A Show Fight between Rapture and Image
by Robert Pfaller
A striking feature of painting, especially if it addresses the relationship between figuration and abstraction, is its historical-philosophical character. Since the end of World War II at the latest, no one could paint without wondering if the end of painting had been reached; if figurative painting had been transcended for good; or if, on the other hand, abstract painting had not become impossible. To always instantly measure one’s own creations against the overall development of the art form; never to paint without asking: where is painting headed?—is
a peculiar imperative of this practice, which to some degree differs from the calm self-certainty of one’s own actions in regard to installations, performance, video art and photography.
Painting shares this historical-philosophical character, to a certain extent, with philosophy. Where philosophy is understood as a science or an analogous practice to science with its own subject, particular to itself—such as by philosophers of large systems like Kant or Hegel—the authors are always greatly concerned with the question of positioning their own attempts within the overall process of the history of philosophy. Where philosophy, however, is not acknowledged as a subject of its own, such as with Ludwig Wittgenstein or Louis Althusser, the issue often arises after the ending of the process: can philosophy, once and for all, be declared nonsense and surgically removed (with a sharp razor such as the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) as some superfluous appendage of human thought?
“The philosopher treats a question like a disease“, Ludwig Wittgenstein notes in his late work —and also in this late wording, the medical conception of philosophy as well as the idea of its necessary demise is shown again. Philosophy has no subject of its own and no problem of its own; rather, it is the problem. And where it has caused confusion and obsessive brooding, all it can do is treat it with good philosophical medicine (for example “skeptic drops” from the pharmacy) to make it disappear again.
This late concept of Wittgenstein also shows that not all philosophical diseases can be eliminated once and for all, like small pox, the bubonic plague or cholera have been. Instead, it seems that philosophical afflictions recur— just like a cold, appendicitis, a broken leg, obsessive-compulsive disorder or psychological impotence. If philosophy does not have its own subject, and thereby no terrain to expand and develop into in the future, that is no reason to declare its demise permanently. For it is still necessary to the extent that people continue to suffer from philosophical aches and pains. We will have to work within its framework in order to have good antidotes on hand for the recurrent aliments.
This could also be a useful thought on painting: why shouldn’t it also be an answer to people’s never-ending insurmountable but always recurrent big or small problems—or alternatively, also their pleasure impulses? Why should it not be a repeatedly necessary practice in dealing with these disturbances or stimuli?
The problem or the pleasure impulse that defines Franziska Maderthaner’s paintings could most probably be described as the thrill of fear (Angstlust): fear that everything might be washed away in an enormous mess of colors. Or conversely, the thrill of letting everything representational be pulled into the maelstrom of abstract pourings. The thrill that through a little figuration the abstract could still take on a representational meaning. Or, the other way round, the thrill of banishing the dwindling away of figuration into the abstract briefly (or, in the enlargements in this catalogue: even more briefly) before the final collapse.
The historical-philosophical initial suspicion, with regard to the superfluity of painting as such, is itself turned into a drama intrinsic to painting itself—it becomes the thrill of gigantic excess, an elated, conscious superfluous action, which consists in stirring up two directions of painting historically pronounced dead in equal measure. In this way, abstract and representational elements appear, so to speak, to want to take each other unawares with witty arguments about superfluity.
The ambiguous titles such as Burenhure mit Kategorienfehler (Boer Whore with Category Mistakes) or Out of the Flat are possibly trying to take into account both sides of the dispute (the representational side: Boer Wars/ abstract side: the work of Daniel Buren; representational side: out of the stale air of a post-war apartment/ abstract side: out of a the “flatness” of painting as it was proclaimed by art critic
Clement Greenberg). In both cases we could say by the way: on the one hand, a simple object language and on the other, an art-related metadiscourse.
“In the end everything has to be flat”, says Franziska Maderthaner, “a homogenous surface has to come out of it”. This might seem to point to a final victory of the abstract side in regard to the representational one. But let us not get ahead of ourselves. It would be a mistake to overlook the nature of the figurative elements these paintings mostly have. They do not primarily stem from seen contemporary reality, and often not from art history, but more from photos of re-enactments of historical events— for example, a contemporary re-enactment in historical costumes of one of Napoleon’s battles near Vienna. The figurative elements of these pictures are always representations of realities that have already been represented themselves. Also jubilant soccer players are not just athletes in action, but media-trained performers of jubilation. The same, perhaps, also applies to the recurring motif of sleepers: namely, inasmuch as they keep still as if they were a picture. “Everybody was sitting very still, as if to call attention to how still they were sitting”, Dashiell Hammett writes in one of his detective novels. It is precisely this moment that is decisive in this kind of painting: the figuration within does not so much refer to reality, but more to the imagery of the real; the real that is itself an image and consequently “flat”. So in this kind of painting, although abstraction meets up with figuration, the flat does not meet the corporal. But rather, abstract flatness matches here with representational flatness in a merciless, extravagant bloodbath of flatness.
Franziska Maderthaner describes one of the impetuses of her work as the yearning “to first provoke a mistake and then save the painting”. This intention appears to be deeply related to the Christian religion, which, as is generally known, draws its entire basis for business from the two connected assertions of an original mistake as well as a later rectification. Thus, in her work, the artist plays with the idea of a (Christian) godly perspective in regard to her production. When everything eventually ends flatly for her, she possibly even manages to achieve more than her role model does—if we are to believe the Jesuit Blázquez, a figure from a Manuel Vázquez Montalbán novel. Poor Blázquez, in the struggle against imperialistic oppression, has to cross the steep slopes of Central American mountains with his companions. The result is that he increasingly nurtures doubts about the actual existence of a God that could have created a flat world. In a painting by Franziska Maderthaner he could have, at least, been spared those doubts.