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'Ongoing Box' explores the artistic process

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David Bernabo, an artist himself, is setting the record straight on the age-old debate surrounding the definition of “art.” If an artist has the intent to make art, the result is art. 

That’s what he’s conveying in his first film, “Ongoing Box.” The 100-minute film tracks the process of eight Pittsburgh artists. The mediums these artists work with are slightly unconventional, and include dance, improvisation, cooking and installation. The film follows each artist as she creates and executes art in an objective documentary made almost entirely by David Bernabo. 

A manager at Highmark by day and artist by night, Mr. Bernabo has dabbled in all kinds of art, from jazz composition to sound installation to video art. This is his first feature-length film.

“It’s a one person show. It keeps the cost down,” he said. The budget for the film was $600, and Mr. Bernabo hopes to break even by hosting premieres for the film, and then making it available online.

While the film will hopefully eventually attract a wide array of audiences, Mr. Bernabo expects that a vast majority of the audience will be artists while the film is still premiering.

“I think artists of various sorts would be more instantly attracted to this, but in Chicago, two academic writers came out and saw similarities with process of [making art and] writing their own academic work,” he said. “So I think it has a wider appeal so I can see the initial audience being artists, Pittsburghers with an interest in what’s happening, students and then people slowly tying that into their own lives and their own processes.”

The film, he says, offers a present-day snapshot of Pittsburgh. 

Though the film offers a widely-interpreted of the term “art,” many people have already commented on some artists, like a guitar repairman and chef, who are not, by some standards, artists.

“I’m seeing some folks making those distinction, but for the purpose of the film it’s about the process of going in with a goal, and I feel like it’s a certain creative goal. ... I’m viewing that as having your own art rather than replicating something that already exists,” he said.

By that definition, “Ongoing Box” itself is an art. Every artistic choice Mr. Bernabo made in his film, editing, directing and writing the score is an artistic outlet. Still, his aim for the film is objectivity.

“A lot of documentaries are highly narrative and a little flashy. This is a little more patient and unfolds. You see the process. You don’t see much commentary. Something I was trying to avoid was too much manipulation of what somebody’s doing. I just wanted to show something happening,” he said. Still, many people have commented on the parallel between his artistic choices in the film and the artists’ choices in their own work, in the film.

“So I think it works on those two levels which might be a bit different than watching a documentary on something else like the wine industry or something.”

“Ongoing Box” will premiere at Melwood Screening Room on August 14 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 and available at the door.


Kate Mishkin: or 412-263-1352.

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