“The Temple” for Hilma af Klint
Andrea. A. Y. Chan
“Hilma af Klint (1862 – 1944) was a Swedish artist and a pioneer of abstract painting. More than 110 years after producing the arguably first abstract painting in modern art history, she is still waiting for her due recognition – and a home for her collection. A Temple for Hilma seeks to address this by asking participants to design an art museum dedicated to Hilma af Klint and her work.
After studies at the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm (1882 – 1887) af Klint started her career in the late 19th century painting portraits, landscapes and botanical motifs. Around that time she began attending séances, and in 1896 af Klint and four other women artists formed a group called De Fem (The Five), meeting weekly to seek contact and knowledge within the spiritual realm.
This interest eventually led af Klint to incorporate abstract elements in her work as early as 1906, placing her first abstract paintings years ahead of artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian – traditionally seen as the pioneers of abstraction. Being a female artist in the early 20th century makes it even more noteworthy.
From that point however, it would be a staggering 80 years until her paintings were first shown to a larger audience. Unlike her more famous contemporaries, af Klint worked in complete isolation and did not exhibit her abstract paintings during her lifetime. She even asked for her work (1,200 paintings, 26,000 pages worth of notes and 100 texts) not to be shown until 20 years after her death in 1944, as “the world was not yet ready”. As it happened, her work was not publicly displayed until 1986, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Since then more shows have followed, and over the last decade Hilma af Klint is slowly beginning to receive the attention and acclaim that is rightfully hers.”
The objective of the competition was to design a structure to house the work of the Swedish artist, located in Stockholm, Sweden. Alongside the Klint collection, the design had to consider a secondary space for e.g temporary exhibitions, lectures etc.
Who influence you graphically?
I don’t think I have a particular influencer for my graphic approach but I am encouraged by the collective understanding from artists for finding beauty in the blurred lines of reality and the undiscovered which is normally presented in the means of distorted truth. Paintings by Dali, Munch, Hockney and Hopper channels me into the unspeakable tension where talking about the work becomes excessive, all you really need to do is look and reflect. I guess that’s my influence.
To what extent and how did the brief influence the graphic language of the proposal?
For each of my individual projects I wish to give dignity and respect to whom the building is for. The brief was to design a building to house the paintings of the late Swedish abstract artist, Hilma af Klint. She is arguably the pioneer for abstract art with works completed before those of Mondrian and Kandinsky, only that her paintings were consciously not put into the market and neither did she show them to the public. She was incredibly spiritual who conducted séances frequently with other women in a group called “De Fem”. Her largest body of work- “Life’s Work”- was a commission from Amaliel- a spirit she was communicating at the time. Whilst working on it, Hilma documented that “[She] had no idea what they were supposed to depict… [She] worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke.” She wanted to understand who we are as human beings in the cosmos so it is no surprise that her paintings were filled with symbols and colours that embody individual meanings viewers at the time or viewers nowadays won’t necessarily related to instantly. She stated in her will that her paintings should not be shown to the public until 20 years after her death because she thought “the world was not ready for them”. Eventually, her paintings were not shown to the public until nearly a century later- she was right! You can only imagine the stigma attached to those paintings once it was released to the public eye at the Moderna Museet and the Serpentine- it almost feels like she has been released along with them. Therefore, it is only right to give her the attention she deserves through the presentation of my proposal where I desire to have her dwell in them. Colours and symbols are to match with her body of works. However, I’m merely a narrator, the truth lies with her. I’m certain that I can never give her the justice she really deserves.
To what extent did the realm of art and architecture intertwine?
Instead of saying when and where the two realms collide with each other maybe it’s more interesting to reflect on how both are so closely knitted with every aspect of reality. Of course, in this particular project art is literally put on a pedestal, therefore it demands for architecture’s attention and I would like to think that it has done it acceptable amount of justice. However, the act of putting art on a pedestal has already given it poise. I hope to see art not of luxury but a mere method of daily expressions and architecture is the container of that expressed.
How did the format of the competition influence the type of images created?
Combo Competition is very cautious about finding projects with a solid thinking backbone and I respect that entirely. This mindset of approval allowed me to come up with ideas that are not necessarily “feasible” in reality, although you will probably have to argue with me to define what is feasible to begin with. I was not so afraid to push the drawings to their own potentials even if I knew they could appear to be different compared to usual competition proposal drawing entries. For that, I must give full credit and gratitude to Per Linde and his team of juries for accepting and appreciating my idea and drawings.
What were your main objectives you wanted to convey through these drawings?
I wanted my drawings to resemble her paintings (humbly, of course). So I spent most of my time studying only her paintings. I tried not to read so much about her at first but to read her through her paintings. Symmetry and balance are seen everywhere in her paintings so I knew that she wanted equality. There are reoccurring colours and symbols that hinted: Blue and Lilacs represented femininity, Yellow and Roses represented masculinity and Green was the equality of both- so these three colours are my base colours. I also matched colours with different series of paintings allowing the building to take part in the journey of the viewers. I also feel like I designed this building with her interest in mind more that the experience of the viewers. Who is to say what we think is the good way to view paintings is the way she thought was good to view her teachings? I wanted the building to ease into her paintings instead of having her paintings “housed” by my building. She mentioned in her diary that if it was ever possible she wanted to have a spiral building for her work as the spiral embodies the meaning of evolution and life cycles. I picked the use of Golden Ratio because when one digs down in nature and into cellular structure, abstraction shall be found there and nobody knows it better than her. There were hidden symbols, too, which I’m not sure if the juries noticed. The yellow, blue and green flowers located on the ground floor plan are actually disguised sperms ascending towards the life cycle of the spiral. I have to say, Hilma was a much bolder executer than I am.
What defined the format of the letter and the means through which you arranged your final board proposal?
I wish to have my drawings speak for themselves and hopefully for Hilma, too. Since I have felt that this project is very personal to the artist herself, I didn’t want there to be any texts other than my personal letter to Hilma and basic indications of painting placements. I wanted my drawings to be read where you will discover more as you spend more time looking and the text is there to help the process if necessary.
Andrea Chan is currently working in Rocco Designs Architects in Hong Kong as an Architectural Trainee (Year- Out position) having graduated my bachelor degree on architectural studies in June 2016.