“Cinema buffs still sometimes ask: Are you an Antonioni person or a Fellini person?”, notes Fellini biographer Charlotte Chandler in her article for the Vanity Fair “Legends” section. Is Josef Dabernig an Antonioni person or a Fellini person? A banal question which readers of Vanity Fair or the bored, petit bourgeois, Sunday museum audience can pose and swiftly answer: “Oh, yes, this Josef Dabernig for sure represents the legacy of the serious highbrow cinema of Michelangelo Antonioni!”, gazing at surfaces of his precise grid structures and endless columns of numbers.
The Viennese audience hopefully knows their Dabernig well enough not to consider such an approach. They know his witty humour and subtle irony oozing out of every single element or film frame he ever conceived. For the first show at Significant Other we decided to focus on less recognisable, early pieces of Daberning’s oeuvre. Works he presented for his entering exams at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in the mid 70s. Works which Josef describes as a personal therapy of overcoming his strict religious education. Expressive drawings of festive street scenarios in little towns in Italy where Josef found his safe haven. Drawings which could be easily depicting scenes from a Fellini movie.
What makes this Vanity Fair pseudo-psychological celebrity analysis of two masters of Italian cinema so intriguing is that it actually shows how easily we can become trapped in oversimplified dualities of seemingly clearly decipherable and definable visual inputs which are in fact offering a complexity of infinity layering of mutually contradicting implications which one has to consciously work on to grasp.
To stay with the Italian film reference, the work of Jimena Mendoza and Aleksandra Vajd brings together the best of both approaches, Antonioni and Fellini, or if you wish, Apollonian and Dionysian. Their new collective piece may evoke the sensation of traditional facade signage, almost a trademark or a logo for Significant Other. The usage of old-fashioned neon tubes brings to mind all the historical connotations of its use, a vision of vivid night life at its best. On the other hand the depiction of two female figures, one abstracted, one figurative, lying side by side in mutual dependency framed by scales of shades during the day and bright blue light during the night, thus being continually transformed by the conditions of its environment it opens up to contemplations of femininity, rather in a sensual than erotic sense. A conjoint personal self-portrait and general statement or possibly a blank dedication.
‘I am not really excited’, was Dabernig’s first reaction upon seeing the space Significant Other currently inhabits. Admittedly, the space is not exactly an artist’s dreamland. Anyway, after a somewhat awkward silence Dabernig began imagining how the space could be altered, which surfaces and materials needed to be changed and how one should deal with all the disturbing elements - and he actually got excited. Intervening into the architecture and perception of the intricate space, Dabernig creates a framework not only for his own contribution but also for the following exhibitions, which altogether will constitute the first trilogy of Significant Other.
In a way one could say that the exhibition behaves like a highly condensed retrospective, evolving out of three key moments. Starting with very early works from ’74-75, preceding academic formation and despite the unexpected expressive aesthetics, already hinting to some essential Dabernigian strategies, depicting a variety of Italian façades and urban scenes, often composed into fantastical cityscapes either recalled from memory, photos taken during numerous summer trips, touristic leaflets Dabernig would order by mail from the Italian Tourism center in Vienna or Pasolini movies shown at the soft porn cinema in Innsbruck. A strategy of desire, Dabernig calls it. From there we leap to a large format work of ’84, created as a result of a residency in Torvaianica, near Rome, which defines the starting point for the systematic, precise and somewhat distant but also humorous approach Dabernig became known for and eventually leading to the most recent and site-specific work which is embodied in the spatial intervention that nonchalantly and confidently unifies, by actually highlighting all which is by definition undesirable in our minds, which have been taken hostage by the white cube for a long time now.
Vajd and Mendoza on the other hand literally meet on the façade. The former usually dedicated to post-conceptual photography, the latter preoccupied with materializing ideas to sculptures, they find common grounds in creating a collaborative drawing, let’s call it a signboard, for Significant Other. Leaving the existing graffiti intact, they place two female figures merging into one whole, two distinct materials, referencing two idiosyncratic sets of ideas where the one could ultimately not exist without the other. If this is signage for Significant Other, it stands for the unequivocal influence we have on each other, but also the responsibility of support and care this entails - the ‘we’ ranging from nationalities, institutions to disciplines and ultimately us as single entities.
Decorated Shed a term generally attributed to one of the founding fathers of postmodernism in architecture Robert Venturi, actually written together with Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, coined in the seminal book Learning from Las Vegas from 1972, originally conceived as an article for Architectural Forum in March 1968. The decorated shed is a counterpoint to the term “duck”, which represents the idea of a building shouting out loud its function and purpose by its actual shape. A “duck” in this respect would be a building in the shape of a duck, where you can buy on a high way rest your fresh duck meat, duck eggs and stuff coming from ducks in general. A decorated shed in contrast, describes a generic architecture which only reveals its reason d’être by its signage or corporate identity attributes. You can sell car tires in a duck shaped building, but you will always have to count on its given specificity. A decorated shed on the other hand needs just a slight change on the surface to transform right away into a different entity.
Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture was written in 1966 by Robert Venturi. ‘More is not less’, concludes the author in his Gentle Manifesto for Nonstraightforward Architecture. By that, he denounces the unviable obsession of orthodox Modern architecture with seemingly puritanic, moral language and calls for architecture to be true to its inherent complexity and contradiction produced by ‘the wants of program, structure, mechanical equipment and expression’.
‘I like elements which are hybrid rather than ‘’pure,” compromising rather than “clean,” distorted rather than “straightforward,” ambiguous rather than “articulated,” perverse as well as impersonal, boring as well as “interesting,” conventional rather than “designed,” accommodating rather than excluding, redundant rather than simple, vestigial as well as innovating, inconsistent and equivocal rather than direct and clear. I am for messy vitality over obvious unity.'