The exhibition China. The Arts – The People by acclaimed filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger (b. 1942 in Konstanz, Germany) is the first large scale exhibition by the award-winning filmmaker and artist in Asia. The selection of works focuses on Ottinger’s research and travels in China during the 1980s and 1990s, comprising four films and more than one hundred photographs. The photographs, created throughout her career and largely in parallel with the production of her films, will be unfolded along the artist's leitmotifs.
Starting with China. The Arts – The People (1985), the exhibition leads a journey through the cultures and geographies of China, while also exploring the relationship between moving image and still life. The three acts of the documentary are presented on a three-screen installation, documenting everyday life in Beijing (February 1985), Sichuan Province (March 1985), and Yunnan Province (March 1985). While meeting the film director Ling Zifeng in one chapter, a Bamboo factory is visited in another, and in parallel the Sani show their habitat, the Stone Forest.
Taiga (1992), a documentary over eight hours long that will be presented on multiple monitors throughout the exhibition space, looks into the everyday life of nomadic peoples in Mongolia. Furthermore, on view in the cinematic space of the Centre, The Single Screen, will be the documentary Exile Shanghai (1997), telling the six life stories of German, Austrian, and Russian Jews intersecting in Shanghai after their escape from Nazi Germany, as well as Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia (1989), Ottinger’s only feature fiction film shot in China, with the cast including Badema, Lydia Billiet, Inés Sastre, and Delphine Seyrig.
From 1962 to 1968, Ulrike Ottinger was living as an independent artist in Paris, where at the University of Paris-Sorbonne she attended lectures on ethnography and religion of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Louis Althusser, and Pierre Bourdieu. Over the decades, she has created an extensive image archive, including films, photographs of her own as well as collections of postcards, magazine illustrations, and other iconographic documents from times and places worldwide. Driven by her curiosity for people and places, the artist’s images alternate between documentary insight and theatrical extravagance, presenting encounters with everyday realities at the intersection of the contemporary, the traditional, and the ritual.
The extraordinary filmic and photographic oeuvre from China of the 1980s and 1990s prove her outstanding practice and beyond. Fighting for permission to travel and film in communist China, Ottinger’s interest in Asia also broke with the Cold War stereotype of that time. Ottinger’s inimitable universe of provinces and regions of China is filled with rich imagery of the region and its history and attention to the presence of very local details, that reaches far beyond its described territory.
The exhibition is accompanied by an intensive public programme, starting with a “behind the scenes” discussion with the artist on her practice as photographer and filmmaker. The programmed talks and screenings will reflect on the notion of the documentary, the intersection of documentary and fiction, and the potential that artistic production can have for anthropology, cultural studies, and history.
Initially a painter, Ottinger came to filmmaking in the early 1970s. She furthermore produced operas, several theatre plays, and radio dramas. Her films have received numerous awards and have been shown at the world’s most important film festivals, as well as appreciated in multiple retrospectives, including Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival (2013), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2010), Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid (2004), The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2000), and Cinémathèque française, Paris (1982). Her work has been featured in major international exhibitions such as Documenta (2017, 2002), Gwangju Biennale (2014), Berlin Biennale (2010, 2004), and Shanghai Biennale (2008). Recent solo shows include, among others, Johanna Breede Photokunst, Berlin (2015, 2013), Sammlung Goetz, Munich (2012), Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2011), Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin (2011), and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam (2004). Major monographies include Ulrike Ottinger: World Images (2013), Ulrike Ottinger (2012), Ulrike Ottinger: N.B.K. Ausstellungen Band 11 (2011), Floating Food (2011), and Image Archive (2005). In 2011, she was awarded the Hannah Höch Prize for her creative work, and in 2010 honoured with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Ulrike Ottinger: China. The Arts – The People, Photographs and Films from the 1980s and 1990s is curated by Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director, and Khim Ong, Deputy Director, Exhibitions, Residencies and Public Programmes.