So I was absolutely delighted when I found out there was a new documentary about her that we would be able to offer to our community for streaming."

Epsilon Spires, a nonprofit arts organization housed in the former First Baptist Church on Main Street, has hosted several online events since social distancing became the norm in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mohr said tonight's discussion is a chance to bring back some of the enjoyment that comes with watching a film with others.

"Sometimes that's the fun thing about seeing a film with friends or with strangers, is you can relate about it afterwards," she said. "Things can seem passive — just viewing it on the screen and not having that live interaction."

According to an event description provided by Mohr, Dyrschka's film is the first and only film about af Klint.

Speaking from Berlin, Germany, via email, Dyrschka answered some questions from the Reformer about what drew her to the story of Hilma af Klint — and why now is a good time for the world to see her art.

For more information on tonight's event or to stream "Beyond the Visible," visit epsilonspires.org.

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Q: What drew you to the story of Hilma af Klint?

A: Of course, her paintings — Hilma af Klint's oeuvre. I saw it the first time in Berlin 2013. It is literally breathtaking: Standing in a room surrounded by "The Ten Largest" (about 9 feet by 10 feet) which are the most colorful, meaningful and life-understanding paintings I have ever seen, made me feel, first, very happy. And then I started thinking: Why was this work hidden for so long? I realized that many people knew this work for decades. So, how can it be that somebody who has seen this work does not talk about it afterwards and not see the significance of it? The significance not only for an art world but for every human being who is able to recognize that this work is showing something bigger than just art.

Realizing that Hilma af Klint was by that time portrayed as a lonely and poor old woman who was living isolated in Sweden, I instantly knew in front of her paintings that this could not be true. So, I got started preparing the film and quickly it became obvious that most of the things told about Hilma af Klint were wrong. She was a bright, lively and selfless person with an open mind that goes beyond all borders. Her biography is unique and shows a strong, steadfast character with an incorruptible sense to cut her very own path.

Q: This is the first and only film about Hilma af Klint. Why has her work been relatively unknown for so long?

A: Maybe for many reasons, these paintings have been ignored, but one of the main reasons was probably the incomprehension of the people in the art world — especially the ignorance of the museums. Furthermore, the first exhibition in Los Angeles in the 1980s and those in Sweden in the 1990s did not make a big change, which I think had a lot to do with the way the work was presented back then. The fact that this woman was always presented as a spiritual painter (whatever that might be) did not help.

It's interesting that, even today, only the art historians are consulted for the question of what to do with her work. What if this work is much bigger than any of these established institutions are capable of? What if Hilma af Klint's work goes beyond art? Then this work will hopefully get its own place someday.

Q: Can you talk about the title, "Beyond the Visible?"

A: It is mentioned in one of the interviews — the curator Iris M ller-Westermann talks about it in connection with the invisible discoveries that were made at the turn of the 19th century. I tripped over the expression very often in essays or articles regarding this time period where Roentgen, Maxwell or Marie Curie are discovering the unseen forces of the physical world. For me, it was clear that this is exactly what Hilma af Klint is depicting in her universe of color and forms. But furthermore, she is connecting the "real" physical discoveries with the thought that the most inner truth of our lives presumably lies "beyond the visible".

Q: What is something notable you learned in the making of the film?

A: This film is indeed very special to me. It reminded me of my focus in my personal life. I always knew that the life that people have invented on this planet — our everyday life — is something you have to cope with but that the truth of our existence is to seek elsewhere. By encountering Hilma af Klint's universe, it became clear to me that it is not only about making a film, but hopefully to make visible what is important in all our lives. Hopefully, even more people will discover this artist's universe and also understand the meaning of it for everybody's life. If you are lucky, you are not only discovering the world beyond the visible, but also yourself in it.

Q: Anything else important you would like to add?

A: Personally, I think the success of Hilma af Klint's work today is not due to the fact that the world is more ready now than it was before, but it seems today is a good timing. Those paintings obviously needed time to unfold their strength and brightness and it is inevitable that it will stay with us now.

Especially in times where it seems that fear is ruling the world, the significance will increase even more. People do need this universe that Mrs. af Klint has left us to look at and she said it herself: This work is important for all humankind.

It is a great comfort to know that this work exists. It shows that it is us who create our everyday life and that we are able to create it in a more positive way. We should go in the direction where Hilma af Klint is pointing at — the direction goes inwards.


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