Anselm Franke: Giving Form to Reality

In her film work, Ulrike Ottinger doesn´t proceed from dialogue. Rather she places found and produced images at the center of her work, developing the scripts out of these. Preceding is a research process, the accruement of a visual archive which later forms the film´s image resource and to a certain extent becomes an important component of the final script.

Kunst-Werke are exhibiting an extensive selection from the archive of photographs of Ulrike Ottinger. The chosen works arose alongside several film projects, fiction as well as documentary films. Ulrike Ottinger´s fictional films and documentaries resist simple narrative patterns. They are brilliant mosaics of film architecture, costume, sound, props and a highly individual conception of role. Under early influence, Ulrike Ottinger developed a visual language which constitues an individual aesthetic cosmos against a background of 20th century art trends.


Her works are expeditions into unknown visual territory, into a world of reflections and metamorphosis, beauty and dreams, fears and visions, but also of the exacting documentary eye. Sculptural, theatrical and unorthodox images possessing a high degree of suggestive power are born out of a montage of cinematic components existing independently alongside one another. A quality of perception resides in these compositions which hones the ability to differentiate and which contrasts the content against its portrayal in a refined way. Thus, the viewer is constantly encountering different cultures and their rituals in Ulrike Ottinger´s partially ethnographic films and photographs, without the aim of representing either another culture or one´s own. Rather, the films and photographs play with the "alien"; they deal with the fundamental inability to appropriate the experiences, and the connection of political, private and social matters. The depiction of desires, dreams and fears constitutes the heart of Ottinger´s films: This is where they become pictorial reality. The aesthetic she has developed, her scenic apparatus plays just an as important role in Ottinger´s documentary work (i.e. China, The Arts, The Everyday), or in the fictional films which distinguish themselves through their handling of time and their unusual, static style of filming. Here, no attempt is made to penetrate into the alien; there´s no zoom, no violent drawing nearer and no commentary. The stylization of the ritualistic in the everyday, expresses what Ottinger is searching for with her camera and what is in contrast to Western, psychologically analytical concepts: "with the camera, I try to carry on a visual discourse on the exotic as a question of standpoint". (Ottinger to Witte, 1986)


The photographic works of Ulrike Ottingers lay claim to a special status in many respects: they exist as a visual notebook in the larger context of her cinematic work; the total work of art is comprised of painting, photography, dance and music, architecture and choreography, rhythm and image composition, dramaturgy of light and color. For all these components indispensable to Ulrike Ottinger's films, photography and the image archive form the point of departure, the first building block of cinematic montage. Among these are sketches of cinematic scenes, compressed cinematic moments, stills, complex metaphoric compositions, but also landscape photographs and documentary images. The photographs are independent works which reveal a narrative, cinematic panorama to the viewer. The exhibition, which takes place in the series Image Archives, challenges the consciousness of images, allowing the viewer to search for image sequences, associations and possibitilies of ordering.

The first point of concentration in the exhibition is a serie of shots from the film Freak Orlando (FRG 1981), which in five episodes presents a historical panorama of society's outsiders, an archaeology of silence / of the dream / of insanity / of the repressed, framed by the figure of Orlando, based on a novel of Virginia Woolf, wandering through the centuries. The images are compositions which lend themselves to this archaeology, images whose language is the metaphor of the subconscious, in which the insanity of the past returns camouflaged by the outward appearances of the present. The medieval episode portrays double-headed beings and other freaks of nature for which medieval cooper engravings served in part as direct models. In the episode on the mechanisms of the inquisition, cruel tortures inspired by the visionary expressive power of Francisco de Goya's series are represented, which in their historical extension become the tortures of modern psychiatry. This image material, which plays out the possibilities of the deformed body, of possible tortures, testing out the fantasy in the field of tension between reason and provocation, also traverses the recurrent structure of power and the effects of the powerful. Power myths and the handing down of them through the media can also be found at the heart of the film Dorian Gray in the mirrow of the yellow press (1983). The myths exist equally in the images and the roles, force themselves to the surface, to a representation and an embodiment in the present. The shots which arose within the context of Johanna D'Arc of Mongolia, 1998, are connecting links to the landcape and documentary photographs of the exibition. The ethnographic approach, on the one hand foundation and inspiration for "fictive" staged images, becomes, when mixed with the documentary excursion into the foreign culture of Mongolia, a discourse on understanding, on the collision between two cultures an on the question of perspective, on one's own standpoint. The landscapes and steppes in their endless expanse, their sense of eternity are transformed into invocations of the foreign culture as well as one's own. In the sense of Ottinger's aesthetic world, into whose "world theater" this exhibition casts a glance, this landcape must be understood also an an actor.


Bildarchive, Introduction to the catalogue

© Anselm Franke


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