excursus on fitness
Physical training depicted as a strange kind of existential ballet: In excursus on fitness Josef Dabernig shows a group of people performing gymnastics at a ballroom in Vienna´s third district. The location is quite shabby and the mood is thoroughly joyless, and the silence of the black-and-white images amplifies this atmosphere.
All the participants are absorbed in their wordless, uniform activity - solitude reigns in the crowd - and the framing underlines the sense of isolation: Uniform, self-absorbed movements occupy the foreground, and most of the compositions are framed in such a way that the gymnasts are fragmented, while others stand at the picture´s very edge. The symmetry creates a sense of ritual and emptiness: Intercuts to views of the street, the facades of buildings and trees as seen through the windows begin to almost resemble Ozu Yasujirô´s famous "pillow shots", still lifes between scenes that give impressions an opportunity to sink in.
In spite of the constant movement, a sense of ossification sets in by the time the final long shot provides a general view: Modern-day disciplining of the body as one finds in fitness centers is portrayed as a form of conditioned solitude that plays out in orderly processes. Melancholy combines with irony, as in all Dabernig´s works: The rhythmic (and visual, through the use of a variety of reflections), careful arrangement is also a poker-faced friendly game which serves up a multitude of structural tricks. Dabernig, his family and friends are the actors, and the artist makes his appearance in an eminently amusing manner: What appears to be constant shrugging turns out to be work with dumbbells. The group is observed by Otto Zitko, who sits at a computer, studying a file on the screen. This turns out to be the film´s screenplay, though the indicated length does not match that of excursus on fitness.
The actors in Dabernig´s film Excursus on Fitness present themselves pleasantly un-enthusiastic while doing their workout. The film was produced especially for the same-named exhibition at the MAK. The largely minimalistic exercises are performed by Dabernig´s family members, artist friends as well as Dabernig himself in a bleak gym with a view onto a Viennese block of council flats, constituting the antithesis to the trendy fitness studios and their body-fixated customers. The idealisation of athletic bodies, which is usually accompanied by the denunciation of those who do not meet these standards, is evidently not Dabernig´s topic. Instead he directs the focus on the “geometry and gestures and glances” of those involved, and, together with the spatial givens of the gym, creates an architecture of bodies. Dabernig consciously centres on an ambivalent sentiment: it remains unclear if the actors enjoyed the sportive activities or undertook them unwillingly...
excursus on fitness