“Monday Begins on Saturday”

For the inaugural iteration of Bergen Assembly—the first ever large-scale international contemporary art triennial in Norway’s second city—Moscow-based curators Ekaterina Degot and David Riff turned to another duo, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and their Soviet-era novel Monday Begins on Saturday as the exhibition’s guiding sprit. The book itself can be roughly summarized as an absurdist satire of Soviet bureaucracy centered on a fictional scientific research facility. There the researchers ceaselessly toil—without the respite of a weekend, as the title suggests—on investigations into human happiness, deploying magic and other seemingly unscientific, and often useless, methods. In a Pinocchio-like twist, lazy practitioners are punished by a curse, which causes profuse growth of hair on the ears. Although many of these “transgressors” face ridicule for their lax work ethic, they stay at the institute nonetheless for the job security it provides. Pulled into this comic orbit-cum-exhibition* as a framing narrative, Josef Dabernig’s Hypercrisis (2011) more than smirks at torpid bureaucracies, and hints at other concepts in the show’s core vocabulary.

In this film-essay, the contemporary afterlife of a real, but vestigial, institution and its dilapidated home in today’s Armenia are surveyed by Dabernig’s patient and relentless camera. Set up in Soviet times, the site in question was designed as a work retreat for talented cinematographers to recharge, yet in the film, the only person in “official” residence is a sole writer suffering from a nasty case of writer’s block. The entire administrative staff of the retreat surrounds this unproductive figure, though instead of catering to the guest and his needs, they are rather busy indulging in grand feasts and basically having the run of the decaying place. Tellingly the film, which features a writer who isn’t able to write, lacks any dialogue.

Yet the visual story set up by the close framing of the camera and the expert pacing of the film’s editing is twinned with the sound track so as to advance the plot by other means. The parvenu staff is shown dining accompanied by Verdi’s Requiem—a funeral mass—while the writer listens in isolation to the Krautrock band Can (even though he “can’t”). The writer never proves a hero who can rise above his creative crisis—nor do the musicians, who in the ultimate scene bore the audience with a lackluster performance in the retreat’s disused cinema. Here the avenging angels are the film and Dabernig himself. Both, after all, manage to synthesize the atomized functions of photography, scripting, and score through the role of direction, and thus condemn the lack of leadership in the micro-society that is our setting.

Like Hypercrisis, the exhibition “Monday Begins on Saturday” delights in works that riddle conflict through a poetics of artistic construction so as to gesture at, but never telegraph, subtle critiques—often aimed at sense of being misled or led astray. Not only focusing on capital P politics, the show takes several jabs at the art system’s own structures of power. One of which is the spell of linguistic theory. ...

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*Monday Begins on Saturday, Bergen Assembly, Bergen
Art Agenda, 3.9.2013

Adam Kleinman