China. The Arts – The People, Photographs and Films from the 1980s and 1990s by acclaimed filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger (b. 1942 in Constance, Germany) is the first large-scale exhibition by the award-winning filmmaker and artist in Asia. The selection of works focuses on Ottinger’s research and travels in China and Mongolia during the 1980s and 1990s, comprising four films and more than one hundred photographs. The photographs, created largely in parallel with the production of her films, will be unfolded along the artist’s leitmotifs./>
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NTU CCA Singapore Exhibitions is focused on contemporary artistic production that provides a critical platform for reflection and discussion. The exhibition programme embraces artistic production in all its diverse media with a commitment to current debates in visual culture. NTU CCA Singapore presents up to four exhibitions a year ranging in format from group to solo shows giving voice to a diversity of international artists. Each exhibition is accompanied by an extensive public programme of tours, talks and workshops that foster reflections on the exhibition from various perspectives and disciplines.

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Ulrike Ottinger
China. The Arts – The People
Photographs and Films from the 1980s and 1990s

27 May 2017 — 13 August 2017

The exhibition China. The Arts – The People, Photographs and Films from the 1980s and 1990s by acclaimed filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger (b. 1942 in Constance, Germany) is the first large-scale exhibition by the award-winning filmmaker and artist in Asia. The selection of works focuses on Ottinger’s research and travels in China and Mongolia during the 1980s and 1990s, comprising four films and more than one hundred photographs. The photographs, created largely in parallel with the production of her films, will be unfolded along the artist’s leitmotifs.

Starting with China. The Arts – The People (1985), the exhibition leads a journey through the cultures and geographies of China, while also exploring the relationship between moving image and still life. The three acts of the documentary are presented on a three-screen installation, documenting everyday life in Beijing (February 1985), Sichuan Province (March 1985), and Yunnan Province (March 1985). While meeting the film director Ling Zifeng in one chapter, a Bamboo factory is visited in another, and in parallel the Sani people, a minority group, show their habitat, the Stone Forest.

Taiga. A Journey to Northern Mongolia (1992), a documentary over eight hours long that will be presented on multiple monitors throughout the exhibition space, looks into the everyday life of nomadic peoples in Mongolia. Furthermore, on view in the cinematic space of the Centre, The Single Screen, will be Exile Shanghai (1997), a film telling the six life stories of German, Austrian, and Russian Jews intersecting in Shanghai after their escape from Nazi Germany, as well as Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia (1989), Ottinger’s only feature fiction film presenting a cast starring Badema, Lydia Billiet, Inés Sastre, and Delphine Seyrig.

From 1962 to 1968, Ulrike Ottinger was living as an independent artist in Paris, where at the University of Paris-Sorbonne she attended lectures on ethnography and religion of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Louis Althusser, and Pierre Bourdieu. Over the decades, she has created an extensive image archive, including films, photographs of her own as well as collections of postcards, magazine illustrations, and other iconographic documents from times and places worldwide. Driven by her curiosity for people and places, the artist’s images alternate between documentary insight and theatrical extravagance, presenting encounters with everyday realities at the intersection of the contemporary, the traditional, and the ritual.

The extraordinary filmic and photographic oeuvre from China and Mongolia of the 1980s and 1990s prove her outstanding practice and beyond. Fighting for permission to travel and film in communist China, Ottinger’s interest in Asia also broke with the Cold War stereotype of that time. Her inimitable universe of provinces and regions of China is filled with rich imagery of various provinces in China and nomadic societies in Northern Mongolia and their history, paying attention to the presence of local details and reaching far beyond its described territory.

The exhibition is accompanied by an intensive public programme, starting with a Behind the Scenes discussion with the artist on her practice as photographer and filmmaker. The programmed talks and screenings will reflect on the notion of the documentary, the intersection of documentary and fiction, and the potential that artistic production can have for anthropology, cultural studies, and history.

