June 21, 2018 - Kolumba - Michael Oppitz: Mobile Myths
June 21, 2018


Lothar Baumgarten / Michael Oppitz, Der Rabe und der Kojote [The Raven and the Coyote], 1974. Unrealised film project.
Photo: Lothar Baumgarten. © VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2018.

Michael Oppitz
Mobile Myths
June 21–December 3, 2018

Kolumba, Art Museum of the Archdiocese of Cologne
Kolumbastraße 4
50667 Cologne

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The starting point for every exhibition at Kolumba is its collection. Since the exhibitions do not always have to be defined by major works, they present an opportunity to upend the normal systems of evaluation. What at first appeared to be no more than an unspectacular artists’ book by Michael Oppitz and Lothar Baumgarten, published in 1974 by Konrad Fischer in Düsseldorf, gave the impulse for a project focused on the researches of the anthropologist and film maker Michael Oppitz.

His works elude any clear categorisation. They are concerned with among other things mythology and oral traditions, with the anthropology of religion and with visual anthropology. He is regarded in his field as a unique and charismatic figure. By and large he has avoided the halls of academe and devoted himself to extensive fieldwork. Straddling both the arts and sciences, he seeks to overcome the customary divide between the disciplines: consequently the realm that Michael Oppitz has chosen as a visual anthropologist lies betwixt and between. His researches have largely taken him to cultures on the “fringes of writing,” to the small ethnic groups in the Himalayas—the Magar, Naxi and Qiang. In keeping with the “Kunst der Genauigkeit” (art of precision) he practises, he experiments with new forms of representation and knowledge. His use of photography, film and sound recordings, as well as language, derives from an approach that acknowledges the importance of artistic and imaginative methods in the process of scientific research, and takes the epistemological dimension of aesthetic means seriously.

Right from the outset, his personal contacts with writers and artists, such as Lothar Baumgarten, Joseph Beuys, Marcel Broodthaers, Candida Höfer and Sigmar Polke, provided the fuel for mutual inspiration. Michael Oppitz has also been acclaimed well beyond the boundaries of his discipline, in particular for his film Schamanen im Blinden Land [Shamans of the Blind Country], which after its premiere in 1980 in New York had an impact at the Berlin International Film Festival that can be felt to this day. As a precise description of the highly complex rituals of Himalayan spirit healers, Schamanen im Blinden Land convinces by a cineastic beauty that is rarely to be found in ethnographic films. It interweaves the mythic reality of ritual actions artistically with the present, so that one can grasp the bearing that myths have on the actors’ daily lives.

Taking as its starting point this 223 minute film epos, which will be shown in full in a newly restored version, the exhibition will present for the first time a selection of objects and documents that give a deep insight into Michael Oppitz’s researches, his working methods, and the genesis of the film. But it also follows the tracks that lead back to the time prior to making the film, and with that to the Rhineland of the 1970s, and brings together early, in part never shown projects that arose in collaboration with Lothar Baumgarten and through friendly exchanges with Marcel Broodthaers and others.

With the sensational presentation of nineteen shamanic drums from the Himalayas and Siberia, which among others are on kind loan from the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in Saint Petersburg, the exhibition sets out to convey a concrete insight into Michael Oppitz’s many years of involvement with mythology and oral transmission through the example of one sole object.

The exhibition has been mounted in close collaboration with Michael Oppitz. It is accompanied by a publication and a wide programme of events. Both the exhibition and the publication have received the generous support of the Kunststiftung NRW.

Curators: Anja Dreschke & Barbara von Flüe

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Mobile Myths
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