Paris Calligrammes

A Landscape of Memory by Ulrike Ottinger

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) Berlin | August 23 – October 13, 2019

In Paris Calligrammes the filmmaker, photographer and collector of worlds Ulrike Ottinger links historical archival material with her own art and film works to create a sociogram of her time as a visual artist in Paris.

In the grip of political upheavals, Paris of the 1960s also attracted artists from all over the world and was a pulsating stream of energy hovering between trauma management and the utopia of Europe. Between the new beginnings after the Second World War, to the Algerian War and the student protests of 1968, Ottinger weaves her observations into a figural poem. Memories of the Parisian bohème and decolonial movements meet images of a multi-ethnic society.

From the Librairie Calligrammes, a meeting place of exiled German intellectuals, to the Cinémathèque française, which sparked her love of film, she charts a city and its utopias. They live on in Ulrike Ottinger’s collaged landscape of memories in a workshop exhibition complimenting her film Paris Calligrammes(2019).

An accompanying publication with contributions by Aleida Assmann and Laurence A. Rickels and extensive insights into Ulrike Ottinger's private archive is published by Hatje Cantz Verlag.

Press text by HKW

→ Link to the exhibition

Artist Statement

Paris Calligrammes refers to the city where I lived as a young painter in the 1960s, and simultaneously stands for a pictorial script that translates texts into visual figures. Guillaume Apollinaire, then as now one of my artistic role models, gave the name to a small bookshop in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, from where I explored Paris, with his book of poetry Calligrammes. Poèmes de la paix et de la guerre (Poems of Peace and War). On my strolls through the city the real topography of the streets, quays, and squares with their traces of French decolonization, the Algerian War, and the student revolt of 1968 became superimposed with my imaginary city of visual arts, music, and literature.

Paris Calligrammes is the title of a film in which I trace my wanderings from the Librairie Calligrammes, the meeting point of the returned German emigrants and French artists and intellectuals, to the famous museums and hidden artists‘ studios, from the cafes of the Existentialists to the Cinématèque française where I discovered my passion for film. The time up until 1969, when I left the city, was one of the most influential phases for me personally, and simultaneously, from a historical perspective, an epoch of intellectual, political, and social upheavals. I came to Paris with the fixed plan of becoming a great painter. In my euphoria I wanted to immediately transform everything I experienced using artistic means. The question was: how? It is precisely this question which I am confronted with now, over 50 years later: How do I tell the story of a very young artist, who I remember, with the experience of an older artist, who I am now.

Paris Calligrammes is my personal memory landscape of this time, translated into the spatial. Photos, films, newspaper cuttings, sounds and music have been combined to create a dense assemblage of memory fragments. Their integration into an urban structure composed of soft textiles tells of the changes that the past undergoes on the path of memory. Streets with Pop Art paintings—in which I engaged with war and consumer culture—translated into fabric collages, point the way to spaces which were important fixed points for me: With Fritz Picard, the book dealer of the Librairie Calligrammes, and Walter Mehring, the sharp-tongued exiles, you enter my Parisian world of books. In the Parc Colonial you encounter the traces of French colonial history, or you follow Pierre Bourdieu and Ré Soupault on their precarious journeys to Algeria and Tunisia. Wherever you start or finish your little stroll there is one thing you should not miss: In the streets around today’s Gare du Nord you can observe the art of plaiting hair in the best hairdressers in the district; the results are also modern figure poems, in which history and the present, art and political statement condense.

Step into my Paris of the 1960s, which back then became my first Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

Artistic Director Ulrike Ottinger
Head of Project Alexandra Engel
Project Coordination Franziska Janetzky
Project Assistance Rejane Salzmann, Emma Fleury-Cancouët
Office Ulrike Ottinger Melanie Martin, Reinhild Feldhaus
General Coordination Gernot Ernst
Textile Workshop Elisabeth Sinn (Leitung), Laura Drescher, Darya Graf, Corinna Kupka, Simon Lupfer, Jankin Haji Mohamad, Minh Hang Nuyen, Anne Charlotte Riedzewski, Lisa Spengler, Heike Scheller, Patrycja Stern, Christian Vontobel
Exhibition Set-Up Oliver Büchi, Aiks Dekker, Christian Dertinger, Simon Franzkowiak, Achim Haigis, Matthias Hartenberger, Matthias Henkel, Gabriel Kujawa, Matthias Kujawa, Simon Lupfer, Sladjan Nedeljkovic, Andrew Schmidt, Stefan Seitz, Norio Takasugi
Film Editor Anette Fleming
Coordination Olga von Schubert
Copy Editing Martin Hager
Grafik Design Tobias Honert & Jan Wirth, Zentrale Berlin
Head Daniel Neugebauer
Team Svetlana Bierl, Kristin Drechsler, Pakorn Duriyaprasit, Kirsten Einfeldt, Anna Etteldorf, Tarik Kemper, Karen Khurana, Jan Köhler, Marine Lucina, Anne Maier, Kerstin Meenen, Dorett Mumme, Laura Mühlbauer, Céline Pilch, Ralf Rebmann, Josephine Schlegel, Christiane Sonntag, Eva Stein, Franziska Wegener, Sabine Westemeier, Sabine Willig
Ulrike Ottinger thanks:
Annette Antignac, Martin Dreyfuß, Christine Frisinghelli, Manfred Metzner, Jutta Niemann, Katharina Sykora, zero one film GmbH, Conny Ziller sowie Bernd Scherer und seinem Team

The Shows You Need to See During Berlin Art Week, Emily McDermott, Frieze, 11 Sep 2019
„Through this exhibition’s eponymous video, Paris Caligrammes (2019), filmmaker and photographer Ulrike Ottinger charts her time in the French capital as an artist during the 1960s. Combining archival footage with her own material, she meanders poetically through the city at a time when the discrepancy between postwar utopian ideals and people’s lived experiences was such that tension and unrest were fermenting. While viewers can sense the effects of World War II, the Algerian War (1954–62) and the 1968 student protests, they are also introduced to the Librairie Calligrammes – a meeting place of exiled German intellectuals – as well as the Cinémathèque françai- se, where the artist herself fell in love with film.“

ART CITIES:Berlin-Ulrike Ottinger, Dimitris Lempesis, dreamideamachine ART VIEW
„In the grip of political upheavals, Paris of the 1960 attracted artists from all over the world and was a pulsating stream of energy hovering between trauma management and the utopia of Europe. Between the new beginnings after the Second World War, to the Algerian War and the student protests of 1968, Ottinger weaves her observations into a figural poem. Memories of the Parisian bohème and decolonial movements meet images of a multi-ethnic society.“

Ulrike Ottinger. Paris Calligrammes, Nina Cieminska, ArtRabbit
„Ulrike Ottinger weaves her personal memories of the Parisian Bohème and the severe social, political and cultural upheavals of that time into a cinematic „figural poem.“ [...] At that time, Paris was not only the meeting place for intellectuals and artists from all over the world, but was also seized by decolonial movements and political uphea- vals. In addition, student protests against the Vietnam War and racial discrimination began in the mid-1960s. Ulrike Ottinger describes how she experienced this period of artistic, political and social awakening. With her own artistic and ethnographic view, she links the historical reports, insights and pictorial representations with her personal travel notes and photographs. Thus, the past and present meet in the film; historical and cultural changes become distinct. A tension arises between then and now, showing how inseparably the two belong together.“

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