Ulrike Ottinger grew up in Konstanz, where she opened her own studio at an early age. From 1962 until 1968, she lived and worked as an artist in Paris, where she exhibited at the Salon de la Jeune Peinture and elsewhere. She studied etching techniques at the studio of Johnny Friedlaender and attended lectures at the Sorbonne on art history, religious studies, and ethnology with Claude Lévi-Strauss, Louis Althusser and Pierre Bourdieu. In 1966, she wrote her first screenplay, entitled “The Mongolian Double Drawer.”
After returning to West Germany, she founded the “filmclub visuell” in Konstanz in 1969, as well as the “galeriepress” gallery and press, presenting Wolf Vostell and David Hockney, among others. With Tabea Blumenschein, she realized her first film in 1972-1973, LAOCOON & SONS, which had its premiere at Arsenal Berlin. She moved to Berlin in 1973, where she filmed the happening documentation BERLINFEVER – WOLF VOSTELL. After THE ENCHANTMENT OF THE BLUE SAILORS (1975), with Valeska Gert, came the female pirate film MADAME X (1977), a coproduction with the ZDF television network. The film was a sensation, and prompted substantial controversy.
Her “Berlin trilogy” began with TICKET OF NO RETURN (1979), followed by FREAK ORLANDO (1981) and DORIAN GRAY IN THE MIRROR OF THE YELLOW PRESS (1984). Collaborating on the films were Delphine Seyrig, Magdalena Montezuma, Veruschka von Lehndorff, Eddie Constantine, and Kurt Raab, as well as the composer Peer Raben. In the short film USINIMAGE (1987), she revisited imagery derived from industrial wastelands and alienated urban landscapes.
CHINA. THE ARTS – THE PEOPLE (1985) is the first in a series of long documentary films made in the course of Ulrike Ottinger’s travels through Asia. She made the narrative film JOHANNA D’ARC OF MONGOLIA in Mongolia in 1989, followed three years later by the eight-hour documentary film TAIGA. Alongside her journeys to the Far East, she applied a virtually “ethnographic” attention to the changes taking place in her own city between the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification in the documentary film COUNTDOWN. After the documentary film EXILE SHANGHAI (1997), her travels took her to southeast Europe, where she once again created a documentary film and a narrative film: SOUTHEAST PASSAGE (2002) and TWELVE CHAIRS (2004).
The films of Ulrike Ottinger have received numerous awards, including the Audience Jury Prize in Montréal and the Bundesfilmpreis (Visual Design) for JOHANNA D’ARC OF MONGOLIA (1989), and the German Film Critics Award for the documentary films CHINA. THE ARTS – THE PEOPLE (1986) and PRATER (2008). Her works have been shown at the world’s most important film festivals and appreciated in multiple retrospectives, including at the Cinémathèque française in Paris and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Ulrike Ottinger has also worked as a director of theater and opera. Her productions have included the 2000 premiere of Elfriede Jelinek’s “The Farewell” at the Berliner Ensemble.
Ulrike Ottinger has worked in photography throughout her career as an artist. With her photographs, created largely in parallel with the film works, she has identified her own visual points of emphasis. She has taken part in major art exhibitions, presenting works at the Biennale di Venezia, the Documenta, and the Berlin Biennale, among others. Her solo exhibitions have been, among other places, at the Witte-de-With Museum in Rotterdam, the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia in Madrid, Kunst-Werke Berlin, and the David Zwirner Gallery in New York. Her artist’s book “Bildarchive,” collecting a selection of photographs from 1975 through 2005, was published in 2005. In her artist’s book "Floating Food", published in 2011, Ulrike Ottinger created a comprehensive collage from four decades of her artistic production. In 2011 she was awarded the Hannah-Höch-Prize for her creative work.