Fade In

Films by Dabernig do not reveal much; somehow they end when the story is about to begin. Yet, they manage to precisely articulate some essential issues by negotiating the contemporary condition we live in.

Dabernig stands with both feet in the world, as an artist he does not separate himself from it. However, reproducing reality in the parallel system of symbolic representation is not what interests him. After all, it is reality, in his own words, that does not provide an adequate vision for the future. In times like these, artists might try to seek ways of imagining the world otherwise. In order to take that step, one has to make an inventory of the state of things, and create a space for the new alternatives to subtly fade in.

In his film ‘Wisla’, two men in badly fitting suits walk into a stadium. Upon entering the area of the playing field, they sit down on the coach’s bench and concentrate on a soccer match. We only follow the game unfolding through men’s intense gesticulating against the background noise of a roaring crowd of spectators. It is not until the game is over that we are confronted with a contradiction: the stadium is empty, except for a few officials standing on the podium. There was no soccer match, but an exercise in power took place: introduced by views of the monumental Polish architecture of the stadium and its surroundings that the camera registers reluctantly; in terms of the sound which reveals a type of aggression associated with mass sporting events (i.e. Italian A-league); and finally, in the pseudo-ceremonial act taking place at the end of the film, when the political officials shake hands with the two characters in the film.

An association with sporting activity reappears in Dabernig’s film entitled ‘Jogging’. A man in red jogging trousers drives a car through a deserted suburban area. The monotonous journey across this desolate urban landscape is interrupted when the car is forced to stop for a herd of sheep crossing the street, and when passing a number of disturbed bewildered dogs along the road. After a while, the car pulls into a large, empty parking area in front of a monumental stadium designed by architect Renzo Piano. There is little left of the building’s pompous history – in ‘Jogging’ it’s featured on the margins of public attention, and is ageing abandoned in its solitary grace.

‘Timau’ (realized together with Markus Scherer) examines yet another situation. After a short car drive, three men undertake a hiking trip in the mountains. Equipped with tools (whose use remains unclear for most of the film), the men move indifferently, and not a word is spoken. On top of the hill they examine (and perhaps repair) a telephone in a booth, and have the work papers signed by people living in a lone house nearby.

Similarly, in ‘automatic’ (in cooperation with G.R.A.M.) the logic produced by the banal is revealed. We recognize a garage with several cars waiting to be repaired, and a couple of individuals operating at a strange pace of action. Gestures and movements, their repetition, as well as the organization of space and time are intimately familiar. However, the overall picture is unclear, and the acts remain fragmented, with missing connections between one another.

‘WARS’ situates the scene in the dining car of a train. Everything is present: the personnel, the neatly ironed cloths on tables, biscuits, chips and drinks, everything but the customers. Despite this situation, the waiters and the cook maintain their usual activities, continuing their regular tasks. When the train is about to arrive at its destination, they begin to thoroughly clean the carriage. It is obsessive, almost manic activity that we witness, as if a strange inner algorithm dictated the standard, normal course of action regardless of the circumstances.

Although exploring a variety of situations, Dabernig’s films share the same perspective. Instead of relying on concrete themes, he concentrates on examining the basic structures of activity, the primary organization of relations among people (paradoxically, through the notion of detachment), and to the world. Elements of monotony, emptiness, inertia, order, and the repetition of the ordinary are tools to evoke, as he calls it, the indifferent phlegm, a strong feeling characteristic of the disillusioned world.

Yet, Dabernig’s skepticism is productive. Simple though it may sound, by figuring out how this world holds together, and repeatedly setting an alternate order in place through the language of art, we might be inspired to re-think our motivations for being together, and to explore the possibility of taking another, more hopeful course.

BAK - basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht, 2003

Maria Hlavajova