Artist Statement

Paris Calligrammes refers to the city where I lived as a young painter in the 1960s, and simultaneously stands for a pictorial script that translates texts into visual figures. Guillaume Apollinaire, then as now one of my artistic role models, gave the name to a small bookshop in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, from where I explored Paris, with his book of poetry Calligrammes. Poèmes de la paix et de la guerre (Poems of Peace and War). On my strolls through the city the real topography of the streets, quays, and squares with their traces of French decolonization, the Algerian War, and the student revolt of 1968 became superimposed with my imaginary city of visual arts, music, and literature.

Paris Calligrammes is the title of a film in which I trace my wanderings from the Librairie Calligrammes, the meeting point of the returned German emigrants and French artists and intellectuals, to the famous museums and hidden artists‘ studios, from the cafes of the Existentialists to the Cinématèque française where I discovered my passion for film. The time up until 1969, when I left the city, was one of the most influential phases for me personally, and simultaneously, from a historical perspective, an epoch of intellectual, political, and social upheavals. I came to Paris with the fixed plan of becoming a great painter. In my euphoria I wanted to immediately transform everything I experienced using artistic means. The question was: how? It is precisely this question which I am confronted with now, over 50 years later: How do I tell the story of a very young artist, who I remember, with the experience of an older artist, who I am now.

Paris Calligrammes is my personal memory landscape of this time, translated into the spatial. Photos, films, newspaper cuttings, sounds and music have been combined to create a dense assemblage of memory fragments. Their integration into an urban structure composed of soft textiles tells of the changes that the past undergoes on the path of memory. Streets with Pop Art paintings—in which I engaged with war and consumer culture—translated into fabric collages, point the way to spaces which were important fixed points for me: With Fritz Picard, the book dealer of the Librairie Calligrammes, and Walter Mehring, the sharp-tongued exiles, you enter my Parisian world of books. In the Parc Colonial you encounter the traces of French colonial history, or you follow Pierre Bourdieu and Ré Soupault on their precarious journeys to Algeria and Tunisia. Wherever you start or finish your little stroll there is one thing you should not miss: In the streets around today’s Gare du Nord you can observe the art of plaiting hair in the best hairdressers in the district; the results are also modern figure poems, in which history and the present, art and political statement condense.

Step into my Paris of the 1960s, which back then became my first Haus der Kulturen der Welt .

Ulrike Ottinger