Dan R. Goddard: German artist finds beauty in charreadas
In her films, German artist Ulrike Ottinger often examines the tension between art and ethnography. Spending two months in San Antonio, she became fascinated with the heritage of Mexican American cowboys.
She discovered the world of the Mexican rodeo, or charreada, which she has documented in her installation of large-scale photographs called "Faces, Found Objects and Rough Riders" at ArtPace.
"I knew I would find something in the region, so I did not come with a specific project in mind," Ottinger said. "I like to do a lot of research, and I'm always interested in the origins of things, so naturally I was attracted to the Mexican rodeos."
She took more than 800 photographs of rodeos in San Antonio and Fort Worth. One whole wall of the gallery is covered with a huge blow-up of vaqueros roping a steer. Portraits of participants make up another nine smaller images. There's a young girl celebrating her birthday with money pinned to her blouse, and a man dressed in black who looks like a Fernando Botero painting come to life.
Several more images are featured in a thick scrapbook, which resembles the note taking and story boarding that goes into making one of her films.
"I talked to one person, who introduced me to the next, it was like a snowball," Ottinger said. "I would definitely be interested in making a film in San Antonio."
She's also created a shrine-like installation, lorded over by a stuffed longhorn head borrowed from the Buckhorn Saloon. Incorporating photographs and folk art, the installation also features feathers and other ornaments inspired by American Indian culture.
ArtPace screened what is generally considered her best film, "Johanna d'Arc of Mongolia," which follows seven Western women on the trans-Siberian railroad who are captured by a Mongolian tribe ruled by women. Combining documentary footage with surrealistic studio scenes, the film is as far removed from Hollywood formulas as Ottinger could make it.
Trained as an artist, she experimented in the 1960s with collage, performance and photography before moving into film in the 1970s. She's directed 18 films, which mostly have been shown in film festivals and museums.
"Freak Orlando" was partly inspired by Todd Browning's "Freaks," while "Taiga" is an eight-hour documentary on Mongolia. "Exile Shanghai" documents the stories of six German, Austrian and Russian Jews whose lives intersect when they flee China.
"I don't see the difference between a fictional film and a documentary because I always do both," Ottinger said. "I am mostly interested in recording disappearing traditions."
San Antonio Express-News, Web Posted: 08/08/2004 12:00 AM CDT