View of “Josef Dabernig,” 2014.

View of “Josef Dabernig,” 2014.

Josef Dabernig

View of “Josef Dabernig,” 2014.

For his exhibition “Rock the Void,” Josef Dabernig—a Conceptual artist and filmmaker with a master’s degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna—cleaned out and tidied up MUMOK’s spaces. His display negotiated between the format of the museum and that of the movie theater—in other words, the white cube and the black box—in an exhibition architecture extending across two floors, an arrangement of staggered cubes placed before empty walls, their edges aligned with crisscrossing oblique visual axes, and lined with twenty-one sparsely stocked glass cases and a half a dozen pedestals. The show marked out the murky territory between space, sculpture, the photographic panorama, Conceptual work on paper, lists and statistics, and the artist’s unconventional variant of narrative filmmaking. It was about emptiness and the production of density, presence and absence, spatial voids and the blank as a token of (controlled) denial. When the void is rocked, planned structures may begin to falter. Such risks are what energized the dramaturgy of the exhibition.

Dabernig’s career began in 1977, in the hinterland near Austria’s southern border, where he sat down uncomfortably on a rock and produced a handwritten word-for-word copy of the dietary rules laid down by F.X. Mayr, an Austrian doctor who championed fasting as the way to good health. Obsessively keeping charts and lists on subjects ranging from his cigarette consumption to the gas mileage of various makes of cars—his favorites are Fiat, Lancia, and Alfa—he submits his art to an aesthetic of administrative procedure. This extends to his highly personal archive, which contains, for example, the tickets to every soccer game he has ever attended (26 Tickets for Football Matches, 1989–2010).

The basic matrix of Dabernig’s oeuvre consists of rational systems such as mathematics, which underlie not only his austere grid sculptures made of standardized aluminum components—three of these were in this show—but also his design programs for the interiors of museums and exhibition buildings as well as private apartments and his works for public spaces. The technique the artist uses to create photographic panoramas of deserted soccer fields, a genre and motif he has passionately and emphatically pursued since 1993, is similarly methodical: To survey the area to the left and right of the halfway line, he produces three shots that together form a 180-degree view. Dabernig presents these visually enchanting panoramas in modest small-format prints that he lays out in glass cases. “It is like the precise construction of nothing,” he says, “very clear in form, very open in meaning.”

The staggered pueblo-style cubes turned out to be screening rooms. Film, for Dabernig, is a synthesis of his various media: architecture, space, photography, and text. This stern master of calculation turns out to be a storyteller and flaunts his social-networking skills, appearing before the camera with fellow artists, friends, and family members. Like Hitchcock, he often casts himself in minor parts; in his debut, Wisla, 1996, he sits on the coach’s bench at a stadium in Kraków, Poland. Extravagant shots and cuts mimic the refractory aesthetic of experimental films; Dabernig elegantly combines them with the structure of classical narrative cinema. His detailed scripts specify rhythms and alignments and prescribe actions that go nowhere and plots with an unnerving lack of emotional interest. He calculates gazes and gestures and decouples the video and sound tracks to generate moments of disconcertment as well as unintended comedy. The dilapidated architectures of postwar Europe make grand entrances; the body and its athletic accomplishments inspire études about gymnastic squads and bathers beneath a bridge pier (excursus on fitness, 2010; River Plate, 2013). The cinematic panorama also features cars as objects of desire (Lancia Thema, 2005) and s/m paraphernalia (Parking, 2003) as well as a gambling hall, bars, and eateries where the existential mingles with the banal.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.