Catherine David: Introduction
Ulrike Ottinger came to filmmaking in the early seventies via a career in the visual arts (painting, works on paper, photography, performance). But she took her first photograph at the age of nine, on a canal boat in Amsterdam (two Indian gentlemen, one in a trench coat, the other one wearing a turban with a well-tailored suit, smile for the camera).
Afterwards would come thousands of images (photographs of course, but also collections of postcards, cut-outs, illustrations and various iconographic documents), constituting the open archive of a life and an oeuvre based on a principle of the "collage" of images and events.
Each image "refers to something beyond itself: to the reality that precedes it; to countless images from the repositories of the arts, of everyday culture and of myth; and to the visual cosmos of her own increasingly dense oeuvre. These photographs are encounters between things found and things invented. They are arenas in which reality and fiction, past and future, wish and fulfillment, transform each other."1
The exhibition in Witte de With invites you on an accompanied stroll among a selection of images introducing the complex relations that the work of Ulrike Ottinger maintains with the world, with history and culture. A long, beautiful voyage, at once grave and enchanted, which from nearest to furthest, from the urban landscapes of Berlin to the steppes of Mongolia, from yesterday's tales to today's decors, has nothing exotic or egotist about it. Rather it involves a concern for the other and an "aesthetics of diversity,"2 worthy of another age.
This allegorical, Benjaminian aspect of her work is what Eva Meyer has so marvelously underscored: "Her films are ethnographic films, even on her own turf. But without the claim to represent another or even one's own culture. Ottinger knows very well that that's just not possible. What fascinates her she ritualizes in ephemera, without symbolic value, an artifact in other words, one that can be as confusing as it is precise. With this distinction we are where the experience of the other becomes visible, where it can appear. In a film that is about the fundamental impossibility of appropriating this experience as the subject's self-realization. The balancing act between Ottinger's despair and enthusiasm is prompted by this impossibility and realizes the artifact… That's what I keep on talking about, this allegorical moment of distinction, which can be neither Romantically felt out nor replaced through a critical intention, but which can be seen in the films of Ulrike Ottinger."3
1 Katharina Sykora, "Stills and Sessions," in Ulrike Ottinger (Berlin: Contemporary Fine Arts, 2001).
2 Victor Segalen, Essay on Exoticism: An Aesthetics of Diversity, transl. Yaël Rachel Schlick (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002).
3 Eva Meyer, "Ottinger's Artifact," in Ulrike Ottinger: Texte und Dokumente, Kinemathek 86, 32 (Berlin, October 1995).