Ursula Von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own
In Daniel Traub’s intimate documentary, we go behind the scenes with von Rydingsvard, as she and her collaborators – cutters, metal-smiths, and others – produce new work, including challenging commissions in copper and bronze.
Hi Daniel thank you for talking to The New Current, how are you holding up during the lockdown?
I’m doing fine. Thanks for asking.
Is this time offering you creative inspiration?
I wouldn’t say inspiration but it is offering me some time to reflect, look back at past work and think about the directions forward.
What does it mean for you to premiere Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own opening at Film Forum and release the film virtually in theatres?
I had very much hoped that the film would premiere at Film Forum so it’s exciting that it has actually happened. A non-virtual screening would certainly have been preferred (and I'm hopeful it might happen eventually) but there are advantages to virtual as well. It’s possible the film will reach a broader audience this way.
When did you first meet Ursula von Rydingsvard?
I was commissioned by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in the UK to make a short film documenting the moving and installation of Ursula’s work from their grounds to a small park in Venice for the 2015 Biennale. This was my first real exposure to Ursula’s work and when I met her for the first time.
What was it about Ursula von Rydingsvard life and work that made you want to make this documentary?
Part of what drew me was simply the power of her sculptures. They are at once personal and intimate but also have a timeless, universal quality.
This is a very intimate film- how did you go about starting this project?
After completing the short film about the Venice installation, and after getting to know Ursula and her work better, I began to sense there was a bigger story to be told. Fortuitously, at that time Ursula was working on a commission which she herself described as the most complex and challenging of her career to date: a monumental sculpture commissioned by Princeton University. She was also eager to have the process documented so that was the starting point. I began to film in her studio in Bushwick and later in the workspace of the metals fabricator Richard Webber, her main collaborator on the project.
"Making films about artists is kind of a parallel career for me that I started about a decade ago."
Was it easy to get Ursula to take part in the film, did she have any reservations about making a film that would be as personal?
Initially, Ursula was a bit hesitant to allow the film to become too personal and wanted to keep it a more professional profile. The more I got to know her and her history however, I felt that her personal life really needed to be included if it was to be a film with any real weight and depth. The production of the film spanned about 3 years or more so over that time Ursula and we got to know each other well and I believe she came to trust me and my sensibility. So I think gradually she allowed me to take the film where I thought it needed to go.
Did you have an outline or a plan of what you wanted to focus on?
Initially, I thought that the Princeton commission would be the primary focus of the film serving as a narrative arc. As I filmed, followed other projects and gathered more material, however, the Princeton project took on lesser importance and her development as an artist and her life story itself became the primary narrative.
Over the course of making Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own did you begin to understand Ursula's creative process?
What impressed me most about her process was the degree to which she trusts her intuition. She doesn’t sketch or design the sculptures beforehand but rather the pieces seem to take shape in real time through her engagement with the cedar wood itself. She draws the cut lines directly on the wood and then her assistants use the chainsaw.
When working on a project like this how do you as a filmmaker stay focused and motivated?
Early on I was motivated by curiosity: a desire to understand where these extraordinary forms come from. At a certain point in though, the desire to bring the film to resolution and completion can also be a powerful motivator.
How different was your approach to this film compared to your other films?
Some projects I have planned out more carefully and they hewed more closely to the initial design. With this project however, it evolved more organically. I did have early ideas on how it could be structured, as mentioned, but some of these had to be jettisoned as the filming progressed. There was certainly a large degree of trial and error: the film probably went through 20-30 different versions before we came to the final.
What inspires your work?
In addition to making films, I am also a visual artist using still photography. Making films about artists is kind of a parallel career for me that I started about a decade ago. These films have given me a means to understand the motivation and practices of a few particular artists that fascinate me.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own?
For me, what was most moving about Ursula’s story is simply her courage. Her courage to follow her own instincts and desires, her courage to believe in herself despite tremendous obstacles. I hope the audience will feel similarly inspired.