transit SITES


Pyrenees, 1991/92

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. Sonnenstand © Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. Sonnenstand © Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. Sonnenstand

Chapels in the Pyrenees, hermitages, romanesque architectures with Arabic elements, everything of the greatest simplicity. Rectangle and the adjoining semicircle of the choir. Viewed from the outside, like small observatories in the mountains. The photographs of the interior modify this impression: they are not spaces for observing but for contemplating.

Each was repeatedly photographed at different times of the year as well as different times of day. The name of the chapel, the date and time of day are part of the work. Through the small window niches the light falls gleamingly into the dark interior space, much too sharply concentrated in order to really illuminate it. Light and darkness, sharply divided side by side. Yet where the beam on its way through the space falls onto stone or onto the firmly stamped loam of the floor, onto the material: there the darkness comprehends the light, whose sharpness at the same instant is changed into a mild glow.

Calendarial architecture. The progression of times of day and of seasons is manifested in the interior through shifting configurations of light. If one were a permanent resident, these would correspond to the rhythms of the body, pulse and breath. Light and darkness, interior and exterior space. body and firmament: each quite emphatically there for itself, yet interlocking.

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. Sonnenstand
* Sonnenstand [Solar Position] was, in many respects, the prerequisite for all the subsequent series that have followed until the present day, and was shown in 1996 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC, and in 1997 at The Art Institute of Chicago.


The things of the world always have more than one single view. What one easily forgets when regarding the photographs of Ursula Schulz-Dornburg with respect to their evidence is the fact that what one has before him is something different than that which was before the camera at the moment the shot was made. Individual shots and, even more, entire sequences transform themselves into spaces. Spaces which are constituted equally of locations and situations as well as consciousness, perception, biographical strata and fissures. The individual moments are based on processes, the pictorial spaces are temporally composed. Spaces in transition, embodiments in which the boundary, the horizon, is inscribed as a zone of transition and mediation. Transitory locations: not illustrated but "shown". This is "one" structure.

Another structure parallel to this is characterized by momentariness. The triggering of a shot but also the inner perception are both prodded, as it were, into the flash. According to the findings of neurophysiology the brain asks, the interconnectedly configurated formations of neurons ask, at intervals of a fraction of a hundredth of a second each, through circuits of nerves and sensory organs directed outward: whether something has changed in the world? The exposure time of a photograph also lies in the region of one-hundredth of a second. The motif's apparent embedding in a continuous context, the apparent continuum of self-experience: each proves to be equally illusionary and is also shown in precisely this way. Correspondingly, the things on the photographs appear in the light of a curious groundlessness. The emptiness at the heart of things becomes visible. This could initiate a discourse about the possibility to live and to behave as someone who knows that he is, basically, no one. Seen in this way, at the very foundation of Ursula Schulz-Dornburg's photographs there continuously rests a salutary and virtually serene, clarifying disillusionment.

Views. Seeing as though with the eyelids cut away, as Heinrich von Kleist described standing before a seascape by Caspar David Friedrich. Taking the pain literally, the eyes opened in an irreducible way. Entered into a pattern in which the constructions of subject and object, inside and outside are broken open, liberated into more lively relationships. Awakened on the other side – or on this side – of all illustration. Also and precisely in photography. To show the unportrayable, to speak about the unspeakable: the great paradox of art. That which is categorically impossible leaves its mark on the work as paradoxical prerequisite of its creation. In the moment of the exposure, contemplation and engagement, action and passion fuse together. Field research and continuing self-experiment: exposure for exposure, it becomes a complex self-portrait.

transit SITES

Armenia, 1997/2000

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. transitORTE

Travels through a land about which no one any longer really knows where it belongs. The oldest Christian country in the world. Views of the maltreated social body. The bus stops, their architecture: the Socialist promise of a better world, manifested in concrete between gravel road and horizon, edge of settlement and snow-covered mountain range, steppe and utter nothingness. Waiting rooms, scarcely less transitory than those waiting. Standing as though for all eternity in an intermediate state. Waiting. The motto over the portal to limbo in Dante's "Divina Comedia" reads: "Through me one arrives at the lost people."

The tremendous schism of the word utopia itself: "Eutopos", the good place. And "outopos", nowhere.

border SCAPES

15 km Along the Georgian-Aserbaidshan Border, 1998/2000

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. grenzLANDSCHAFTEN

In the border area to the Kachetien Desert a mountain range, steep ridge, piles of stone, sedimented time, layered, tilted, compressed, distended. Tectonic collision zone, earthquake area. A gigantic battery of seismic energies. Fissures extend through the outcropping cliff, through the archaic architectures of the rock chambers.

Chambers hewn from the rock face, at the earliest, in the sixth century. By Syrian Christians, emigrating before the claim to power of religious doctrines. The caves could not be seen from the outside.

Rock cave, body cave. Exile in every sense. The body, surrounded by stone and silence. From there, consciousness evolves in space. Incarnated, sculptural, spherical space.

The cave as place of transit. Progressing in the experience of a radical freedom, from within itself subversive toward every claim of power. Physical and mental border-crossings – also those which led to these photographs.

memory SCAPES

St. Petersburg, Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic, 2000/2001

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. erinnerungsLANDSCHAFTEN

What can be seen are a view thickly bundled, lost figures in an Arctic region, a tent, an anemometer, sleds, an airplane, a flag. One can further ascertain that these were early scientific stations, erected on drifting ice floes in the polar region. Whoever came there exposed himself for a year to cold, darkness and solitude. Observed ice, water, air, their currents, recorded everything. Also observed himself, to be sure, his own drifting through the cold heart of the planet, traversed by the line of the horizon.

At first sight the photographs show precisely this reality. Then very quickly, irritation and disappointment: here the heroic act is replicated at a reduced scale. The whole only a model. Nothing further?

Certain persons were in the Arctic, while others reconstructed this in memory of yet others. And finally the photograph of the model, which sends the viewer into transit between reality and fiction. Between which one can differentiate? In the end, everything is observation, self-observation, perception, each in its own respective context. The photograph, in which initially everything is always past, superimposes the different perspectives: a convergence of views with a system of currents entirely its own, into which consciousness drifts. Therein, everything is present.

Matthias Bärmann

exhibition catalogue: TransitSITES
Neuhoff Gallery, NYC, March-April 2001
Wolfgang Wittrock Kunsthandel, Düsseldorf, Mai 2001
Art | 32 | Basel, June 2001

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg.

© Ursula Schulz-Dornburg