A través los Territorios / Across the territories

18. July - 15. September 2002

IVAM, Institut Valencia d´Art Modern

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg.

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg.

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg.

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg.

by Lawrence Weiner
© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg.

Press release:

Across the territories

Ursula Schulz-Dornburg was born in Berlin in 1938 and currently lives in Düsseldorf. She came to international attention as the result of a series of exhibitions of her work in Bonn, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Vienna, Amsterdam, Basel, Chicago, Washington, New York, etc. Most of those exhibitions concentrated on one specific project, but the IVAM, in its Sala de la Muralla, is now for the first time presenting five of her photographic projects — some of them very extensive — simultaneously, thereby providing an overview of more than two decades of creative work.
The exhibition begins, chronologically, with Verschwundene Landschaft. Der Tigris des alten Mesopotamien (Vanished Landscape. The Tigris of ancient Mesopotamia, Iraq 1980), continues with Sonnenstand (Solar Position, Pyrenees 1991/92), and then comes to three series from recent years, which continue without providing a definitive conclusion: Transitorte (Transit-sites, Armenia 1997/2000), Crenzlandschaften (Borderscapes, 15-km stretch of the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan, 1998/2000) and Erinnerungslandschaften (Memoryscapes, St Petersburg, Museum of the Arctic and the Antarctic, 2000/01). These photographs, mostly reproduced in medium format, are complemented by a series of photographs in small format, made in the context of the Armenia project. Except in a few cases, Schulz-Dornburg uses only black and white in her photographs.
Schulz-Dornburg's works show archetypal places and situations with great suggestive power. In them we find caves dug out of the Transcaucasian mountainside by hermits in the first Christian era; Armenian bus-stops in no-man's-land, a kind of strange architecture of waiting; weather stations on ice floes drifting in the middle of the Arctic which possess a somewhat unreal quality, because from close quarters they prove to be photographs of dioramas; ancient house-islands built from reeds in the middle of the amphibious landscape of the Tigris delta, where there is only water, reeds, sky and horizon, and which now no longer exists; dark interiors of small hermitages in the Pyrenees, whose basic architectural form testifies to their Arab past, with light filtering through narrow chinks and revealing silent figures pacing out the coming and going of the days and seasons of the year.
The five series of photographs are connected with a concept that is basic in all of Ursula Schulz-Dornburg's work, that of Shelter. It is a concept that, in the history of art, is linked with Henry Moore's "shelter books" and with what is known as "shelter architecture", which refers to an alternative method of construction, inspired by that of primitive cultures, as practiced especially in the USA. Examples of shelter architecture are these reed houses, caves and hermitages, bus-stops, shops and weather stations, each one with its particular style. At the same time, they are metaphors of existence in a field of tensions between shelter and abandon. Steering between these two poles is a personal experiment that takes up a whole lifetime.
In Schulz-Dornburg's work the formal aspect of composition has great importance, as is shown by the clear predominance in them of architectural motifs. But this aspect is offset by a powerful relational component, for her photographic series open up a whole dynamic, multiple space that reverberates with references. They contain what cannot (now) be seen, what has disappeared or been lost, together with what can be seen and what (still) remains. The people waiting in the Transitorte (Transit-sites) are the chosen people of an age marked by voluntary or imposed migration on a world scale, by many different departures and exiles. With their existential openness they precisely pinpoint the place of passage, a nomadic way of living in transition. Schulz-Dornburg shows in-between areas and borderlands, places and situations of transit, marked by a dynamic that is often created when different realities start to interact.
The extensive catalogue published (in Spanish, Valencian and English) to accompany the exhibition contains about 140 illustrations, together with texts by Matthias Bärmann, Kosme de Barañano, Peter Kammerer, Per Kirkeby, Robert Lax, Tadashi Otsuru and Kenneth White.

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg