For me, night time is full of imagination. It’s a place where you can think and create, and imagine new worlds and new possibilities, and everything slows down. There isn’t that crazy energy that there is in the city otherwise. At night, it’s calm. You feel like you’re coming back to yourself.ANTONIA LUXEM
‘What does it feel like to perform in a locked-down world?’ Filmmaker and director Antonia Luxem took this as inspiration for her latest work Rising, a film co- commissioned by Culture Mile – an association of institutions including The City of London Corporation, the Barbican, London Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of London – and Brookfield Properties earlier this year. Featuring London Symphony Orchestra violinist Maxine Kwok, Marie Astrid Mence of the professional ballet company, Ballet Black, and composer Darren Bloom, Rising is a much-needed source of light in the darkness of our contemporary moment, serving to celebrate the unbridled creative energies of London, and indeed, cities like it all over the world.
Shot in an entirely empty floor at 100 Bishopsgate, the film captures the loneliness of an isolated performer in lockdown who plays as if she were on stage, when somewhere in the distance, a dancer appears, responding to the music through the rhythm of her body. It is a poignant demonstration not only of the resilience of the creative industries but also the immense value in collaboration and the communicative power of art, made even more significant in a year full of cancellations and decimated performance opportunities.
Reflecting on this special collaboration, Apocalypse Music co-founder Pia Rose Scattergood recently spoke to Antonia about soundscapes of the city, exploring human relationships with space, and art’s ability to connect us even in the most trying times.
Congratulations on the film, Antonia! What was the inspiration behind it?
I suppose it’s an answer to the year I’ve lived through, and also having been in London the whole time, it’s an accumulation of how it feels to be in a huge city which is usually so dynamic where so many exchanges are happening and you’re running from one place to another, and then suddenly you’re locked down and completely alone. But one important thing is that it was supposed to be positive, happy and not some kind of gloomy dystopia. I visited this big tower where we filmed, and I got really inspired because I’ve never been that high up in London. It’s on the 34th floor of a building and it’s the kind of cityscape you get in fiction and films in New York, Tokyo, but not really in London. So, it felt quite strange somehow, and also super interesting, because I’ve
never seen my own city from this point of view. You can’t access the street though; you can look through windows and you can see other people, but there’s also this prison- esque feeling because you’re in a tower, behind glass. And so what does it mean to look down? How can you get to talk to or exchange with someone else through that window, and how can we make that fun and creative?
By virtue of studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, I spend lots of time in and around the Barbican, and I’m always amazed by just how many windows in buildings such as Citypoint and 100 Bishopsgate are still lit up even in the very late hours of the evening! Why did you choose to film at night?
I love the night, and a lot of my videos tend to be at night actually, or in darkness. I think it’s because, for me, night time is full of imagination. It’s a place where you can think and create, and imagine new worlds and new possibilities, and everything slows down. There isn’t that crazy energy that there is in the city otherwise. At night, it’s calm. You feel like you’re kind of coming back to yourself. And it reminds me of reading children’s books, you’re kind of imagining the outside world but you don’t really know it because you’re in the confines of family, of the home. And you imagine what the moon is like: does the moon talk? It’s all that imagination which I think comes out in the evening, and I think there’s more space to explore: for instance, seeing window lights turning on and off, that’s also quite a dreamy thing. It reminds you that you’re not alone in the city; that you’re actually surrounded by loads of other people who are very similar to you. And you can just look out of your window and start imagining and making up stories for each window, who they are, what their names are, and what kind of life they lead.
The exchanges between violinist Maxine Kwok and dancer Marie Astrid Mence are so poignant in the film, especially in this bizarre time where social contact is forbidden and our desire for connectedness is heightened. Are there any research interests within your work more broadly that you were able to explore in Rising?
