"Nothing is funnier than unhappiness." After seeing "Im Reich der Sonnenfinsternis" the bleak exhibition by Jos de Gruyter and Harld Thys currently on display at Isabella Bortolozzi in Berlin, Beckett’s utterance comes to mind.

"Im Reich der Sonnenfinsternis" (In the Empire of the Solar Eclipse, 2011) is presented as the postmortem retrospective of a fictional character named Johannes, a middle-aged, middle-class, amateur painter who has recently taken his own life. Johannes, it appears, was a prolific painter, his oeuvre comprising some 120 small-scale works installed throughout the gallery and on free-standing display boards. Together with his wife Hildegard and his video-artist friend Fritz, Johannes is also a protagonist of the video Das Loch (The Hole, 2010) screened in the gallery’s back room.

Das Loch (The Hole) does its name justice and sitting through it is a daunting experience. All of the characters in the video are mannequins made of polystyrene foam. Yellow-faced Johannes appears in a beret and a rugged beard, Hildegard is a matronly spectacled old lady, and Fritz dons a goatee and sunglasses. The background is a barren grey and the props are paltry. They speak in the halting and toneless voices of speech software. Though their monologues are heartwrenching, the polystyrene dolls’ expressions remain (of course) deadpan.

Literary economy is not the only Beckettian motif running through the video. Much like Endgame’s Hamm or Clov, Thys and de Gruyter’s characters are also burdened by trivial occurrences, struggle to get through the day, and seem to live in an unchanging, atavistic state.

The garish Fritz ravels in fetishism and technophilia, repeatedly stating the technological specifics of his coveted gadgets: a camera with 3 CCD; a memory card with four gigabytes; a Jaguar Mark 2. Whilst racing around Lake Cuomo, he tells us that he ran over a small dog, yet the killing leaves him unfazed: the dog "should pay more attention," he notes, staring at the animal’s gouged-out eyes. Not unlike the famous Austrian Fritzl, he fantasizes about abducting little girls and locking them up in basements.

Hildegard loves her husband so much, she’d like to change him into someone else. She advises him to stop painting and to become a successful video-artist like Fritz. But one shouldn’t think ill of her; she senses Johannes unhappiness yet feels helpless to comfort him.

Johannes is tormented by bouts of depression. His mood fluctuates between dark thoughts and melancholic epiphanies. For him art carries a protestant sense of duty yet his resolve is as frail as his limbs. He probably feels his every word to be "an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness," to quote Beckett yet again.

Striking throughout is the characters’ "Germanness."  Germanness, the quality of being German, is hard to define but easy to detect. It might boil down to Prussian authoritarianism, to early industrialization, to protestant ethics, or a combination of all of the above. Another theory points to a specifically modern form of apathy that became known after World War I as "shell shock." Soldiers who lived through the trench-warfare were literally shell-shocked by constant bombings and machine gun fire, and subsequently acquired a sense of disconnectedness and indifference. As veterans made their way back home, the symptoms became steeped into the culture, and what was formerly a disorder became a disposition. Si non è vero è ben trovato. Either way, in the eyes of every foreigner, this "Germanness" manifests itself like a nationwide case of Asperger syndrome, with all its citizens addressing one another in beamtensprache (officialese), even when it comes to—or mostly when it comes to— marriage vows or fruitless attempts at humor.

Still, what makes Das Loch such a singular work is the profuse amount of dissonance and incongruity: the contrast between the mythical glamour of Lake Cuomo and the tawdriness of the settings; the suggested speed of the Jaguar Mark 2 and the lethargic cadence of the shots; Hildegard’s benign appearance and the vulture which sits on her shoulder; and, above all, the tortured inwardness of Johannes’s artistic endeavors vs. the depthless glib Fritz stands for. Amidst the rise of consumerism, consumer video, and social media, Johannes is left at a loss. In this sense, Johannes’s death can represent the slow death of postwar humanism and its risibly romantic notion of art as the externalization of a sense of selfhood. And as post-industrial states produce socially alienated and solitary, yet not introspective individuals, what the future holds might look more like Fritz. But Das Loch is morbid, not moralist. It delves into its characters demise and decrepitude, but it doesn't lament them.