Badischer Kunstverein

Josef Dabernig

Stabat Mater

03 Feb - 01 May 2017

Josef Dabernig, Stabat Mater, 2016, film still - © Bildrecht, Vienna. Courtesy Josef Dabernig and Wilfried Lentz, Rotterdam
Under the title Stabat Mater, Badischer Kunstverein is hosting a comprehensive solo exhibition by the artist Josef Dabernig (b. 1956) with a focus on the film Stabat Mater (2016), which was coproduced by Badischer Kunstverein and the Kunsthalle Winterthur and is now being shown in Germany for the first time. The exhibition brings together various media and formats, ranging from film, photography, and textual works to objects. They define Dabernig’s practice as an expanded sculptural approach that ultimately finds expression as synthesis in his films.
Already in his early work, Josef Dabernig devoted himself to processes of conditioning and self-discipline. Instead of modelling his work on templates, as was still taught during his time studying at the art academy in Vienna, he drew and measured three-dimensional objects and transferred his results into charts and diagrams. Structure and rituals lent him a sense of concentration and order. The pursuit of discipline was meticulous, yet also accompanied by humour and a certain (self-)irony. In 1977, Dabernig copied by hand the book “Schönheit und Verdauung oder die Verjüngung des Menschen durch sachgemäße Wartung des Darmes” (“Beauty and Digestion or Growing Younger by Correctly Maintaining the Digestive Tract”, 1920) by the physician Franz X. Mayr page for page, viewing this activity as an act of meditation or catharsis—concepts that would henceforth accompany his artistic practice. At the same time, Dabernig started noting down his daily cigarette consumption (the upper limit being four cigarettes per day), and later he began excerpting the texts found on admission tickets for football games. Both of these works are on show at the Kunstverein. By situating the act of copying at the heart of this work, the artist counteracts the conventional ideas of originality and authenticity.
Josef Dabernig once called his practice “an attempt at sublimating the petty bourgeois, Catholic model of upbringing” to which he himself was subjected as a child and a boarding school student. Physical exercises, bodily discipline, athletics, and achievement are therefore also found as motifs in many of the artist’s works. Since 1989 Dabernig has been photographing football stadiums and sports facilities as part of a long-term project, selecting individual photos for compilation as panoramas, of which several are on view at the Kunstverein. These pictures likewise follow a precise ritual: the stadium architecture is always photographed from the middle of a football field in six segments. It’s not the ecstatic moments of the game that Dabernig documents, but rather the skeletons of the deserted stadiums. This is also the theme of his short film Wisla (1996). Seen here are two football coaches and their typical gestures over the course of a game. While a cheering crowd is audible on the soundtrack, the visuals show a stadium that is actually empty and derelict.
The dialectics of filmic and concrete reality, of divergently conceived image and sound levels, is the structural principle underlying most of Dabernig’s films. Typical settings for his films also include the dilapidated buildings of a once utopian modernism, where, strangely, the protagonists encounter each other with indifference and the plot is rather sluggish. This is also the case in his new film Stabat Mater, set in an Italian thermal hotel, its seemingly classical architecture embedded in a bizarre, rocky landscape. Interior and
Badischer Kunstverein

exterior shots alternate, and the atmosphere resembles that of a languid off-peak season where the few remaining hotel guests indulge in idleness. The interior images are accompanied by Christoph Herndler’s sorrowful composition for organ based on Schubert’s “Stabat Mater” piece, whereas the exterior shots are underscored by the narrative voice reciting a text penned by Bruno Pellandini. The story itself tells of a cattle farm faced with a devastating drought in Uruguay. In Stabat Mater, therefore, two entirely different narratives are mounted with the ultimate aim of arriving—after overcoming the moment of irritation—at a new story. This conceptual play on the “sensual narrative shift” (Georg Schöllhammer) fosters freedom of imagination that image and sound do not initially specify. Indeed, a diffuse air of misfortune permeates this scene, an imminent plight that already seems to be heralded by the pain of Mary, Mother of Jesus, in the poem “Stabat Mater” whence the film draws its title.

The film Stabat Mater received core funding from the Austrian Federal Chancellery and was coproduced by Badischer Kunstverein and Kunsthalle Winterthur.

Curated by Anja Casser

Tags: Anja Casser, Josef Dabernig