Faces, Found Objects and Rough Riders
Artpace San Antonio - Gallery Notes: Ulrike Ottinger - New Works
About the artist
Ulrike Ottinger began experimenting with collage, performance, and photography in the 1960s before turning primarily to film toward the end of the decade. Since then she has produced eighteen cinematic works and countless photographs. Consistently playing with conventions of modernism and the classical avant-garde, she nurtures traces of the familiar and the unfamiliar, the real and the fantastic, allowing each to seamlessly intermingle with the others.
Many of Ottinger's films explore issues of metamorphosis and inclusion. In Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press (1984) protagonist Dr. Frau Mabuse uses the power of prohibition to make and break the character of Dorian Gray, who ultimately undergoes a transformation from Bauhaus-dandy to evil tycoon. Ottinger complicates such familiar themes by reversing dominant gender roles and manipulation key transformative moments.
Ottinger has increasingly turned toward cultural studies, employing more documentary strategies in her photographs and films. In the film Exile Shanghai (1997) Ottinger documents the stories of six German, Austrian, and Russian Jews whose lives intersect when they flee to Shanghai. Employing interviews, narrative, photographs, and other documentation, the film capitalizes on the tension between art and ethnography.
Ulrike Ottinger was born in Konstanz, Germany in 1942. She has had solo exhibitions at such venues as National Museum Center of Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain (2004); Witte de With, Bild-Archive, Rotterdam, Holland (2004); The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, IL (2003); and Goethe Institut, Barcelona, Spain (2002). Group exhibitions include Documenta 11, Kassel, Germany (2002); Sessions, Bild-Archive, Museum of Contemporary Art, Berlin. Germany (2001) and 39th Venice Biennale, Italy (1980).
About the project
To gather material for Faces, Found Objects, and Rough Riders, Ulrike Ottinger attended festivals, processions, and cultural events in and around San Antonio, taking over 800 photographs along the way. The installation comingles photographic portraits, drawings, and ephemera from the area to investigate the foundations and practices of local cultures.
Presiding over the gallery is a large-scale photo covering the back wall with nine smaller images adorning those adjacent. Most of the photos are black and white portraits staged for the camera; some record ritualistic or cultural practices such as the charreada (rodeo); others capture their subjects unaware. The only color image depicts a bright red heart with angelic wings nailed to a pole - a local relic whose motif Ottinger has imported to objects in the center of the gallery.
The photographs provide a loose contextual frame for the centerpiece - a shrine-like area fashioned out of found objects, some manipulated and some untouched. The colorful display incorporates fabric, feathers, crafts, and symbolic tokens from primarily Native American and Mexican cultures. On display is Ottinger's sketchbook for the project-a kind of storyboard that juxtaposes drawings with pictures, notes, and ethnographic postcards from the 1930s and 1940s. The central "altar" unifies the project, casting doubt on the assumed authenticity of the surrounding photographs.
The scrapbook-like form of Faces, Found Objects, and Rough Riders is appropriate. The installation is in large part an account of Ottinger's exploration of San Antonio, a place rich with the creolization of German, Spanish, and Native American cultures. The project reveals not only how the medium of photography can simultaneously document and manipulate its subjects, but also the ways in which cultures change, influence, and borrow elements from one other. Through compelling juxtapositions, this work, like Ottinger's others, exposes the complexities in notions of cultural difference.