THE NEW IN THE OLD THE OLD IN THE NEW
China: 1985 Japan: 2011
China in 1985 - a country which was indeed unknown and, for all its massive extent, hidden, and where the artist film-maker and photographer Ulrike Ottinger was able, after several years of diplomatic efforts, to realise her film project CHINA. THE ARTS - THE PEOPLE. As in the ‘filmic travelogue’ - as its subtitle had it – so in the photographs, taken in preparation for or in parallel with filming, it is all about exact observation of people, their behaviours and moods, about understanding and irritation, about marvelling at a different reality. Her photographic eye allows present-day viewers to engage openly with her subject matter without prior knowledge, and to bring their own associations into play. As we try to penetrate the secrets of the ‘street library’ in the mountain monastery or the ‘Forbidden City’, or compare the everyday activities, rituals and images portrayed with what is familiar to us, and feel reminded, when we see the ‘retoucher’, of a 17th-century genre painting, we are building direct bridges. The visual language of the artist, the secure balance she finds between a personal point of view and formal distance, a spontaneous approach and telling composition, is a source of stimulus and orientation. Where Ulrike Ottinger’s movie camera captures an event in its chronological process, her photography is able to tell a small story within the bigger story, to isolate one moment which encapsulates the whole.
If this first visit to China shows a meeting of visual art and reality, the more recent colour photos on the subject UNDER SNOW present a quite different facet of Ulrike Ottinger’s eclectic oeuvre. In these extraordinarily poetic pictures from northern Japan, we see a beguiling meeting of tradition and modernity, past and present, reality and imagination.