Lancia Thema, Josef Dabernig

Josef Dabernig
Lancia Thema, 2005
35mm / SD Video (16mm footage), colour, sound, 17 min

Director, Script, Editing and Production: Josef Dabernig
Camera: Christian Giesser
Sound design: Michael Palm
Cast: Josef Dabernig

Funding: if innovative film Austria, ORF – Film and Television Agreement


‘A journey by car into the no man’s land of the Garden of Eden’, this is how Josef Dabernig decribes his 2005 film. Originally shot with a 16mm camera, the footage follows a car and a driver (which one exactly?) setting out to explore open highways, desolate landscapes, improvised football fields (one of Dabernig’s favourites) and parking spots. The artist calls it the ‘borderline syndrome’. But there is a precarious balance in the footage that tiptoes the line between the somber and the hilarious. I personally would wear a jacket and shirt for a car ride, but not many others of you I suppose? Is this an outfit for an opera evening or a drive? Or a casual outing with a car? Where is the camera, and who is recording this footage?

‘In the mid-90s friends of mine introduced me to the medium of film. I immersed myself in the tradition of Austrian experimental cinema and, driven by the impetus of making myself a recurring subject in my works, I shifted my interest toward melodramatic miniatures with a pronounced underlying structural composition.’ 1 . Dabernig’s work, with its earnestness and gravity, that leaves little room for contingency. ‘Thus beneath the sometimes absurd, sometimes even grotesque storylines lies a more or less mathematically constructed syntax 2 ’. His practice is that of a sculptor, and has been such ever since. ‘I also tried to explore the abovementioned obsession of appropriation through freehand drawing by means of penmanship exercises in which I excessively copied text by hand. The result was a stack of extremely closely written pages, in some cases front and back, which raised the question as to whether what I had here was a sculpture of loose pages or an attempt to prove the difference between copying a text and copying by drawing. 3 ’

There is a deadpan quality, distance and wit in Dabernig’s work, one that is akin to that of the Austrian author Thomas Bernhard whose surgically precise prose delivered an unforgiving autopsy the European society. Bernhard’s shortest piece, titled Mail, encapsulates this tone: ‘For years after our mother’s death, the Post Office still delivered letters that were addressed to her. The Post Office had taken no notice of her death.’ 4

Make no mistake, as there is little room for mistake in Dabernig’s work, this outing into the ‘nature’ is not construed, but rather orchestrated, or staged. With the soundtrack that at one point segues into Franz Schubert’s ‘Die Nebensonnen’ (The Mock Suns) of the Winterreise cycle, the film takes its title from a high-end car model produced in Italy until a decade ago. In German Thema means ‘theme’, or ‘topic’.


1 Josef Dabernig, ‘Melodramatic Film Miniatures as a Blueprint for Dematerialized Sculpture’, unpublished manuscript.
2 Josef Dabernig, ‘Melodramatic Film Miniatures as a Blueprint for Dematerialized Sculpture’, unpublished manuscript.
3 Josef Dabernig, ‘Melodramatic Film Miniatures as a Blueprint for Dematerialized Sculpture’, unpublished manuscript.
4 Thomas Bernhard, The Voice Imitator, trans. Kenneth J. Northcott, Chicago, 1997, p.33, originally published as Der Stimmenimitator, Frankfurt, 1978.


Krzysztof Kościuczuk



Josef Dabernig (b. 1956 born in Kötschach-Mauthen, Austria) lives in Vienna and works predominantly with film and photography. His work was shown in, amongst others, Manifesta 3 in Ljubljana (2000), 49th and 50th Venice Biennale (2001, 2003), 9th Gwangju Biennale (2012) and Manifesta 10 in St. Petersburg (2014), as well as film festivals including Locarno International Film Festival (2002, 2008), Mar del Plata International Film Festival (2007, 2011), International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (2006, 2009, 2014, 2015, profile 2016, 2017, 2020, 2021), International Film Festival Rotterdam (2000, 2011, 2023), Toronto International Film Festival (2006, 2009, 2019) and Venice Film Festival (2011).