The physical location and architecture is what triggers the plot in Josef Dabernigs narrative films.
Josef Dabernig is showing his film Hypercrisis as part of the Bergen Assembly. The triennale is taking place in several locations all around Bergen, all renamed as fictitious ‘research institutes’. Dabernig’s film is located at the ‘Institute of Lyrical Sociology’.
Can you tell us about your film Hypercrisis?
Hypercrisis was realised in 2011 as a 17 min long experimental narration, shot on 16mm stocks in the former resort for Soviet cinematographers in Dilijan, Armenia. The plot sets a passive group of literal ‘men in white coats’ against the instiution’s only resident, a talented Perestroika-poet struggling with writer’s block.
On the soundtrack, Giuseppe Verdi´s Messa da Reqiem alternates with expressive psychedelic-rock-excerpts from CAN’s Halleluhwah, mirroring the film’s dialectic approach.
I’m curious: why Soviet cinematographers in the South Caucasus and an author with writer’s block as a plot?
In my movies the peculiarities of the physical site and its architecture are what motivate the plot. In the case of Hypercrisis it is triggered by a mixture of Soviet-Modern-Brutalism and Caucasian textures on the edge of decay and demolition. The institutional depression acted out by the majority of the characters derives its logic from this framing.
The plot seems to be about some kind of hopelessness?
Hopelessness would be the literal conclusion. Structural monotony and affinities to individual and systemic malfunctions — to my mind — subvert what we’d expect, given the social and political consensus. However, acknowledging a crisis can be therapeutic when faced with the total glorification of liberal phenomena when in economic and political straits, when economic and political freedoms are reduced.
How would you describe your process, from idea to product?
My artistic practice is based on my education as sculptor and heterogeneous approach to different media in the years that followed. The latter also mirrors the variations in my process.
I began working with film in the mid-Nineties, after having worked mainly with structural and conceptual items. As film includes textual, photographic, spatial, and acoustic input, I consider it a synthesis of the range of media, which is why I turned to it.
As mentioned above, the locations more or less motivate in and of themselves and therefore co-direct the plots, in a way. I would consider them ‘speaking sites’ where it is as though the characters are directed by bits sticking out of the scenery.
In case of Hypercrisis, the shooting location was suggested by curator Georg Schöllhammer, who sent me photographs of the place. When I told him I was interested, he mediated my participation in a project in Tbilisi and I combined it with a little location scouting. Already on the flight back to Vienna, I was writing a draft of the shooting script, including a cast list, which was more or less the people I later invited.
Applications were written on the basis of the script and location shots. Only a few months later, my production contact in Armenia informed me that some architectural changes to the building had been proposed, the consequence of which would be that the site would lose the architectural distinctiveness I had fallen for, be no good as a location for my film. So I had to rush to start shooting.
The analogue editing on Steinbeck and ensuing post-production ended with the world-premiere at the 68th Venice Film Festival (Orrizzonti section) in September 2011, a full year after the first visit of the site in Armenia.
What’s with the constant eating in the film? The men in white coats seem to do nothing but eat?
I’m not sure. I think it’s related to their problems as physical problems, as opposed to the poet— walking around outside with notes and books in his hands — who is dealing with a more mental problem.
What are your main influences when creating a work of art?
I would consider my main influence to be a certain need. It’s related to personal motivation, but also to a goal within my body of work and their continuity. Hypercrisis is related to the opportunity to deal with Soviet-Modern-Architecture in a Caucasian framing.Moreover, the logistical challenge in using a fairly remote region further had social requirement that significantly influenced the cast, who in my films are always feature a mix of friends and relatives.
Can you name an artist/artwork or exhibition that has inspired you?
His-story (1998), a two channel film installation by Deimantas Narkevicius, is a sublime work on biographical themes; A Study of Relationships Between Inner and Outer Space (1969) by David Lamelas, which was realised in cooperation with the Camden Arts Centre; and Cinico TV (1992–1996), the cinematic body of work by Sicilian directors Cipri & Maresco.
Can you name a writer or a book, fiction or theoretical, which has inspired your work?
Beauty and Digestion or The Rejuvenation of the Human Being Only by Appropriate Maintenance of the Intestine by Dr. Franz Xaver Mayer, and Il territorio dell’ architettura by Vittorio Gregotti. I have copied both books by hand.
Why is art important?
Interesting art can be seen as a tangible concentration of reality, which may legitimise it.