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Ulrike Ottinger - Biography

Ulrike Ottinger is a world-renowned filmmaker, photographer with her work extending into theater. Ottinger was born in Konstanz, Germany June 6, 1942. Not confined to any one medium or trope (some of her films even interweaving documentary and narrative styles), she has been recognized as one of the leading female filmmakers and won awards from the Montreal Film Festival, Bundesfilmpreis and German Film Critics. Exhibitions that include her photography also incorporate installation bringing together art objects that resonate with her photographs which in turn resonate with her films. A prime example is her work as a resident at Artpace in San Antonio, Texas (2005), where she incorporated images from her films and her work with the concept of totem that she experienced in Mexican American culture while in residence. Again, her skills directing and creating the scene are seen in her theater and opera work where she has designed and directed works by Elfriede Jelinek, Johann Nestroy and Olga Neuworth.

Ottinger began her artistic vision as a studio artist; first as a visiting student at Munich’s Academy of Art in 1959 and then by working freelance in Paris while training in Johnny Friedlaender’s etching studio from 1962 until 1968. Between exhibiting her work and studying etching, Ottinger was able to attend lectures at the Sorbonne including those by Pierre Bourdieu, Claude Levi-Strauss and Louis Althusser. She developed her first screenplay in 1966 called Die Mongolishe Doppelschublade (“The Mongolian Double-Drawer”). It is from the start that Ottinger’s direction of searching out transgressive perspectives and the manipulation of mainstream myths can be seen to evolve.

Returning to Knostanz in 1969, Ottinger developed Filmclub Visuell with the University of Konstanz’s Film Seminar. Until 1972 she also managed a gallery and the related publication, Galleripress, using both as a platform for emerging contemporary artists including new talents such as David Hockney and Volstell Wolf. At this time, Ottinger also met two women who she would work with as lead actresses in her many films to follow, Tabea Blumenschein and Magdalena Montezuma. It happened to be Blumenschein whom Ottinger made Laocoon and Sons with in 1972-73, her first realized film that premiered at the Berlin Arsenal.

1973 brought Ottinger to Berlin where her first films were made and where she resides to this day. Ottinger’s films made throughout the 1970s and into the first part of the 1980s stood out from the current of the time of melodramatic New German cinema by offering inventive and controversial fare. Her films from this period include a documentary on Happenings called “BerlinFever - Wolf Vostell” (1973), “The Enchantment of the Blue Sailor” (1975) and “Madame X” (1977). The Berline Trilogy was made by Ottinger with the help of one of her lead actresses, Montezuma, as well as Delphine Sevrig, Weruschka von Lehndorff, Eddie Constantine, Kurt Raab and Peer Raben. The films included in the trilogy are “ticket of No Return” (1979), “Freak Orlando” (1981) and “The Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press” (1984).

It was in the mid-1980s when Ottinger’s backdrop for her films turned more towards the East and Ottinger’s taste for a documentary style. The exception was “Countdown” (1990) which was made about Ottiner’s own city of Berlin and the changes that took place after the destruction of the wall. The majority of her films were shot in Asian countries and include: “China. The Arts - The Everyday Life” (1985) for which she won a German criticism prize, “Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia” (1989) for which she was awarded the Jury Prize of the Montreal audience and the Federal Film Prize for visual design, “Taiga” (1991) her eight-hour documentary,”Exile Shanghai” (1997), “South Passage” (2002) and “Twelve Chairs” (2004).

Along with her film work, shown internationally and culminating in retrospectives at Paris Cinematheque and the New York Musuem of Modern Art, Ottinger has staged theatrical works and continues to produce and exhibit her photography. Her photographs which resemble her films in their subject matter and contexts, have been included in art exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale, Documenta and the Berlin Biennal. Her solo shows have spanned across such galleries as the Witte de With Museum in Rotterdam and the Museum Nacional Reina Sofia in Madrid. Ottinger has also put together an artist’s book, “Picture Archive,” with the David Zwirner Gallery which is an archive of her photographs from 1975 to 2005.

As for Ottinger’s theater and opera work, she often works with Elfriede Jelinek. Jelinek won the Nobel Prize in literature and her plays often deal with Ottinger’s similar themes of society’s absurd nature. Ottinger has directed and set designed a few of Jelinek’s plays beginning with “Clara S.” at the Württembergisches Staatstheater in Stuttgart in 1983 as well as “Begierde und Fahrerlaubnis” in Graz, austria 1986. Her most recent staged production of a Jelinek piece took place in 2000 with the Berliner Ensemble and the performance of “The Farewell.”

For further reading on Ulrike Ottinger, Larry Rickels’ book, Ulrike Ottinger: The Autobiography of Art Cinema, provides valuable insight as well as the following interviews and write-ups: “Bon Voyage Dolphins,” Fellowship - Querelle. Cinema between France and Germany, München 1991; Les enfants du paradis. "Un spectacle pour ceux qui n'ont pas les yeux dans leurs poche", The Year 1945 in Film, Berlin 1990; Glass. China, Alexander Tutsek Foundation (ed.), Munich 2008; film.kunst: Ulrike Ottinger, German Film Archive, Museum of Film and Television (ed.), Berlin 2007 (exhibition catalog); Ulrike Ottinger. Image archives. Photography 1970 - 2005, Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, Nürnberg 2005th;and Image Archive. Photographs 1970 - 2005, Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, Nürnberg 2005th. A few interviews include: ”Johanna d'Arc of Mongolia. An Interview with Ulrike Ottinger by Janet A. Kaplan,” Art Journal, Vol 61, No. 3, Fall 2002, New York 2002; Interview with Ulrike Ottinger Andrea Dornseif,: Jobs for Film Freaks, Director, Campus Verlag, Frankfurt / New York 2001; in: Oper Bonn (Ed.), Effi Briest, Bonn 2000/2001 and The wedding of Nestroy and Kabuki. An interview with Mathias Grilj, Styrian Autumn 99 (ed.), The engagement party in the fairy kingdom, Graz 1999.

And some listings in catalogs: Trans Local Motion (7th Shanghai Biennale Exhibition) Shanghai, 2008; , Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Hg), Madrid 2004; Two German patriarch in Paris, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. A melancholy of the film, Bertz, Berlin 2003; Peter Lorre: The Lost. Silence as a durable and reliable arrangement, in: European Coordination of Film Festivals (ed.), 15 by 15th The European Film Heritage, Bruxelles 2000; Sessions, Contemporary Fine Arts (ed.), Berlin 2001; and Station cinema, Kunst-Werke (ed.), Image Archive, Berlin 2001.

Ulrike Ottinger was a professor at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where she conducted an Intensive Summer Seminar.