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by Patrik Metzger
The mountain hiker protects his eyes with dark-tinted glasses so as not to have to squint in the sun. Admittedly, he does seek the light, for he climbs to meet it; he enjoys the flickering and the tracks. But what drives him onward is the vastness that opens up behind and below him the higher he goes. From time to time he will pause to catch his breath, to let his gaze wander and become intoxicated by the hustle and bustle and the excess, the shrinking world down there reduced to structures and abbreviations.
Josef Schulz has rarely sought the elevated position. Halls and shapes rose in vast plains, bridges and highways swept over the viewer, signs looked down on them from American skies. Even in his Terraform series, which was created in the Alps, the view is horizontal or upwards, towards boulders and hostile craggy slopes.
The series Übergang (Transit) brings about a change of perspective. A whole series of little border posts are located in the mountains. Where we don’t look at them from the side, but follow the road instead, valleys repeatedly open up before us. We could gaze further into the distance unimpeded, if it were not for a hazy white veil that shrouds the landscapes behind the borders—added in postproduction on the computer. Distance becomes unreachable.
For his new series City Scape, Josef Schulz heads to China—to cities whose ludicrous size exceeds European standards many times over. For days he lets himself be carried on the subway from the belly of the city into glaring daylight, far out into the outskirts where the development ends, and then back again. He travels and travels—fascinated, lost, overwhelmed—until he senses what he is looking for: it is the watercolors of Chinese landscape painters that show him the way. He recognizes leaves, trees, rocks, soils, forms. He sees the gaps, the transitions, he sees the landscapes, which are lost in the whiteness of the delicate papers. He aspires to the gaze roaming downwards, the virtuosity of hand that dictates to the brush the tiniest thing that needs to be precisely placed so that the imagination can fill in the blanks.
Josef Schulz leaves his window seat. He gets out where the city must appear faceless to the traveler; he avoids the historical centers, the museum miles with their facades that give it its character. He takes the elevator in the middle of fenced residential areas and allows himself to be carried upwards. At the top he steps outside, is blinded, and looks until he finds the repetitions, structures, and regularities. The horizon is lost in the haze; it is elusive in exactly the way the artist intended. But something is missing; the world is never enough for Josef Schulz. Digital intervention will attend to that, postproduction: in the sections below and between the apartment blocks, scarcely locatable in the transition, he will blend three more layers of city on top of each other.
Now, it is nothing new that Josef Schulz is assembling, copying sections of images, duplicating them, sliding them on top of and into each other, like a painter with his paint at the end of the brush. Yet Schulz has never worked with multiple exposures, unchanged across the entire width of the image. The effect is astonishing, because the increase in information here does not lead to excessive demands on the eyes. In fact, calm arises from the superimposition and juxtaposition. The intervention also has nothing technologically cold about it. The edges, lines, and structures are decaying and now appear organically earthy, they become humus from which the apartment blocks grow. Despite their prosaic feel with which they stand painfully clear before the viewer, taking away the view of the horizon lost in the haze, there is no doubt: it is the huge network hidden in the ground—the mycelium—that is at work here, which first yields a mushroom. In this way Josef Schulz succeeds in creating a different view of the city. Its forms may crystallize in concrete, steel, and glass, yet the city will always remain an organism.
City Scapes tells of growth and decay. Even in China, houses are not forever. Where they age ahead of time, or are unable to find their place in the changing structure of the city, they must give way to something new. But even if the natural metaphor seems obvious, it only gives comfort and security to a limited extent. The individual appears tiny and insignificant given the magnitude of the bigger picture. The mountain hiker can report that this does not have to be detrimental to the feeling of grandeur. However, he does not live where he walks, and he protects his eyes behind dark glasses.
In any case, the white-gray nothingness is too hazy for a departure to other horizons, but even the old Chinese masters will not have spoken of this.
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