UNDER SNOW, 2011
Those who leave, let go. Those who go, cut down old points of reference; they leave behind what is familiar and follow their vision. Only where the old disappears rearward on the horizon, new solutions seem to become possible. “Knowledge is gained through one’s soles,” it says in Werner Herzog’s travelogue, “Of Walking In Ice”. Hiking simply always means change; it is the course of one’s life; it means letting go. It is such a metamorphosis taking place on the road which Ulrike Ottinger’s film “Under Snow” relates, too.
It is the story of two college students in Japan’s land of snow. In the New Year’s night of the “Year of the Rabbit”, they start on a mystical journey. “Under Snow” is the film version of a “rite of passage”, of an inexplicable transformation of the world: Foxes become humans in this movie, reality turns into fragile poetry, and the presence becomes far-away history. And yet everything is interwoven in a purely mysterious way. The stuff of fairytales – and yet as real as all fiction is at its core. “Only if it was a movie,” Werner Herzog again once described this esthetic paradox, “would I believe it to be true.” Ottinger’s “Under Snow” is a movie. And precisely for this reason, this fabric made from mountain gods and gods of the route, from snow women and female singers, is real in an inexplicable way. Also real are the motifs of the large-format photographs which the photographer, born in 1942, took in parallel to the shooting of “Under Snow” about two years ago, and which can be seen from 27.11.2013 until 11.01.2014 at an exhibition at the Johanna Breede PHOTOKUNST gallery. They are authentic since they touch a reality – a reality which endlessly wanders between the interior and the exterior. “It all could have been that way,” these photos with their delicate colors are saying, taken in the province of Echigo. But maybe everything happened in a completely different manner, and all that is seen is only a dream: The old man with his enormous snowshoes who starts dancing in the eternal white of the snow; the woman fishing with a wooden trough in still waters; the flax cloths which spread like inexplicable signs across the giant fields of snow. For Ulrike Ottinger - who at first composed her image of Asia from fantasies and stories, until, in 1985, she was able to the travel to the “Middle Kingdom” still foreign at the time - clearly defined concepts and frozen esthetic categories seem no longer to play any role. Already in her 1988 film, “Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia”, the fundamental questions are asked: “Does imagination have to shy away from meeting reality, or do both love each other? Can they become allies? Are they changed by meeting each other? Do they switch roles?” Ottinger’s photos about “Under Snow”, too, are still asking these questions. And the answers which they carry inside describe no less than the poetry of snow: Supposedly, the legendary “Snow Atlas” by Japanese poet Bokushi Suzuki indeed includes 22 words for the white flakes - among them “snow dumplings” and “rice powder snow”; “snow froth” and “number-one-snow”. They all are different varieties of the essentially same, each another name for the same hexagonal crystal. In a similar way, Ulrike Ottinger’s handling of words such as “reality”, dream”, “poetry”, “film” or “photography” might be understood: They are the same, and yet they are different. As if, in the end, cinema screens, the pages of a book or photo paper were merely the same to the 71-year-old artist as the enormous snow fields in the province of Echigo: Spaces of events for a still unexplored way of seeing. Landscapes across which the eye wanders; in which it lets go of the familiar and only this way, can find something truly new. (Ralf Hanselle)
November 27th 2013 to January 11th 2014