Martha Fiennes : Yugen means to have a grasp of understanding as to a profound, subtle, mysterious cosmic force, in a momentary way

Martha Fiennes is a film director, artist and writer. She shares her views with Artdecision about “Yugen” moving -image artwork, featuring actress Salma Hayek.

Irina Vernichenko: We watch ‘Yugen’ and feel immersed in the atmosphere of golden light and sfumato that is reminiscent of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa tones and imagery. It also feels very surreal, the human figures cast no shadows and there is a silence in the movement.

Martha Fiennes : I have many influences in my work and I try to bring them all together in my moving-image artworks, which contain combinations of different disciplines and modalities. I create a huge number of moving-image data files, by utilizing different image making modalities – such as live-action green-screen filming, to computer generated ‘fractal worlds’ to matte painting. The combinations of these different forms when themselves combined with randomizing algorithms that ‘drive’ the system on which the artwork is based, results in an entirely new kind of media platform experience. I sometimes refer to it as a hybrid, new moving-image system.

Martha Fiennes, “Yugen”, image © M. Fiennes

My first work in this new genre, was titled Nativity (2011). This work was partly inspired by many extraordinary Renaissance paintings, to which I had been instinctively drawn. The representational environments in these paintings are like super-heightened environments and yet they are not abstract. 

20th century art saw representational imagery being “broken down”, one might say, by the schools of e.g. Impressionism, Cubism, Abstraction and Conceptual Art. Yet as a filmmaker, I am preoccupied with the representational, photographic world. So I wanted to revisit that space within the moving-image media by combining figures, landscape and environment in 3D but also to re-imagine it in a completely new, technologically dynamic and progressive way.

I acknowledge the reference to Da Vinci and the use of the sfumato. One of the exciting things for me as a filmmaker is this aim of creating environments which speak somehow the idea of a subconscious world, a dream-world, a world of alternate realities. Many magnificent Renaissance paintings represent idealised, ‘heightened’ worlds, which are fully representational and yet full of inaccurate scaling and forced perspectives. But something very interesting occurs as a result.

Martha Fiennes, “Yugen”, image © M. Fiennes

Inspiration for me as a filmmaker, working with “the camera” and all that it carries and contains technologically – is to realise that it is specifically calibrated to represent the world that we see in front of us. It’s designed to capture the ‘real world’. In making these moving-image works, I have found myself deliberately forcing subtle “distortions” of an accurate representation. For example, when figures are put in front of buildings or landscapes, I will create subtle inaccuracies of scale and proportion. This, for me, allows for the creation of an “otherness” – of a world that is ‘just off’, a world that is not as reality is, though viewer may not immediately understand why the world feels so different to the multiple worlds they are so used to seeing within moving-imagery.  So this kind of approach may trigger this engagement (for the viewer) with a kind of subconscious world, a world of the imagination, of dreams and even distant memories.

Martha Fiennes “Yugen” image © M. Fiennes

Irina: What is “Yugen” about?

Martha Fiennes: The word “Yugen” comes from Japanese Aesthetics. There is an extraordinary  rich and powerful language enabling an articulation of a range of aesthetic concepts that are recognizable to all of us. Yugen means to have a flash of understanding of the wider cosmic force in a momentary way, to have an instinct of profound and deep understanding of the universal forces even through the mystery, which exists in every aspect of being. We have instincts that draw us to something yet at the same time we are veiled in ignorance too. Wow, one word for that idea!  

Irina: The feminist perspective in contemporary art cannot be ignored.  Does this manifest in “Yugen”?

Martha Fiennes : Yes, I would say it does. This ‘imbalance’ has been sensed intrinsic for a long time in many global societies. We have lived in patriarchal societies for hundreds and hundreds of years. Feminism, in my understanding emerges from a determination to voice that imbalance and question it, and to hear its grievances. We are just trying to be heard and change these energetic patterns. I understand why there is feminism, I don’t believe in an angry approach which can be counter-productive I think to change anything. It is essential to envision it first, envisage change at its highest and best manifestation, then to employ the will to actively seek steps towards progressive change, with advantage for all.

I believe things will change. I believe there are many positive indications of that change already and the last few years have seen the biggest ever changes in western societies with regard to the place of women.

However, we must continue question and examine reality and what is being indicated, at all times. I would also say that all change must start with a deep examination and consideration of the self.

I am thrilled that there are young women who are increasingly prevalent in arts, and now in film-directing, finally – we see women’s names everywhere. And women’s stories and projects are finally gaining specific interest from financing divisions (in certain areas of film and TV) which is nothing short of miraculous – and essential. 

I feel that when I was growing up it was somehow implicit that women were never going to be viewed, ultimately as equal to men. There was this sense  of a side-lined area of interest, i.e.  “women’s stories” which were simply never going to be as interesting as men’s !

 It has to become united.  On planet earth the human beings are either born with x or y chromosomes, fundamentally we born either male or female and it is a kind of cosmic ordinance or instruction. Both sexes are created equally. We must aim to live harmoniously to keep evolving progressively and become the best we can be.

Martha Fiennes “Yugen” image © M. Fiennes

 I am enormously drawn to the subject and study of metaphysics. In my art, I realise that I am not particularly interested in talking about contemporary culture but I am instead drawn to a far deeper and even mystical perspective of ‘all that is’. Much of culture is often more like a hem-line, going up and down according to fashion and changes in attitude. 

Irina: You mean it is like: « Baroque/ Classicism/ Baroque/ Classicism»?

 Martha Fiennes : I guess I mean that my interests are not so much inclined towards the immediate, material world but more about what is going on in the inter-dimensional and higher dimensional cosmic world (which actually drives the world of matter) and which is described through the study of metaphysics, consciousness and more esoteric patterns of thinking. This is what is inspirational to my work.

Irina: It sounds even above feminism?

Martha Fiennes : Yes, I would say so.  Contemplation of a world of archetypes, of metaphysics, of spiritual law, cosmic dynamics – all this interests me enormously.

Martha Fiennes “Yugen” image © M. Fiennes

Acknowledgements: We thank Angelina Giovani for her support in arranging this interview.