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April 30 2011

May 19 2010

Mazes and metamorphosis

Film-maker Sophie Fiennes talks about capturing the majestic ambition of artist Anselm Kiefer's creative process

May 16 2010

Waste lands

Sophie Fiennes has directed an intriguing, near-wordless documentary about the work of industrial artist Anselm Kiefer

With infinite patience and care, and a sense of how the movie camera can both record and also participate in the process of making art, Sophie Fiennes has directed an intriguing documentary about the work of 65-year-old artist Anselm Kiefer, who in the early 1990s left his native Germany for Barjac in the south of France where he devised an extraordinary artistic living-space: an atelier, an installation complex, an entire created landscape.

Building almost from the ground up in a derelict silk factory, Kiefer devised an artistic project extending over acres: miles of corridors, huge studio spaces with ambitious landscape paintings and sculptures that correspond to monumental constructions in the surrounding woodland, and serpentine excavated labyrinths with great earthy columns that resemble stalagmites or termite mounds. Nowhere is it clear where the finished product definitively stands; perhaps it is all work in progress, a monumental concept-art organism.

Fiennes's movie is almost entirely wordless. Her camera roams around Kiefer's creations, allowing the audience to focus on light, shape, colour and texture, to music by Jörg Widmann and György Ligeti; this score was arguably a little too exclamatory and overt, but it was a bold expository device.

Kiefer's art is ferociously physical and tactile: he creates as if in some industrial forge – burning, smelting, winching up machinery, painting, smearing and often smashing. It looks fantastically dangerous a lot of the time, and there is no nonsense with helmets or goggles. This is not an artist seated at his laptop, tweaking concepts with funky software; it is hands on, sweat-of-the-brow stuff. All of it looks like work which the modern age has made obsolete – and yet it is saturated with modernity.

The artist is not interviewed by the director about his work, but Fiennes – perhaps conceding that some explicit commentary does need to be built in – films an interview that Kiefer gives to a German journalist. Kiefer is engaged by the idea that the materials in his work are living things whose changes may be obvious or infinitesimally, geologically slow. His intention is not to create finished, gleaming, varnished objects, but great stumps or fragments or semi-formed embryological expressions: essays in the incomplete which allude to the impermanence of everything in the physical world.

He muses on a Heidegger essay on boredom: "It is only when one is bored, that one's consciousness settles, reluctantly or even fearfully, on oneself and the nature of one's own existence."

Nothing could be less boring that what Kiefer is doing, but something of this restless transcendence is achieved by Kiefer's work – and Fiennes's film.

Rating: 4/5 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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