Jadranka Ryle is a PhD candidate in Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester. By exploring the emergence of abstraction in Hilma af Klint’s work, her research offers a micro-history of the interrelated discursive upheavals of modernism, such as the rise in popularity of spiritualist movements, aesthetic debates about decoration, social changes in the private and public spheres, changes in modern music and new discoveries in physics and botany.
Automatic Drawing and Transgendered Abstraction
This paper considers the intertwining roles of automatic composition, spiritualism and gender politics in the work of one Swedish modernist artist, Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), and how this relation informs her turn to abstract aesthetics. Her first engagements with automatic drawings and mediumistic paintings were designed to convey a visionary spiritual message to mankind. I claim the trance states sought out by ‘The Five’, a spiritual group of women that af Klint regularly met and held séances with, gives passage to an aesthetics of what Rosi Braidotti calls ‘transposition’. Transposition indicates a crossing, melding or breaking of those gender, embodied and aesthetic categories which are given as normative boundaries. Af Klint’s work in this period offers a valuable archive of the interaction between the unconscious as explored by female-based spiritual societies and social groupings, and artistic practice, and the innovations of modernism. Refuting traditional binaries, and building on the fluidity of the sensual experiences of the trance states in which she executed her automatic drawings, she developed an aesthetics of fluid sexuality: an androgynous, queer, transexual art directed against sex binaries, that locates the simultaneous existence of maleness and femaleness in the artist. My paper positions automatic drawing at the heart of the technical and compositional path to abstraction more fully developed in af Klint’s later work. Situating historically the balanced and intersecting play of af Klint’s gendered forms, my paper explores the way intersecting relations of spirituality and spiritualism, scientific creation, female empowerment and self-vocalisation, trans-gender identities, and aesthetic creation would come to influence modernist abstraction.