Ulrike Ottinger

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crossroads:
everyday life, exoticism, gender, history, humanism, memory, mysticism, myth, ritual, tradition, transformation, travel
genre(subgenre):
Film (docu-fiction, documentary, feature film)
Visual Arts (installation art, photography, video art)
region:
Europe, Western
country/territory:
Germany
created on:
October 23, 2011
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since October 27, 2011. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Ulrike Ottinger
Ulrike Ottinger. © Anne Selders

Article

Artifact and artifice, documentary and fantasy

"It has always been my artistic principle to adapt myself to these things, and to join the flow of their nature and their primordial conditions," says Ulrike Ottinger. It sounds so simple and yet it’s an amazing feat. As though it was not the director who had directed something, not the camera woman, whose eyes are focused on something, not the photographer, who selects her images. Instead, it is as if she, the artist, could step back from her objects, simply let them play and then wait for them to tell their own story. And that is exactly what she has done in the films that were created during her travels.
Ulrike Ottinger, born 1942 in Constance, has been making films since the early 1970s. In the exhibition, "Floating Food," which she created in autumn 2011 for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, she revisited her oeuvres of over four decades and discovered elements within her work that continued to fascinate her. In the process, she selected five thematic themes from her films and documentaries to highlight: ritual, bike rides, preparation of food, life on water, the Taiga. Indeed, several of these motifs can be found repeatedly throughout her work. Astoundingly, the images from her early feature films (from the 1970s and 1980s) which were created as part of an artificial and symbolically constructed world, were rediscovered in archaic and preindustrial cultures that she had traveled to many years later. In fact, the loops and samples of her films show us that Ulrike Ottinger has always been a visual artist. She collects images of beauty. Her feature films are famed for their eccentric and flamboyant characters that often are composed of quotes from literature and cultural history, but the beauty she discovered in the last 20 years was primarily inspired by her trips to China, Mongolia, and Japan.

Often simple actions attract her eye, such as the transport of people and goods on bicycles in China; the folds in small packages of herbs in a Chinese pharmacy; the slaughter of a sheep in a nomadic culture: she shows the process from the first cut to the consumption of the cooked chunks of meat; when she gazes at a young man in Istanbul selling drinks from a vendor´s tray, and watches how he deftly distributes the various vessels on his body, all these processes of life take on an enviable self-evident rhythm. Things take as long as they take. One of her documentary films lasts eight hours.

In her eyes, the everyday things people do unfold a sound, choreography and aesthetic all their own. The events around the slaughter, which she had filmed in the early 1990s in a remote valley of Mongolia, for example, takes place under a vast sky with the active participation of the entire nomadic community. There is nothing obscene or cruel about it, nothing that needs to be hidden from view. The pictures have nothing in common with the images produced by our Western society. Instead, each movement of the hand seems to have its own imperative.

What seems most to fascinate Ottinger is that these actions are performed without doubt. The people performing the actions are absorbed in their work and often they are virtuosi at what they do. The artist Ulrike Ottinger observes artists of everyday life, who are one with their world in their actions —they aren’t grappling with questions of meaning. She watches from the perspective of a society in which art is constantly questioning its function, and with the melancholy of those who know that parts of these cultures are disappearing. Preserving them in an image is a powerful impetus for Ulrike Ottinger’s work.

At the same time, she does things that an anthropologist or a scientist would never do. For the exhibition "Floating Food" in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, she borrowed artifacts from ethnological collections - such as boats and cult objects –but she reconstructed altars to frame her film images. Costumes are also part of the exhibition, such as from a shaman and samurai originating from different sources: one from her film, which was created by costume designers, and then redesigned by Ottinger and her artist friends. A so-called "Samurai" wears armor made of dollar bills, Ottinger takes the sculpture originally created by Anne Judd and adds items from iron to create a weapon for the knight.

Artifact and artifice, documentary and fantasy make unusual bedfellows. Caring little for the boundaries between genres, as an artist doing ethnographic research, or, as in her earlier films, translating cultural and historical collections of material into flesh and blood, Ulrike Ottinger has always enjoyed a special status in the worlds of film and art.

