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Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own – Director’s Statement

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The impetus for Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own came in 2014 when Ursula saw my short film, Xu Bing: Phoenix, at MASS MoCA. At the same time, curators from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park were mounting an exhibition of her work in Venice for the 2015 Biennale. Ursula suggested that they commission me to document the installation process. This resulted in the short documentary Ursula von Rydingsvard: Giardino Della Marinaressa.

Fortuitously, around the same time as the installation in Venice, Ursula was immersed in what she described as the most complex and challenging project of her career: a monumental sculpture commissioned by Princeton University, which she had decided to make from hand-pounded copper plates, a material that she had not used. The project seemed to be an obvious focus for a documentary and so, with Ursula’s blessing, I began to film, first in her studio in Bushwick and later in the workspace of the metals fabricator Richard Webber.

It took me some time to register the power of Ursula’s sculptures. They are at once personal and intimate—even at times humorous—while also being imbued with an almost impersonal, primal energy. I was particularly interested in her process—specifically, how she makes decisions about her artworks and finds a direction forward. I was drawn to the visceral, probing quality of her search and the confidence with which she follows her intuition.

I learned about Ursula’s personal history: her early life in the Displaced Persons camps in Germany, the deprivation of her upbringing in Connecticut, the trauma of her first marriage and the brutality of her father. Step by step, through perseverance and will, she cultivated the creative life that she needed. This was present in her work and process, of course, and also in the people that are paramount in her life: her daughter, Ursie; her brother Staś; and her late husband, Paul Greengard. Her studio assistants, who are enormously dedicated to Ursula and her work, are an extended family.

It became apparent that a cogent portrait of Ursula had to include her formative years as a young woman from a traditional, immigrant family, and her quest to surmount the limited expectations imposed upon her. This film is about Ursula’s endeavors to dream big and come into her own.

Daniel Traub