photo & text by nacrowe
the EMOTIONAL INTIMACY that paradoxically comes with SCALE is something of a central feature in the CREATIVE WORK of globally revered SCULPTOR URSULA VON RYDINGSVARD. as the daughter of UKRAINIAN and POLISH immigrant parents to the UNITED STATES who was born in GERMANY and spent her early youth in a GERMAN detention center during WORLD WAR II, her work is undoubtedly influenced by her EXPERIENCES between cultures and continents. the recent URSULA VON RYDINGSVARD: INTO HER OWN (ICARUS, 2019) documentary explores her career and personal history and exposes an artist with a deep sense of COMPASSION and value in COMMUNITY, both familial and adopted.
the film goes to great lengths to relay the idea that VON RYDINGSVARD did not have an ideal childhood, even after her families relocation to suburban CONNECTICUT. her father had an INDOMITABLE WORK ETHIC but a very real sense of INFERIORITY to his new compatriots that he tragically sublimated on his children quite mercilessly with long-lasting consequences. the FRUSTRATION and RAGE at the physical and psychological ABUSE inflicted by her father was something of a motivating catalyst for VON RYDINGSVARD and her CREATIVE WORK throughout her development well into career.
her work, which historically is based in CEDAR but has in recent years has expanded to include COPPER and BRONZE commissions, is often of a MASSIVE SCALE with minute LABOR-INTENSIVE, HAND-CRAFTED TEXTURES and SURFACE MANIPULATIONS. the result is an IMPOSING monument with distinctly ORGANIC UNDULATIONS that doesn't mimic, yet takes key inspiration from nature. one can project the seeming PERMANENCE of trees or the EPHEMERALITY of clouds onto her WORK, which feel both ABSTRACT and distinctly AUTHENTIC and rooted in the ENVIRONMENT of their installation, wether such be in a BUCOLIC pasture or a CONGESTED urban setting. the film makes the point of connecting the BILLOWING FORMS of her scale work with that of WHEAT STACKS in POLAND, a land she was connected to through BLOOD and GENEALOGY but had never visited when being made aware of the connection by her second husband, the LATE NOBEL PRIZE-winning NEUROSCIENTIST PAUL GREENGARD. their seems to be an affinity for FORMS and MATERIALS that brought her COMFORT as a child, as she remembers being in a small makeshift wooden room with her CLOSE-KNIT family in GERMANY during the WAR, the structure providing SECURITY and SOLACE from the HORRORS outside. in this sense her use of WOOD as a MATERIAL seems anchored in a subconscious desire for a state of BALANCE that was never achieved on either shore.
as a young woman having moved out to the BAY AREA, VON RYDINGSVARD had a child from a DISASTROUS first marriage with a partner that had a PSYCHOTIC BREAK and was later institutionalized with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. she made the decision to return to the EAST COAST in the mid 1970s and started pursuing her CREATIVE WORK in a SOHO loft (then absolutely not a chic address) with a young daughter in tow. she also took classes at COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, where she earned her MFA. it feels like her success was HARD-EARNED with much STRUGGLE both financially and psychologically given her INTENSE family history. for VON RYDINGSVARD, NEW YORK CITY during this period was something of a revelation with many female artists making a name for themselves. she took inspiration from an EXPANDED sisterhood of in fellow SCULPTORS (EVA HESSE, LOUISE BOURGEOIS, LYNDA BENGLIS), COMPOSERS (MEREDITH MONK), PAINTERS (HELEN FRANKENTHALER, LEE KRASNER, JOAN MITCHELL), PHOTOGRAPHERS (CINDY SHERMAN) and CONCEPTUAL / MULTI-MEDIA / PERFORMANCE ARTISTS (JOAN JONAS, NANCY SPERO, YOKO ONO, ANNA MENDIETA, CAROLEE SCHNEEMANN, HANNAH WILKE, TRISHA BROWN, YVONNE RANIER). in NEW YORK CITY she found a home that allowed her the FREEDOM to reach her full potential through her CREATIVE INSTINCTS and the INDOMITABLE WORK ETHIC she inherited.
the film makes the point of commenting that her WORK in some aspect is also about the idea of LABOR, of the TACTILE nature of INTENSE BODILY MANIPULATION of MATERIALS. its almost akin to the labor exhibited in the NATURAL WORLD with the ELEMENTS quietly eroding rock into EVERMORE COMPLEX MANIPULATIONS, whether such be through the vehicle of OCEANIC WIND GUSTS, ICE SHEETS, ROLLING RIVERS or SAND-BLASTED FURRIES of RISING AIR. that ever-constant process of becoming seems to be the point to some extent. you can see her joy at the final CONSTRUCTION of her installations as the realized form of the work of her and her close team of associates becomes apparent. all that minute WORK and hours of DECISIONS and DELIBERATIONS manifest in a PERMANENT FORM. those choices feel like a process based in a deep appreciation of NATURE and the complex systems that exact physical changes on ROCK FORMATIONS, GLACIERS and RIVERBANKS. its a deeply INTRIGUING dynamic to watch in isolation and URSULA VON RYDINGSVARD: INTO HER OWN provides a COMPELLING glimpse of such.