Ulrike Ottinger almost never comments on the images in her documentary films, except through myths, fairy tales or traditional forms of theater juxtaposed to the images of everyday life. Rejecting a linguistic interpretation or explanation makes her films different from the large body of documentary films on the market and this explains what she means by "letting things transform". There is something touching about the openness of her gaze, how she rivets her attention to those she observes. A prerequisite for all the images seems to be a special relationship of trust between her, her team and her protagonists. In “Floating Food,” we see how much she wants to hug the world by the way she shows us its people.

She covers a wall of the exhibition with quotes by poets and scientists, including, for example, the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss: “As for food, it is its nature to be shared,” he who doesn’t share his food, “kills its essence,” destroying it both for himself and for the other. “He who eats without knowledge, kills the food, and the food he eats will kill him.” This, too, is a way of framing the simple things that are given so much space in her images, so that they become exaggerated, the stuff of ritual.

In her feature films you sense a hunger for rituals and spiritual techniques, for the ceremonies of everyday life and their special design. "Portrait of a Woman Drunkard" (1979), "Freak Orlando" (1981) and "Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press" (1983/84) were created in Berlin, sometimes in surreal landscapes, which Ottinger discovered in the wastelands of the walled city. Her performers, actors and amateurs seem, even today, to be a strange mixture of an expressive silent film style, symbolic posturing and naive amateur dramatics. The action and narratives are loaded with references to historical processes; for example, Ottinger wrote in an eponymously named picture book about "Freak Orlando" that it was: "an error, incompetence, hunger for power, fear, madness, cruelty and an everyday comprehensive “Histoire du monde" from the beginning to the present day, a small world theater told in five episodes.”

Ulrike Ottinger´s productions show her background of analyzing history through a feminist lens. Gender-crossing and an exaggerated or stylized parody of womanhood pervades many of her images. These roots in the feminist discourse of the 1970s is evinced today by Ulrike Ottinger’s audience. When she gave a tour of her exhibition at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, many more people came than were able to hear her speak, at least over 100, and a good two thirds of them were women over 50, some of them artists themselves.

Her feature films are like the rejected siblings of the cinema, the theater and the town fair. The exaggeratedly staged quality of her works has its roots in the history of the spectacle. Ulrike Ottinger’s approach to her material is perhaps closer in nature to the films of the American artist Matthew Barney than to the German feature films directed by her colleagues. That the city of Berlin has awarded her the Hannah-Hoch-Prize in 2011 (named after the early Berlin collage artist) is a sign that the complexity of Ulrike Ottinger’s aesthetic has finally been recognized.
Author: Katrin Bettina Müller

Bio

Ulrike Ottinger was born in 1942 and grew up in Konstanz/Bodensee. At the age of 20, she moved to Paris and frequented lectures of art history and anthropology at the Sorbonne. When she returned to Konstanz in 1969, she founded a film club and a gallery.

From the beginning of the 1970s, she lives in Berlin, From 1979 onwards, she filmed her Berlin trilogy "Bildnis einer Trinkerin," "Freak Orlando" and "Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse." Her documentary "China. Die Künste – Der Alltag," published in 1985, is the first of a series of documentaries, which were shot in Asia.

Ulrike Ottinger published numerous books and curated various exhibitions.

She will receive the Hannah Höch Award of the city of Berlin in November 2011.

Works

Faces, Found Objects, and Rough Riders

Exhibition / Installation,
2011
ArtPace, San Antonio/Texas, USA und Museo Reina Sofia, Centro de Arte, Madrid, Spain

Ulrike Ottinger. Bild Archive.

