© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg.

The idea of encountering Humboldt, almost at the geographical centre of Eurasia, disappears im mediately on arrival. The explorer passed this steppe, during his 1829 venture to the Altai Mountains along the route of the Irtysch river. His gaze captured the form of the land, the course of the mountain ranges, the transition from steppes to desserts, and the geographical dispersion of plants according to measured thermal effects. Today the gently undulating plain is covered with numerous boulders, mysterious constructions and objects shaped by people and time, relics of a mighty death cult.

The visit of the nuclear test site Kurchatov in Kazakhstan, west-southwest of the city of Semei (in Russian Semipalatinsk, Dostoyevsky’s place of exile), led the photographer Ursula Schulz-Dornburg to one of the increasingly numerous areas of the Earth that science has made uninhabitable for humans for centuries to come.

In August 1949, four years after Hiroshima, here the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb. Up to 1963 there were 124 trials in the atmosphere, then over 350 bombs were tested underground. In 1991 the Russians withdrew. The shafts and tunnels in the interior of the Earth to the newly formed lakes and tectonic shifts were filled in and provisionally sealed off. Above the earth, plants, animals, water and wind live with the nuclear fallout and its consequences. The test site has been decommissioned. The subject of the exhibition is this silence. Nomads and organised gangs have stripped out the facilities and taken the scrap metal over the Chinese border. Contaminated material. Through its close interdependece to nature, upon which Humboldt gazed, it further penetrates the world in which we live.

The archive images of the architectural sculptures, measuring towers, concrete cubes, wire skeletons and deep pits in which thousands of animals were sacrificed to test the effect of the bombs shown in this magazine form the historical background of the photographic work of Ursula Schulz-Dornburg created in 2012 at the same site.

Peter Kammerer, 24.2.2014

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg