Josef Dabernig. A Study of Relationships between Overhead Crossing and Pedestrian Passage

Josef Dabernig stepped onto the artistic stage in the late 1970s. His creations touched on many mediums, including cinema, photography, installation, technical drawings, architecture and writing. His artistic practice constantly emphasized the formal status of logic, rationality and order; those meticulously calculated perspectives, shapes and structures give us a tangible sense of the minimalist atmosphere that permeates his artworks. When viewing his creations, we cannot isolate the various expressive forms of those different mediums, because in the artist’s conceptual system, all of these formal practices possess powerful directionality and connectivity. In 1977, Dabernig wrote a book entitled “Beauty and Digestion, or the Rejuvenation of the Human Being only by Appropriate Maintenance of the Intestine”. It was originally a medical treatise published in 1920. At the time, Dabernig had a problem with his metabolism, and had to use “labor” methods to restore bodily function. During that period, he found this book, and in his spare time would sit by a river, hand copying all 178 pages of the text. The handwriting of this “manuscript” is clean and elegant, with the text shrinking as the book progressed. Looking at an entire page is like looking at a painting made from “words.” This is probably one of his earliest artworks, and is marked by characteristic conceptual traits, fusing the corporeal experience with formal language in an exploration of the contradictory relationship between “deferment” and “instantaneousness” in artistic expression. This work marked the beginning of his attempts to construct a channel between the body and artistic form as a system of coordinates within his artistic practice.

Similar parallel thinking often emerges in his meticulously edited films, his buildings that feed off of buildings, and his interior designs that latch onto the interior spaces of buildings and exhibition halls. We can’t help but notice that this has a profound connection to Sol LeWitt’s replacement of the term “sculpture” with the term “structure” to express his pursuit of fusion between linguistic and visual signs. All of his object structures and architectural structures engage in a conceptual dialogue with the architectural and aesthetic concepts of modernism. More precisely, it is a reexamination of the contradiction and completeness that are internalized in architectural forms in an attempt to open the closed aesthetic discourse and seek out the link between society and political life. For instance, he uses a “rail” structure to design the outer wall of a building, which in the public space presents an allusion to the rational social system of modernism. In the artwork he has created for this biennial exhibition, he places the bodily experience of the audience into the core of the artwork, with the interwoven body of meaning and interpretation forming the whole of the artwork. Three equally sized wooden cubes are placed in parallel in a street outside of the exhibition site. The audience can walk between them, and the small pedestrian bridge they can see when they look up (also a work of architectural design) is clearly marked by postindustrial design tastes, in clear opposition to the artwork. In our natural context, we are accustomed to seeing the remnants of oppressive collective architecture, while we are beginning to see more and more works of architecture featuring varying tastes. These two formal aesthetics have occupied the better part of our bodily experience and living space. Dabernig’s artwork has laid bare the systematized form while also using minimalist reimagining to launch a mocking provocation at popular tastes – we who are used to appearing in public spaces in a passive state can perhaps, at the moment we pass through this work, gain the momentum to look up at the sky.

(Translated by Jeff Crosby)

The 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale - Accidental Message: Art is Not A System, Not A World; Liu Ding, Carol Yinghua Lu, Su Wei (Hg.) für OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shenzhen. LingNan Art Publishing House, Guangzhou. S. 266-269, 180, 290

Su Wei