Ulrike Ottinger grew up in Constance, where she opened her own studio early on. From 1962 to early 1969 she lived in Paris, worked there as a freelance artist and trained in etching techniques in the studio of Johnny Friedlaender. At the same time she attended lectures by Claude Levi-Strauss, Louis Althusser and Pierre Bourdieu at the Collège de France. Among other things, she exhibited at the Biennale internationale de l’estampe, Paris and in various galleries. Ulrike Ottinger came to filmmaking in the early 1970s through the fine arts – painting, photography, performance. In 1966 she wrote her first screenplay, ›The Mongolian Double Drawer‹.
After her return to the BRD, she founded the ›filmclub visuell‹ in 1969 in Constance in cooperation with the University of Constance, in which she showed international independent films, new German films and historical films. At the same time, she opened the gallery and edition ›galeriepress‹, in which she presented Wolf Vostell, Allan Kaprow, Fernand Teyssier, Peter Klasen and English pop artists such as R. B. Kitaj, Joe Tilson, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney. With Tabea Blumenschein she made her first film ›Laocoon and Sons‹ in 1971–1973, which was premiered at the Arsenal Berlin. In 1973 Ulrike Ottinger moved to Berlin and shot the happening documentary ›Berlinfieber - Wolf Vostell‹ (1973). This was followed by ›The Enchantment of the Blue Sailors‹ (1975) with Valeska Gert and the pirate film ›Madame X - An Absolute Ruler‹ co-produced by ZDF (1977), which caused a sensation and became an international success.
From 1979 Ulrike Ottinger created her ›Berlin Trilogy‹, consisting of ›Ticket of no return‹ (1979), ›Freak Orlando‹ (1981) and ›Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press (1984)‹ (1984), on Delphine Seyrig, Magdalena Montezuma, Veruschka von Lehndorff, Eddie Constantine and Kurt Raab as well as the composer Peer Raben participated. In the short film ›Usinimage‹ (1987), she took up the images that were created in industrial wasteland and alienated urban landscapes.
In addition to the feature films, Ulrike Ottinger is also dedicated to documentary film projects, whereby she carries out an equally intensive and comprehensive research for all films, which in some cases spans many years. ›China. The Arts - The People ‹(1985) is the first in a series of long documentaries that was created on one of her numerous trips through Asia. In 1989 she made the feature film ›Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia‹ in Mongolia and three years later the documentary ›Taiga‹, in which she accompanied nomads from northern Mongolia on their hikes. In addition to her long-distance trips, she followed the changes in her own city between the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification in the documentary ›Countdown‹ with the same »ethnographic« attention. After the documentary ›Exile Shanghai‹ (1997), she went on further trips to Southeast Europe, where a documentary and a feature film were made: ›Southeast Passage‹ (2002) and ›Twelve Chairs‹ (2004). The documentary ›Prater‹ (2007) followed, which tells stories and stories related to the traditional Viennese amusement park. Ulrike Ottinger traveled to an Asian country again at the invitation of IFFF Seoul, South Korea and showed her documentary film ›The Korean Wedding Chest‹ ( 2009) which depicts a Seoul between tradition and modernity. At the turn of 2010/2011 she made the film ›Under Snow‹ in the Japanese snow country Echigo, which was premiered as part of the Asia-Pacific Weeks 2011 at the House of World Cultures. Her exhibition ›Floating Food‹ was shown there as well.
For ›Chamisso’s Shadow‹ (2016) Ulrike Ottinger traveled for three and a half months in the footsteps of great research travelers of the 18th and 19th centuries through the distant regions of the Bering Sea. The longest documentary film to date was created at twelve hours, accompanied by the exhibition ›World Tour. Forster - Humboldt - Chamisso - Ottinger‹ in the Berlin State Library.
In her latest work ›Paris Calligrammes‹ Ulrike Ottinger weaves her personal memories of the Parisian bohemian and the serious social, political and cultural upheavals of the time into a cinematic ›figure poem‹ (calligram). The film was made between 2017 and 2019 and will be premiered in spring 2020 at Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin.
In addition, Ulrike Ottinger also works as a director for theater and opera. She directed ›Das Lebewohl‹ (Berliner Ensemble, 2000), ›Clara S.‹ (Staatstheater Stuttgart, 1983) and ›Begierde und driving license‹ (Steirischer Herbst, Graz 1986) by Elfriede Jelinek, brought ›Das Verlobungsfest im Feenreich‹ (Styrian Herbst, Graz 1999) by Johann Nestroy and ›Effi Briest‹ (Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn 2001) by Isis ter Schiphorst and Helmut Oehring. Most recently ›Hommage à Klaus Nomi, A songplay in nine fits‹ by Olga Neuwirth had its premiere in spring 2008 at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele. Ulrike Ottinger designs the stage sets for all of the pieces she has staged.
In addition, Ulrike Ottinger has devoted herself to photography since the beginning of her artistic career and sets her own visual accents with her pictures, which are usually created in advance or parallel to the film work. With her photographic and film works, she has participated in major art exhibitions such as the Biennale di Venezia, the Documenta and the Berlin Biennale.
Solo exhibitions took place at the Witte de With – Center for Contemporary Art Rotterdam, the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Kunst-Werke Berlin, the David Zwirner Gallery in New York, the Hunterian Gallery in Glasgow and the NTU Center for Contemporary Art in Singapore.
Ulrike Ottinger's screenplays for ›Madame X‹ and ›Freak Orlando‹ were published in 1978 and 1981. In 2005 her artist book ›Bildarchive‹ was published, which shows selected photographs from 1975 to 2005. This was followed by other artist books such as ›Floating Food‹ (2011), ›Ulrike Ottinger - Weltbilder‹ (2013), the double volume ›Weltreise. Forster - Humboldt - Chamisso - Ottinger ‹(2015),› Chamissos Schatten ‹(2016) and› Paris Calligrammes ‹(2019).
Ulrike Ottinger received numerous awards for her extensive film work. Among other things, the Montréal Audience Jury Prize, the Federal Film Prize (visual design) for ›Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia‹ (1989) and the German Film Critique Award for documentary films ›China. The Arts – The People ‹(1986),› Prater ‹(2008) and› Chamisso’s Shadow ‹(2016).
Ulrike Ottinger's films have been shown at the most important international festivals and at numerous retrospectives, for example at the New York Museum of Modern Art, the Paris Cinémathèque française, the Center Pompidou, the Biennale di Venezia and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film archives.
Ulrike Ottinger has been a member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, since 1997. On January 6, 2010, she was presented with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Her artistic oeuvre was honored with the Hannah-Höch-Award of the City of Berlin in 2011. The Concordia University of Montreal awarded her an honorary doctorate in fine arts in 2018. Since 2019 she has been a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which annually awards the Academy Awards (»Oscars«).