Initially a painter, Ottinger came to filmmaking in the early 1970s. She furthermore produced operas, several theatre plays, and radio dramas. Her films have received numerous awards and have been shown at the world’s most important film festivals, as well as appreciated in multiple retrospectives, including Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival (2013), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2010), Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid (2004), The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2000), and Cinémathèque française, Paris (1982). Her work has been featured in major international exhibitions such as Documenta (2017, 2002), Gwangju Biennale (2014), Berlin Biennale (2010, 2004), and Shanghai Biennale (2008). Recent solo shows include, among others, Johanna Breede Photokunst, Berlin (2015, 2013), Sammlung Goetz, Munich (2012), Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2011), Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin (2011), and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam (2004). Major monographies include Ulrike Ottinger: World Images (2013), Ulrike Ottinger (2012), Ulrike Ottinger: N.B.K. Ausstellungen Band 11 (2011), Floating Food (2011), and Image Archive (2005). In 2011, she was awarded the Hannah Höch Prize for her creative work, and in 2010 honoured with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Ulrike Ottinger: China. The Arts ­– The People, Photographs and Films from the 1980s and 1990s is curated by Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director, and Khim Ong, Deputy Director, Exhibitions, Residencies and Public Programmes.

Image credit: Ulrike Ottinger, Shanghai Gesture, 1996. Context: Exile Shanghai, China. Courtesy the artist.



Supported by:
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Public programmes

Behind the Scenes with artist Ulrike Ottinger (Germany), Professor Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director, NTU CCA Singapore, and Professor, School of Art, Design, and Media (ADM), NTU, and Sophie Goltz, Deputy Director, Research and Academic Education, NTU CCA Singapore, and Assistant Professor, NTU ADM
24 May 2017, Wed 07:30 PM - 09:00 PM

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A “behind the scenes” discussion with the acclaimed artist Ulrike Ottinger on her practice as photographer and filmmaker. The artist will share her experience travelling through China, as well as reflect on the different topics raised by her work, such as the intersection of documentary and fiction and notions of culture and cultural difference.

Workshop for Teachers and Educators led by Kelly Reedy (United States/Singapore), artist and educator
27 May 2017, Sat 10:00 AM - 01:00 PM

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This workshop was developed in collaboration with Kelly Reedy, a former lecturer at the National Institute of Education, who specialises in teaching how museums and galleries can be used to enhance student learning through visual arts. This workshop is created to engage educators in contemporary art and artistic practices. Highlighting the educational aspects of the various works presented in Ulrike Ottinger: China. The Arts – The People, it will allow the teachers to prepare for visits with their school classes.

Image credit: Previous workshop conducted by Kelly Reedy for the exhibition Charles Lim Yi Yong: SEA STATE, 7 May 2016. Courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Screening: Beijing Taxi by Miao Wang (China). Selected by Dr Marc Glöde (Germany/Singapore), Assistant Professor, School of Art, Design, and Media, NTU
2 Jun 2017, Fri 07:30 PM - 09:00 PM

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Beijing Taxi is a timely, uncensored and richly cinematic portrait of China’s ancient capital as it undergoes a profound transformation. The film takes an intimate and compelling look at the lives of three cab drivers as they confront modern issues and changing values against the backdrop of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Through their daily struggles infused with humour and quiet determination, Beijing Taxi reveals the complexity and contradictions of China’s shifting paradigm.

This Screening is part of the public programme of Ulrike Ottinger: China. The Arts ­– The People, Photographs and Films from the 1980s and 1990s.

Image credit: Miao Wang, Beijing Taxi, 2010, film still. Courtesy the artist.

Tour of China. The Arts – The People led by NTU CCA Singapore curators
2 Jun 2017, Fri 07:00 PM - 07:30 PM
24 Jun 2017, Sat 03:00 PM - 03:30 PM
24 Jun 2017, Sat 05:00 PM - 05:30 PM
7 Jul 2017, Fri 07:00 PM - 07:30 PM
4 Aug 2017, Fri 07:00 PM - 07:30 PM

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Tours of on-going exhibitions led by NTU CCA Singapore curators are held every first Friday of the month. To register, email NTUCCAeducation@ntu.edu.sg.

Note: Tours on 24 June (Saturday) are held on the occasion of Art Day Out x School Holidays at Gillman Barracks. In addition, tours are also arranged for Mandarin speakers on 24 June at 3.00 – 3.30pm, and on 7 July (Friday) at 7.00 – 7.30pm.

For more information on Ulrike Ottinger: China. The Arts – The People, click here.

Image credit: Ulrike Ottinger, Familie von Seminomaden vor ihrem Winter-Lehmhaus, 1987. Context: Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia, Xi Wu Zhu Mu Qi Banner, Mongolia. Courtesy the artist.