Exhibition / Installation,
2011
Witte de With. Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Die Blutgräfin

Film / TV,
2011

Unter Schnee/Under Snow

Film / TV,
2011

fast forward 2. The Power of Motion. Media Art Sammlung Goetz

Exhibition / Installation,
2010
ZKM Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe, Germany

Wir waren so frei ... Momentaufnahmen 1989/1990

Exhibition / Installation,
2009
Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Berlin, Germany

Glass.China

Exhibition / Installation,
2009
Alexander Tutsek-Stiftung, Munich, Germany

Still Moving

Film / TV,
2009

Shanghai Biennale

Exhibition / Installation,
2008
Exil Shanghai, selected photographies, China

Brussels Biennial

Exhibition / Installation,
2008
Post Sorting Center Brüssel, Belgium

film.kunst: Ulrike Ottinger

Exhibition / Installation,
2008
Museum für zeitgenössische Kunst, Warschau, Polen

Die koreanische Hochzeitstruhe

Film / TV,
2008

Seoul Women Happiness

Film / TV,
2008

film.kunst: Ulrike Ottinger

Exhibition / Installation,
2007
Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Berlin, Germany

Prater

Film / TV,
2007

Totem

Exhibition / Installation,
2005
Fotografien und Objekte. Salzburger Kunstverein und Das Kino, Salzburg, Austria

Imagen de Archivo

Exhibition / Installation,
2005
Espai d´Art Contemporani de Castellón, Spain

En Face

Exhibition / Installation,
2005
Ursula Blickle Stiftung, Kraichtal-Unteröwisheim, Germany

3. berlin biennale für zeitgenössische kunst,

Exhibition / Installation,
2004
Berlin, Germany

Museum für Ausländische Kunst

Exhibition / Installation,
2004
und Kino Riga in cooperation with Goethe-Institut, Riga, Latvia

Zwölf Stühle

Film / TV,
2004

Grotesk! 130 Jahre Kunst der Frechheit

Exhibition / Installation,
2003
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt und Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany

Südostpassage

Exhibition / Installation,
2003
The Renaissance Society , University of Chicago, USA

Documenta 11

Exhibition / Installation,
2002
Kassel, Germany

bild-archive

Exhibition / Installation,
2001
Kunst-Werke, Berlin in Kooperation mit Filmkunsthaus Babylon und Arsenal, Berlin, Germany

Sessions

Exhibition / Installation,
2001
Contemporary Fine Arts Galerie, Berlin, Germany

The Museum of Modern Art

Exhibition / Installation,
2000

Stills

Exhibition / Installation,
2000
David Zwirner Gallery, New York, USA

Exil Shanghai

Film / TV,
1997

Taiga

Exhibition / Installation,
1993
Völkerkundemuseum Zürich, Filmmuseum Düsseldorf, Reissmuseum Mannheim

Countdown

Film / TV,
1990

Johanna d´Arc of Mongolia

Film / TV,
1988

Europa Totem

Exhibition / Installation,
1987

Usinimage

Film / TV,
1986

Superbia – Stolz

Film / TV,
1986

China – die Künste – der Alltag. Eine filmische Reisebeschreibung

Film / TV,
1985

Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse

Film / TV,
1984

Freak Orlando - Eine künstlerische Gesamtkonzeption

Exhibition / Installation,
1981
Installation and photography. DAAD-Galerie, Berlin, Germany

Freak Orlando

Film / TV,
1981

Bildnis einer Trinkerin

Film / TV,
1979

Madame X – Eine absolute Herrscherin

Film / TV,
1978

Die Betörung der blauen Matrosen

Film / TV,
1975

Berlinfieber. Dokumentation Ulrike Ottinger

Film / TV,
1973

Laokoon & Söhne

Film / TV,
1972

Merits

1980: 2nd Audience Award at the Film Festival of Sceaux for “Portrait of a Woman Drunkard”

1983: 2nd Audience Award at the Film Festival of Sceaux for “Freak Orlandoa”

1984: Special Jury Prize at Florence Film Festival for artistic, formal and thematic unity of her oeuvres

1986: German Film Critics Award for “China - Arts – Everyday Life”

1987: Short Film Award of the HDF Hauptverband deutscher Filmtheater

1989: Film Award (Visual Design) for Johanna d´Arc of Mongolia

1989: Audience Jury Prize Montreal for Johanna d´Arc of Mongolia

2006: Art Prize Constance

2008: German Film Critics Award in the category documentary film for Prater

2010: Distinguished Service Cross of the Federal Republic of Germany

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Ulrike Ottinger: Floating Food

(07 September 11 - 30 October 11)

Www

Website of the artist

images
Korean Wedding/Die koreanische Hochzeitstruhe
Freak Orlando
Superbia - Der Stolz
Taiga