Gallery Luisotti is pleased to announce its first solo exhibition of Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. For her first exhibition in the United States in over ten years, the Düsseldorf-based photographer Schulz-Dornburg will exhibit rare examples of her series Bushaltestelle, or Bus Stops, shot in Armenia between 1997 and 2011. Additionally, the exhibition will feature a small selection of photographs depicting the former Hedjaz Railway in Saudi Arabia, taken 2003.Across these bodies of work, one finds Schulz-Dornburg’s dedicated exploration of vernacular architecture in the Middle East.
Schulz-Dornburg’s photographs of bus stops in Armenia display the remnants of Soviet-era socialist architecture. Built for a straightforward function (a non-place whose purpose is solely for waiting), Schulz-Dornburg captures a great variation of form. Presented in a typological manner, Schulz-Dornburg’s images are studies that reveal both the structural simplicity of each bus stop, as well as surprising modernist decorative elements. Here, in the most mundane of social spaces, we witness structures whose antecedents include Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. What is remarkable, and Schulz-Dornburg is careful to remind us of this throughout the series, is that these are not simply ruins of a collapsed past but spaces that still serve their function. For every empty shell of a bus stop, there are those where we witness people using the space as originally intended: waiting.
The series From Medina to the Jordanian Border is starker than Bus Stops. Here, the ruins of the Hejaz Railway in Saudi Arabia, which was to originally connect Damascus to Medina, have all but disappeared beneath desert sands. Occasional remnants of stations long since abandoned dot the horizon on a landscape that is nearly barren. Brief glances of rails in the series, or the grades on which they once were placed, are masked by the modern appropriation of some of these sites as roadways.
While Schulz-Dornburg’s manner of display – photographs as typology – may reveal her affinity for the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, to understand her work solely in that context may be restrictive. A peer of the Bechers, Schulz-Dornburg’s work emerged not only from New Objectivity-inspired formalism, but also a social documentary interest in the Middle East, and in a kinship with Conceptual art. Early bodies of work by Schulz-Dornburg included a study of the lives of those living on the Tigris River in Iraq in 1980, as well as documentation of rural dwellings in the mountains of Sulawesi, Indonesia in 1983. More recent projects have included Sonnenstand (Solar Position) that documents natural light spilling into hermitages along the journey to Santiago de Compostela, as though the original purpose of these buildings had been to document, like a calendar, the passing of the seasons. These long since deserted buildings, with their mixture of Moorish decoration and Romanesque clarity of forms, testify to mankind’s long lost ability both to contemplate the relationship between the earthly and the cosmic, and to conciliate the many different religions of the world.