Ulrike Ottinger and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt
There is hardly a German artist who, in terms of her attitude, her method, and the content of her work, represents the spirit of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt better than Ulrike Ottinger.
Whether working in photography or film, Ottinger never claims to portray the world as it is, but rather as she sees it. This is true of both her documentary works, in which she presents slices of reality, and her fictional works, in which she creates worlds.
Her works are the enactment of poetic experience. They begin with the object. Ottinger is fascinated by objects; she collects them, stores them, repeatedly returns to them, is enchanted by them. Her receptivity to objects and her trust in their allure can be seen in many places in her oeuvre—such as when she eschews classical editing techniques and camera shots, filming a ritual battle scene in a single thirty-minute take, or when her camera seems to lose itself in the cultural technique of the perfect preparation of noodles.
Exposing oneself to the magic of objects means accepting that they and their connections to one another cannot be fully understood, that something will always remain, some entity that evades thorough illumination.
It is this ability to open oneself up to objects, to linger with them, which prevents Ottinger from drawing artificial boundaries between high art and popular art. She acknowledges the intrinsic value of cultural techniques of all kinds. This is an ability that is becoming increasingly important in times of globalization, in times of a new interplay between cultures, because the clearly delineated categorizations of the Western modern era are losing relevance and can no longer assert their orientational role.
Ottinger once said that if she hadn’t become a filmmaker, she would have gone into ethnology. She would have made a good ethnologist. She never aims for the objectifying view from outside that purports to describe an existing world. Hers is a respectful approach to the object at hand. Due to her awareness of her own subjectivity, she ultimately maintains and articulates a distance to the object, never pretending that she could fully appropriate it.
Ulrike Ottinger is a weaver. She moves in the in-between spaces, bringing the things around her into new relationships with each other. Could there be a more beautiful image for the work of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt?
It was a great gift to work with her, an artist who is so open to the world and its stories.
Bernd M. Scherer
Director, Haus der Kulturen der Welt