Love Infinity: The Oscar-winning artist Tim Yip on capturing creative resistance in his kaleidoscopic semi-documentary

    This month witnesses the release of the truly unique semi-documentary project Love Infinity – a celluloid experiment that marks something of a new departure for Oscar-winning Chinese multidisciplinary artist and costume designer Tim Yip, who shot to fame at the turn of the millennium for the lush textured art direction he brought to the big screen in Ang Lee’s iconic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. While Yip has a formidable filmography as both an art director and designer, his first foray into documentary filmmaking is unlike anything he has ever produced before, disrupting the medium it explores with dizzying verve – presenting its many subjects across two films as both harbingers of counter-cultural expression and players in an eerie cinematic fiction. The collage-like result explores notions of freedom, identity and diversity against the background of a zeitgeist defined by political, economic and environmental crisis, and trains its lens upon some the capital’s most creative trans-generational outsiders, such as Vivienne Westwood, Gilbert & George, Philip Colbert, Daniel Lismore, and Stephen Jones. Here, the charismatic artist tells Collective Culture why he feels Love Infinity is an important memorandum for the future, and explains why true freedom lies in making oneself vulnerable...

    What is your earliest recollection of being creative?
    When I was very small, I was always drawing – not normal representative drawing, but always something imagined. I think I always had this interest to know something different - different perspectives, different opportunities, and ways of seeing. When I would go to school, and the teachers would ask me to draw a chair, I would always start to draw from a different angle. I think that even at that very early stage, I always had this kind of multi-wheeled way to look at things in the outer world, and a desire to create a kind of bridge to the subconscious, and to connect things together. It’s almost like creating a wheel to see the world. I believe everything coexists, and my attention is always focused on creation and artists because I want to really know this invisible spiritual sense of the world, and get deep into the things that I feel.

    What inspired Love Infinity and what are the film’s chief concerns?
    Love Infinity is all about healing the world and choosing connection – how to make things better. The name for the film came to me when I first met Daniel Lismore, and from talking to him about what he is doing, and how his form of expression is all about going towards freedom – real freedom of expression. And I found in the process of shooting that freedom is really difficult to identify, and that when you want that spiritual freedom you can get when you put yourself in another body – so you can feel extremely yourself – just how much you have to give. To be Pandemonia, for example, you have to dress up all the time in winter and summer – it’s very difficult, but she still keeps showing herself like a sexy commercial doll, and is very happy and energetic. So, I find that every time this freedom is expressed, it is also quite lonely – I can kind of see a kind of sadness in the happy colours, and that is quite moving. That kind of freedom is quite touching, because it must have vulnerability – without vulnerability, freedom becomes a commercial slogan.

    Why did you feel it was important to capture the artists and subcultures in Love Infinity? Explain the concept of the semi-documentary…
    The world is changing. I find the modern time really dramatic, and I think every artist is thinking this kind of thing, and asking all these questions about how to get together, how to communicate. The idea of the semi-documentary, fact and fiction, is about opening ways of looking at the facts again, and seeing meaning, seeing the emotional flow, and capturing a real moment. Love Infinity is about going through the surface to get inside and really talk to the artists about what they are really thinking, and East London is really special because it’s always been slightly other. The artists based there have more freedom, in a way, and they're often doing something different, so the expansion of the subconscious part of their life is more explored – they connect with something more; they connect with a really big unknown. I want to explore that thing, and I wanted to make this film so people could really get something back from seeing it – to feel something fresh about the world. I think many of the artists in the film have different things to give, like Phillip Colbert is really honest in the way he talks, and Vivienne Westwood says things that I would not have imagined she would talk about. It's really interesting.

    Why is the film focused upon trans-generational artists?
    I put in the young generation because the generation now is calling themselves post-human, and they are feeling lost in the modern world. The new generation is always interesting, because I think that a new generation can see what we are looking for, and they are also repeating the generation before, so this is like a circulation. People always think about the young generation in a way that I feel is really dangerous because they are always using economics to assess how they are – what they like, what they don't like – and that is something close to a kind of self-importance. But that approach doesn’t doesn't give freedom for the young generation to go forward, because they are presented almost as an object all the time.

    Why do you describe Love Infinity as a memorandum for the future’?
    I think Love Infinity will become really important after 10 years or 20 years, because you cannot ever find these people talking in the mainstream media. In a way, the 'no future' generation of the past and the 'no future' generation of the present come together in this film. The generation of today just wants to survive, and it’s becoming more impossible because of capitalism, and because culture is being flattened. But here you can see that although the world has a lot of uncertainty and sadness, these two generations are really dancing together, and fighting, and that they have hope because they are fighting. I’ve been working on my theory of spiritual DNA for a long time – an invisible form of communication – and I think I have started to understand energy, and how music and colours and lighting can raise up energy. I always keep the energy in the film really high – so that the audience feels it is always being raised up, despite all the uncertainty we are facing on Earth.

    Love Infinity is available to watch on Mubi from March 24th

    Images (top to bottom): Portrait courtesy of Tim Yip Studio. David Carter in the film Love Infinity; Daniel Lismore in the film Love Infinity; Pandemonia in the film Love Infinity; Stella and Lili in the film Love Infinity. All stills courtesy of Tim Yip Studio.

    Interview by John-Paul Pryor