The Bikini People
Tableau vivant on Franziska Maderthaner’s Painting
by Lydia Mischkulnig


The walls are crumbling and bushes are growing out of the holes in the windows. The battlements have caved in, a crack stretches from the base to the upper floors and in front, no, inside—in the courtyard of the decaying castle two people in bikinis are standing. Barefoot, exposing their thin skin, inquisitively feeling their way along and ready to retreat as soon as the stones from the wall begin to tumble and nature breaks with feasibility. The ruin is older than the lake below at the foot of the hill. Its water darkens the villages at the bottom.

The structure of the wall, the age of the stones, the Canadian-like landscape, a Waldviertel (Forest Quarter) Arcadia created by the Nazis, to wipe away Hilter’s traces as a place of origin. The villages in this region were emptied, depopulated by the Nazis, to make way for a military training area. Even today, this area is still rented out to the army so they can test military equipment and practice maneuvers.
The stumps of the deserted military training zone Döllersheim are a memorial to those who were expelled. The cemetery is operational; some of those driven away insisted on coming back, dead. Hitler’s grandmother is said to be buried here. Her grave is unmarked, to keep away the neo-Nazis.
After the war, the Kamp River was dammed up, the valleys flooded, lakes were formed and the Waldviertel was electrified. The past draws its trace along the surface of the moment, where the bikini people mix into events, one into another. The transitions blur, arise, retreat, bringing everything together into a flow. The present is a stroke of fate, not yet experienced, but on the brink of being grasped. Everything that is manufactured is falsified, the bikini people set it right with their eyes. Is this even possible?

One would think that in painting nothing is left to chance. Also not the flooding of the canvas. Each stroke that the artist makes sits right. The mixture of the colors creates a gush, because fluid transitions are drawn with palette-knives and framing squares. Brushes serve as brooms, brooms as brushes, sweeping the color across the canvas and determining the first layer. Lakes form. A blow dryer whirls up the surface and the colors grow pale. Each moment of the action where the colorants occupy their fields and leave traces is subjugated to the concentration that allows coincidences to happen. A miracle close to words that goes from aspiration to action: an act of speech, an act of painting. Music plays along. Do you hear the sound? Can you imagine color?
Thinking in colors is hard for a word-oriented person. In regard to their names I think of a story that I associate with their sound, the tactility of their gleam, and the atmosphere of the surroundings where the terms first made an impression on me. I answer: water, stone, poppy. These are the colors of the month where one can go swimming, climb around in ruins, and see fields of flowers. Blossoms that fade away in a second.
Streaks and dabs, blisters and jellyfish-like umbrellas surface from the depths, burst, and surprise us with their metamorphoses and swelling patterns. The pourings dry and offer a grasp into the abundance that awakens associations and unfolds new references. For example, the genre of the Bikini People of Dobra. They are swimming across the lake over to the ruins, and hear the barking of chained and drowned dogs, the tolling of the bell in the swell of the waves, the disappointed sighing of the deported, the anger of those who were duped, the pacification of those who came to terms with things, those who once found work at the mill at the edge of the lake. They dive down and surge forward with full force but the water is black, and light is needed to see deeper.
There is light in the paintings. It refuses to see the sense of a story. Historical garments appear. Drapery reveals a destiny in the Flemish light of the evening sun that the coincidence of the paint pourings imposes. The head of a society lady cleaves open into a gorge.1 Although the headless woman is wearing an elegant satin dress, and has a fan in her hand, even in these clothes she only dates from the archives. She has wings that soar towards the landscape. But at what price? The snow shines like satin and the melting lures protozoa out of the layers. The pose of a Greek-clad goddess belongs to a woman with a paintbrush writing for the viewer on the invisible wall: Trick.2 In mirror writing Trick reads as Fick (fuck). Who with whom? Is this an invitation? A rejection? The question remains open. The mirror makes the painting impenetrable. Does it say, take a look at yourself?

In the next painting, an Adonis arises from the swish of the paintbrush.3 Is he biting his own „tail“? Or the look of the T-shirt clad woman observing him? The skin of a female acrobat shines brightly, doing a gymnastics feat over a rocky gorge. (4) Swimming through the water to the ruins, below us, the bikini people, the coagulated canyon. How does the canvas feel when it is poured upon? (5) Skin. Breast. Knee. I lie in the water and let the surface bathe my corporeality, licking around islands that protrude from the Ice Age and other (hi)stories. I swim towards the tongue of land. See still the glaciers in the gorge, the ice palace that is rising into the clouds. The sky hangs low and hovers heavy over the fields. Poppies sway their heads of red pleats. Something is always brewing in the paintings; either the weather, or this Döllersheim, or the color. Two bikini people in the courtyard of the ruins, that again has to be preserved as a ruin, so that its surface is visible from the inside. What does this mean for us?
German officers from the 19th century, with the dirt of the battlefield on their boots, sit in a castle devoid of people on the evening before the siege of Paris and play at noble civilization. (6) The headless. Hands rest on the keys of the piano. The deluge swirls up over the castle, against which the fire lashes its tongues. Stories that makes no sense. Plastic grapes, adhesive tape, trash and with them the surface: namely culture.
The tension lies in Noch (Still). Priming, pouring, and then the montage with the stamp function on the computer. An act that results in a sketch and a template that is then painted with delicate brushes, to capture detailed tran- sitions and unfold them so softly that the viewer is thrown back into a kind of reflux, because he or she is so occupied with the precision of each applied fold. Through the seeming coincidence, the viewer is able to think abstractly in the translation of what is representationally painted, in order to arrive at his or her own interpretations of the meaning and composition. The encounter of two bikini people coagulates to the final moment in the ruins. There we stand like punched-out extraterrestrials or protozoa, people in the courtyard. The walls, burst apart and abandoned, have slid into an ever more lethargic slow motion of deterioration. Surfaces meet the gaze, or the other way round, more viscous, ever slower. This process triggers turmoil. Or is it the fact that the integrity of these bodies, at the place where bodies were once banished and relocated, is an aggregate state of the memory of a humanity still in need of redemption?

The rotting of an apple does not show the rotting of an apple; it shows the surface of a rotting apple at a particular moment that is not retold. (7) Making folds, material, fruit skin. Cumulus clouds, mildew, tar. Appetizing pus that gushes into the green of universal time, crunched scraps of metal next to scrunched up paper— everything is poured in soft transitions—in this way Maderthaner’s art records culture.
The nail of the pointing index finger is painted black. (8) God is surface and the apple a ball. The order of the world is a tangle. The moment is an outline of the fluid. In this way narratives snake through the paintings and transform pieces of stage scenery into a composition that roars, rushes, swells, rustles, clicks, crackles, waxes, trickles away, shines. The Stänkerdirne (Vituperous Harlot) is missing an eye. (9) Instead, the vase has handle-ears. Reifeprüfung (Test of Maturity) is name of the largest painting. What is being brought to maturity?
Wet-on-wet, the brush disperses layers of color into one another, traversing borders. Viewing deconstructs the ruins and joins them to rifts and the bushes that the bikini people are standing across from. They, who have emerged from the forgery-proof pouring of paint, create poetic stories out of sunken villages in a conversation over the reservoir.

  • (1) Analyse im Stehen
  • (2) Trick
  • (3) Fehlproduktion
  • (4) Baselitzen
  • (5) Milchkrokodil
  • (6) Winterreise
  • (7) Dokumenta Tiefenbach
  • (8) Reifeprüfung
  • (9) Stänkerdirne