Screening: China. The Arts – The People by Ulrike Ottinger, artist and filmmaker (Germany)
10 Jun 2017, Sat 02:00 PM - 06:30 PM

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In this four-and-a-half-hour documentary or filmic travelogue, Ulrike Ottinger imparts new ways of seeing a foreign culture. Divided in three parts, the film depicts everyday life in Beijing, Sichuan, and Yunnan, being highly sensitive to detail and allowing the viewer to follow Ottinger’s journey almost without commentary.

This screening is specially arranged to provide the opportunity for the audience to experience the work as a full film instead of the divided version installed in the exhibition space.

Image credit: Ulrike Ottinger, An der Strecke Chengdu – Kunming, 1985. Context: China. The Arts – The People, China. Courtesy the artist.

The Wunder Tribe Workshop for Kids by anGie seah
24 Jun 2017, Sat 10:00 AM - 05:00 PM

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Organised for children aged 7 to 12, the idea of “Wunder” serves as a starting point. By exploring some of the diverse cultures within and around Singapore, the artist and the participants will think about how tales are told and invent new personas and characters associated with flying, fight good causes, feed the hungry, and… to be somebody wonderful. Focusing on stories the region has to tell and the images that those stories summon, ways of sharing experiences, visions, and emotions will be analysed, by reinventing “ritualistic” actions and creating personalised objects. For enquiries and to register your child, email NTUCCAEducation@ntu.edu.sg

Presented on the occasion of Art Day Out x School Holidays at Gillman Barracks.

Image credit: Courtesy the artist.

Screening: Taiga. A Journey to Northern Mongolia by Ulrike Ottinger, artist and filmmaker (Germany)
24 Jun 2017, Sat 12:00 PM - 8:30 PM

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In this tri-lingual epic, four western women travel in the Trans-Siberian Railroad and are kidnaped by a tribe of Mongolian female warriors. As fantastic as this tale sounds, it is as much substantiated by historical and ethnographical research as it is just another one of Ottinger’s fictions of transformation, metamorphosis and the problem of dealing with otherness. In this film, these strands are most benignly brought together and woven into a scintillating tapestry of cultural interrelation. Where railroad and caravan meet – both metaphors for trans-formation – the initial clash, the fear of the uncertain other continent, turns into festivities as a result of receptive and accepting attitudes. Instead of combatting each other, customs and costumes reflect each other as in a mirror.

This screening is specially arranged to provide the opportunity for the audience to experience the work as a full film instead of the divided version installed in the exhibition space.

Presented on the occasion of Art Day Out x School Holidays at Gillman Barracks.

Image credit: Ulrike Ottinger, Jurtentür, Aufbau der Jurte am Bagchtara Gol, 1996. Context: Taiga, Mongolia. Courtesy the artist.

(de)Tour with Dr Els van Dongen (Netherlands/Singapore) Assistant Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore
5 Jul 2017, Wed 07:30 PM - 09:00 PM

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What can be glimpsed from Ulrike Ottinger’s images of China in the transitional period following the Cultural Revolution? Dr van Dongen will discuss the images through the lens of the changing economic, social, and cultural fabric of 1980s and 1990s China. Apart from reflecting on what we can gain from placing the images in their historical context, the presentation will also explore various other layers of the relation between art and history.

Image credit: Ulrike Ottinger, An der Strecke Chengdu – Kunming, 1985. Context: China. The Arts – The People, China. Courtesy the artist.

Screening: Shoot for the Contents by Trinh T. Minh-ha, filmmaker and writer (Vietnam)
7 Jul 2017, Fri 07:30 PM - 09:00 PM

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Reflecting on Mao’s famous saying, “Let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend”, Trinh T. Minh-ha’s film—whose title refers in part to a Chinese guessing game—is a unique excursion into the maze of allegorical naming and storytelling in China. The film ponders questions of power and change, politics and culture, as refracted by Tiananmen Square events. It offers at the same time an inquiry into the creative process of filmmaking, intricately layering Chinese popular songs and classical music, the sayings of Mao and Confucius, women’s voices and the words of artists, philosophers, and other cultural workers. Video images emulate the gestures of calligraphy and contrast with film footage of rural China and stylised interviews. Like traditional Chinese opera, Trinh’s film unfolds through “bold omissions and minute depictions” to render “the real in the illusory and the illusory in the real.” Exploring color, rhythm and the changing relationship between ear and eye, this meditative documentary realises on screen the shifts of interpretation in contemporary Chinese culture and politics.