In general, my work tends to play with the concept of human perception — the gap between the world and our representation of it. I like to explore various point of views and jump from one space to another. I always wonder how we can ever be certain about our existence as people, how we are able to perceive and understand other human beings and what it means to exist. This film was playing with those ideas through the exchanges between both performers, but also through their positions in space. I think for me the dancer is this beautiful ghost, almost like when you imagine a jellyfish or coral in the sea, it’s just doing its thing and being really peaceful and responding to the waves or the temperature, and I feel like Marie Astrid, the dancer, is sort of responding in a similar way to the music.
It also made me think a lot about our relationship with space. For example, I think some would be rather reticent about equating the creative energy of London with the financial parts of the city, yet here the concert etiquette of wearing black and bowing at the end of a performance, displayed by the violinist, is realised in a new and refreshing context, which is, in a way, evocative of both the Culture Mile’s broader community mission, but also the incredible flexibility and resourcefulness exhibited by artists reconsidering personal spaces like their bedroom throughout the pandemic, and forming new bonds with them through performance. Did this inform your creative processes at all?
I was interested in trying to figure out: what does a concert hall look like? What does it look like to perform today when you can’t perform, I mean people are doing things online right? That’s the new performance space, but is it from their bedroom? Is it from some kind of rented space? Or some kind of empty office space, and how can we play around with that, and what does it mean? And do we want to let go of the old codes of, you know, dressing up to perform, and bowing? Does that make sense still? And I think it does in a way, you still want to be able to celebrate life, but instead you celebrate it from the confines of the room.
And building on that, I suppose one thing that the pandemic has really highlighted is art’s ability to connect. Irrespective of whether you consider yourself creative or artistic in any way, the film really resonates with anyone who has lived in a locked-down city, or indeed anyone who has experienced isolation of sorts. What was the experience like for you, working on a project with artists from so many different disciplines?
It was really nice to be able to collaborate after a long time of not being able to see people. A lot of our meetings had to be held on zoom, that is still the nature of the business, but we were able to shoot with people, and record it with people, and visit the spaces together. So there was that human contact definitely, and it was a really important part of the creative process. It felt special, and it was a blessing to be able to work with other creatives who are sensitive to exterior perceptions. Darren Bloom, the composer, and me went to visit the space twice, and we went at night the second time. We didn’t speak much then, but I think being present in the same room together was definitely a really beautiful moment. And then also I think during the shoot, being able to see Maxine perform, that’s what a lot of the crew were saying, they were like ‘wow we get to see live music and hear live music, this is mad, we haven’t had that in months and we miss it!’ I definitely miss live music, that’s one thing that I miss the most from this year.
Silence has never been more deafening this year, and that must be something you’ve noticed as well in the city particularly?
Yeah absolutely, I remember when the lockdown started everyone was talking about hearing the sounds of birds, and there was a BBC programme about that which was really beautiful, about how people were noticing birds and there was this whole debate as to whether it’s because birds have more space or that they were always there, but we never heard them. I think because from my point of view there’s less going on and you’re more limited in terms of space and where you’re going, you have more time to listen, and be attentive to the city, and to the sounds it has to offer. I feel like in the city you’re so overwhelmed by different sensations, different perceptions, and sometimes you don’t pay attention to what is what. And I think now you have that space to pay attention to it. It is a bit haunting I suppose as well.
Who came up with the title for the film, Rising? It’s beautifully uplifting.
I love that title! So Darren Bloom, the composer, came up with the title, and I wanted us to keep it for the film title because I imagine this kind of superhero rising from the ground and using all of the difficult energies of the year to become something more powerful: some kind of new mutated incredible human being!
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a really exciting big project, my next film, which I’ve written and will be directing. I’m building my team for this film; we’re going be filming in February and I’m going to be working with about 20 people. You’re constantly exchanging ideas and new possibilities, and there’s something to look forward to.
Antonia Luxem’s work has been shown in exhibitions and film festivals in the UK and abroad. Antonia also works as a freelance film director and producer, having made music videos for artists like Elena Tonra (Ex:Re/Daughter), as well as Abbey Road Studios and the concert series Listenpony. https://antonialuxem.com/
Header Photo © Marika Kochiashvili
Words by Pia Scattergood