Hilma af Klint- Paintings for the Future: Interview with Director Felipe Lima
15th April 2019
Commissioned by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on the occasion of the exhibition. Featuring interviews with Tracey Bashkoff, Christine Burgin, Susan Cianciolo, and Josiah McElheny.
MadeGood was fortunate enough to be able to ask director Felipe Lima a few questions about himself as a film maker, and also about the film. If you’d like to see your film on MadeGood.tv, then please feel free to make a submission.
MadeGood – A quick glance over your back catalogue and it’s obvious you’re quite an accomplished film maker. Tell me how you got into film making, and what inspires you to keep moving forward?
Felipe – I think online video audiences are sometimes underestimated. When left to regulate our own internet media diets, we’re often drawn to information and self-directed learning… Wikipedia holes we dig ourselves into, or deep-linked YouTube research. I’m particularly motivated by the possibility of contributing to that tradition and creating videos that communicate information to audiences, whether that’s documentaries that introduce and contextualize artists and their work, or ads that level with the viewer and make a commonsense appeal.
MadeGood – This film was commissioned by the Guggenheim museum, but how did you come about becoming the director? Did you approach them, or did they come to you? Do you have a history in fine art, and already know of Klint’s story, or did you only start to research her after starting work on the film?
Felipe – Naomi Leibowitz, then the Associate Director of Creative Strategy and Operations at the Guggenheim, wrote me out of the blue! She’d seen a film I made about Ed Ruscha a few years ago for MOCA, and thought we could employ some similar strategies to expose a broader audience to Hilma af Klint’s work. I think it’s probably easy for audiences to forget that whenever something like this exists, there’s a person inside an institution that successfully made an argument to take a risk.
That email was the first I’d heard of af Klint. Research started with this film, which actually seemed convenient: Less unlearning, and a closer experience to the target audience. I could hold onto details of her biography or the historical context that struck me on first blush and work to justify including those in the script. My background’s not in fine art — just a lifelong interest I’ve been lucky enough to bolster with some on-the-job training and research : )
MadeGood – I found it very inspiring to learn about her history; How she overcame adversity as a woman studying art in the late 1800’s, her dedication and passion in exploring her subject, breaking new ground in abstract art and also just how good her work is. Do you find there’s anything as a film maker that you can take away, learning about Kilnt?
Felipe – I’m a little hesitant to conflate af Klint’s life experience with our perception of her eventual recognition. Her approach to the work, for which she largely wasn’t recognized during her life, reminds of Manny Farber’s idea of the ’termite artist’: “termite tapeworm-fungus-moss art… goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity. […] it feels its way through walls of particularization with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement.” For me, the take-away is: focus on the work at hand; derive your own meaning from it; avoid investing too much of your sense of accomplishment in reception or critical response; eat the wood in front of you.
MadeGood – I see you co-directed the film with Ted Gerike. What’s your working relationship with Ted like, and how did you get to know each other? Is this the first film you’ve made together?
Felipe – Ted’s a good friend and a person I admire a lot. In addition to his work as a filmmaker, he runs a publishing project called Solano Archives and a new microcinema and bookshop called Now Instant. Our collaboration was easy, largely because the subject matter was interesting and we had a trusting client who supported us.
I think it’s important to note that this project and my others like it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my production company, Ways & Means. Projects like this aren’t exactly big money makers, especially compared to traditional advertising. For Ways & Means to see enough value in this kind of work to not only take projects like this on, but even more importantly, to adapt to the particular needs and cadences of a research-based production process is critical. It’s easy to take that for granted, but it’s not every company that can dedicate the necessary resources and build the team that allows for a documentary to work the way it’s meant to: piles of books, chasing down IRL rights-holders of forgotten archival clips found on YouTube, untangling an edit made in a fury to account for every image and artwork, finding the story.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Felipe – Trying to curb my Twitter addiction? Or turn it into something productive…? The interest in information intake cuts both ways…