This Screening is part of the public programme of Ulrike Ottinger: China. The Arts ­– The People, Photographs and Films from the 1980s and 1990s.

Image credit: Trinh T. Minh-ha, Shoot for the Contents, 1992, film still. Courtesy the artist.

Stagings: Shaman/Peasants – Dance of the Barefoot Guardians, co-presented with Arts Fission
14 Jul 2017, Fri 07:30 PM - 09:00 PM
28 Jul 2017, Fri 07:30 PM - 09:00 PM

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This performance responds to Ulrike Ottinger’s penchant to making films/documentaries based on everyday life and in diverse settings, from urban to rural environments. The title Shaman/Peasants alludes to the two factors related to the rise of communism in early 20th century China. The Chinese Communists built their revolutionary momentum with the support of the “Peasants” and later sealed their faith with the Land Reform Movement that changed the destiny of old China forever. “Shaman” is the intermediate between the deep-seated connection of human and land which bred myths and beliefs among the people. The dance will encompass incongruous movement motifs that aim to build conflicting tension by pitching bizarre individual characters against a repressive, conformative performing ensemble. The dance figures are abstract, referenced through contemporary interpretation.

For more information on Ulrike Ottinger: China. The Arts – The People, click here.

Image credit: Ulrike Ottinger, Familie von Seminomaden vor ihrem Winter-Lehmhaus, 1987. Context: Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia, Xi Wu Zhu Mu Qi Banner, Mongolia. Courtesy the artist.

In Conversation with artist Ang Song Nian (Singapore), artist Chua Chye Teck (Singapore), and artist and filmmaker Sherman Ong (Singapore/Malaysia). Moderated by Silke Schmickl (Germany/Singapore), Curator, National Gallery Singapore
19 Jul 2017, Wed 07:30 PM - 09:00 PM

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Fiction or reality, images produce their own narratives and temporal connections and are open to many interpretations infused with the personal experiences of individual viewers. Working with photography, sound, and video, different practices consider and question everyday life, and intersect with memory and notions of displacement and the self. Join the panel of artists for an open conversation about image/meaning making in contemporary art practice.

Image credit: Ulrike Ottinger, China. The Arts – The People, 1985, digital film still. Courtesy the artist.

(de)Tour with Kan Shuyi (Singapore), Curator of Chinese Art, Asian Civilisations Museum
21 Jul 2017, Fri 07:30 PM - 09:00 PM

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Throughout her artistic practice, Ulrike Ottinger has accumulated a large collection of objects and images, the latter including not only photographs taken by her, but also postcards, illustrations, iconographic documents, etc. The pictures, when released from the hoard to be assembled and recombined, become active objects that “perform” various appearances of realities. Does a collection —or more precisely a hoard of objects and images —create meaning for its bearer or other audiences? Hear from curator Kan Shuyi as she offers a museological perspective towards looking at repositories as potential meaning-bearers.

Image credit: Ulrike Ottinger, Marble decoration in the (inner) yard of a country house, 1985. Context: China. The Arts – The People, Yunnan. Courtesy the artist.

Screening: Film selection by Dr Marc Glöde (Germany/Singapore), Assistant Professor, School of Art, Design, and Media, NTU
4 Aug 2017, Fri 07:30 PM - 09:00 PM

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This Screening is part of the public programme of Ulrike Ottinger: China. The Arts ­– The People, Photographs and Films from the 1980s and 1990s.

Image credit: Courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

In Conversation with Dr Marc Glöde (Germany/Singapore), Assistant Professor, School of Art, Design, and Media, NTU, and Ben Slater (U.K./Singapore), Senior Lecturer, School of Art, Design, and Media, NTU
11 Aug 2017, Fri 07:30 PM - 09:00 PM

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Ulrike Ottinger’s work translates a powerful research into a portrait of the world in images. These investigations, in Ottinger’s case often referred as travelogues, result in films that take time to encounter. By exploring her films and photographs, we are challenged to define the meaning of “documentary”, “narration”, or “experimental” anew. They take us on a journey during which we get to know foreign lands and cultures, and we are forced to constantly renegotiate the understanding of ourselves and the “other”. In this conversation, Dr Marc Glöde and Ben Slater will take a closer look at how Ottinger’s practice continuously invites us to become travellers and reformulate our discourses.

Image credit: Ulrike Ottinger, Exile Shanghai, 1997, digital film still. Courtesy the artist.