This black and white photograph is from Schulz-Dornburg’s series Bus Stops in Armenia. As the title suggests, the series depicts bus stops in various locations throughout Armenia, with the title of each individual photograph referring to the departure and arrival points of each bus route. This is one of the artist’s best known series of works. The images are usually displayed together in large installations, although they can also be shown in smaller groups.
Schulz-Dornburg was born in Berlin in 1938. She studied journalism in Munich in the early 1960s, through which she learnt the basic principles of photography. In 1967 she spent a year in New York and was introduced to the conceptual art developing there at the time; however it was not until the mid-1970s that she began working on her own conceptual photographic projects. Schulz-Dornburg’s black and white photographs are typically presented in series, and record architecture and its surrounding landscape in relation to themes of history, politics and cycles of time and decay. Her work is usually project-based; she purposely travels to relatively obscure locations in countries such as Armenia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan, and documents in an archetypal way what she considers to be disappearing landscapes.
Over a period of seven years between 1997 and 2005, Schulz-Dornburg travelled repeatedly to Armenia and documented the architectural structures of bus stops. Built in the 1970s and 1980s, these bus stops from the country’s Soviet era under Leonid Breshnev were, at the time of their construction, representative of the golden age of socialist building. No two bus stops are the same and each may have been designed by individual architects. Once a symbol of creativity and spectacle, these structures are now a decaying remnant of a political past. Their ambitious conception is in stark contrast to their current crumbling state, caused by the poor building materials and methods used to construct them.
Schulz-Dornburg photographed the bus stops as she found them, some of the time with people present waiting for a bus, highlighting the ongoing relationship between architecture, history and the current population of Armenia. Perhaps somewhat ironically, the architecture of these structures gives the suggestion of protection while at the same time their poor condition leaves the users very much exposed to the elements. In this series Schulz-Dornburg highlights the skewed relationship between function and mass and between intention and reality. The decaying structures have outlived the ideological concept of their creators.
Kenneth White, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg: Across the Territories 1980–2001, exhibition catalogue, Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, Valencia 2002.
Kirstin Feireiss, Matthias Barmann, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg: Architectures of Waiting, Cologne 2008.
Julian Heynen, Miroslaw Balka, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg: Pacing the Horizon, exhibition catalogue, Kunstparterre Munchen, Munich 2009.
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