Ursula Schulz-Dornburg: Austromancy

Oct 8, 2022 – Jan 7, 2023

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Ursula Schulz-Dornburg: Austromancy

Oct 8, 2022 – Jan 7, 2023

Gallery Luisotti is pleased to announce Austromancy, its third solo exhibition with German photographer Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, on view from October 8, 2022 – January 7, 2023. The show probes man’s place in the cosmos by juxtaposing photographs of three motifs: the winds colliding with Mount Ararat; futurist, yet abandoned structures in Kronstadt, Russia; and the intensely magnified crust of the moon.

Austromancy is the lost art of reading man’s fortune from the shape of the clouds and the speed of the wind. Long before the invention of modern-day meteorology, which uses barometric readings and temperatures in faraway places to calculate the probabilities of specific weather conditions, soothsayers from the Kingdom of Urartu (9th – 6th centuries BCE) attempted to decipher the skies above Mount Ararat. During her first trip to Armenia in 2006, Schulz-Dornburg learned about this clairvoyant practice and a corresponding ancient lexicon for the region’s various winds.

These photographs of Ararat are from the artist’s second trip to the Khor Virap monastery in 2010. During the shoot, the mirror inside her Hasselblad camera unexpectedly stuck, cropping off the mountain’s wide, gradual base. Although she was initially dismayed by the pictures and relegated them to her archive, she now – over ten years later – welcomes their unintentional qualities. This is a shift from decipherment to happenstance, asking us to consider the role of chance in divination.

The images from Kronstadt are also a coincidence. Schulz-Dornburg was on her way to photograph the remainders of the Kursk submarine disaster when she discovered the steel vessels. Their geometric shapes and rigid skeletons recall the designs of Russian Constructivism, yet their function has strangely gone missing. The artist prefers to keep the true nature of the objects a secret, encouraging us, instead, to imagine how they could be ruins of an unknown civilization or objects from a distant planet.

While Little Ararat was heavy and grounded in the earlier photographs, the mountain now looks atmospheric, even galactic. This effect is reversed in the case of the lunar images. Without cues of scale, craters and canyons on the surface of the moon look microscopic, like the cross section of cells. On one hand, thick black fog descends surreptitiously like an oversized spaceship. On the other, an amoeba-like wrinkle squiggles across the frame. In her new show, Schulz-Dornburg explores the prehistory and future of civilization, finding some unexpected life forms along the way.