Doing it All: Get to Know David Bernabo

Thursday, 12 November 2020 02:56 PM Written by 

David Bernabo's art exhibitions include everything from the site-specific art installations to video art. His upwards of 12 documentaries cover local stories: food systems in Western PA, the Mattress Factory, the post-industrial town of Moundsville, and composers "Blue" Gene Tyranny and Mathew Rosenblum. He plays in the bands Watererer, Host Skull, and How Things Are Made, having released or played on nearly 200 records. He works with choreographers like Maree ReMalia and slowdanger as a dancer and composer.

This month, we're getting inspired by the many projects David has produced during this surprising year.

DavidBernabo MorningCoffee
Photo: David Bernabo

What is your favorite documentary you've created and why?

My favorite film is "Wild Human," a film about replacing wilderness with representations of wilderness. I think it is both my funniest film (loud cackles during the premiere screenings) and also the most horrifying, as it internalizes the existential threat of climate change, treating it a casual certainty that we are currently dealing with now. But more so, it's a film about seeking knowledge and ideas. There are breadcrumbs leading to different philosophies about how humans interact with and are a part of nature. And because the visuals were captured during a three-week screening tour that I took out west to Utah and back, personal experience and memory are wrapped up in many of the desert and mountain views. It's a weird film that has its own logic--you witness the musical score being created in the film; Di-ay Battad playing music in a parking lot, Devin Osamu Tipp playing shakuhachi inside the Richard Serra sculpture in Oakland.

My feature-length films (and a few of the longer shorts) can be found here.

Are you working on any new films right now?

Last month, the Tusk Festival in Newcastle upon Tyne in England premiered my latest film "Just For the Record." The documentary is about NYC-based composer "Blue" Gene Tyranny, an underknown figure. However, he was part of the ONCE group scene in Ann Arbor in the 60s (a diverse collection of artists seeking interdisciplinary collaboration), the Mills College studio in the 70s, and NYC in the 80s and beyond. "Blue" is a virtuosic pianist, a brilliant composer, a maker of systems, and a very kind soul. It was a great privilege to make this film.

There's one film that I've been asked to make as part of a team, somewhat in the mold of "Moundsville," the film that I made with journalist John W. Miller, which the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council funded. ("Moundsville" is now free to watch on PBS.) I'm not sure how much I can say about it as we haven't started filming due to the pandemic and grant cycles and such. Beyond that, I have it in my mind to make a film about an artist, but not sure which artist. Something without much talking.

How has your artistic practice been affected by COVID-19?Waterer LP album

Some years ago, I switched from a profession in the business side of healthcare to my own freelance videography business. When the pandemic hit, all my clients, many of whom are restaurants or museums, understandably and temporarily shuttered operations. That decrease of income-generating time provided way more time to work on personal projects. I finished "Blue" Gene's film. I made short videos for Miller ICA and The Quarterless Review.

Oddly, this year, my films have shown throughout the U.S., South Korea, and England, and there's a Barcelona screening coming up in November. But mostly I've been composing for Watererer. The band started a little over a year ago and about half of our fifth record is tracked.

As a multidisciplinary artist, what other art projects have you been working on/are you a part of right now?

Up next, I'm releasing an album by bassist Darin Gray. It's the score that Darin composed for my dance piece "The Reduction," which we premiered at the New Hazlett Theater in 2015. Darin is a fantastic, inventive player and has performed with a number of amazing musicians--Eiko Ishibashi, Jim O'Rourke, Jeff Tweedy, Grand Ulena. It's a long list. The week he spent here was such fun. The Vandal had just opened, so we'd get breakfast there, then pop over to the theater for rehearsals or lighting meetings and such. I've known Darin since 2003 or so where a band I was in played the Empty Bottle in Chicago with On Fillmore, his duo with Glenn Kotche from Wilco. So, it's great to work on a project together.

The vinyl edition will be 100 copies and in order to save $600, I'm going to screen the album covers myself, front and back. I'm viewing each cover as a unique painting, minimal but with unique attributes. The record will be out next spring.

Support David Bernabo during and after the pandemic!

You can rent David Bernabo's films here. Ongoing Box, the record label that David started in 2011, just had its 70th release. Find Ongoing Box's music here.

David hopes that more people buy a vinyl copy of the first Watererer record so he can release the third, fourth, and fifth Watererer records. You can also view David's artwork on his website and blog, however, he warns that most is either not for sale, or already sold.

Photos courtesy of David Bernabo. Below: Members of the band Waterer pose for a photo.

Watererer Press Photo by David Bernabo


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