A Polish girl is born in Germany in 1942 and lives in a camp for Displaced Persons, run by the Nazis. Her parents get her to New York but she is beaten severely by her near psychotic father who is consumed with rage. The girl feels she might be creative but has no idea how to handle her feelings. She becomes a teacher and gets accepted into the Graduate Art program at Columbia University.
This is the story of Ursula von Rydingsvard as told in the documentary by Daniel Traub.
As Rydingsvard tells it, as soon as she started making art, she fell in love with a plank of cedar wood, seduced by its buttery texture and softness. With a crew of workers and a face shield that transforms her into an astronaut, Rydingsvard creates huge towering structures from wood or bronze. She first came to attention with her installation of abstracted wings that face Battery Park, and she has been creating ever since with a vengeance that is undiminished.
Her immense works seem to resemble either armored barriers against her father’s violence or huge threaded gullets to swallow up her pain and sadness. Above all, her structures have the look of feminine sentient beings that bear witness to her humanity and the pain that Rydingsvard has endured.
The film is a direct portrait of the creator. Rydingsvard, who along with her brother, is an ultimate survivor, is captivating. In warm, yet halting speech she relates incredible stories of her father’s horrible beatings. He executed them with sadistic relish, grimacing with his veins throbbing in his neck. A man who was never happy but chopped wood like a machine and did the work of ten men. Like a character out of a sinister fairy tale, Rydingsvard buried her father in his coffin with his favorite ax.
Also intriguing are the child recollections of Ursie, Rydingsvard’s daughter who remembers sleeping to the sounds of liquid splashing and chainsaws, the calling cards of her sculptures.
The artist’s most lasting wish is for people to actually touch her work with their hands and fingers as a way of interacting, to leave a record of memory behind.
In our age of the virus and the fear of touch, these desires are especially resonant.
One can take comfort in the fact that Rydingsvard met the late neuroscientist Paul Greengard who became the love of her life in human form.
Here, singularly by herself, is Ursula von Rydingsvard who used her abilities to create guardians out of cedar, copper and bronze. “Into Her Own” is a potent testament to self-reliance and the power of imagination.
This film is part of the Tropic’s Virtual Cinematheque Series. Get tickets here and support the Tropic, while getting a taste of von Rydingsvard’s monumental works.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org