Where does madder grow? What is its connection with painting? Questions such as these are part of Johanna and Helmut Kandl’s repertoire as the Austrian artist couple explore the materiality of images: Alongside the subject of pictorial representation, painting and coloring agents of a work of art tell their own story of extraction, origin, and social embedding. Most organic painting materials are derived from plants.
The first element of Johanna Kandl’s exhibition project, Material. What We Paint with and Why, is the garden in front of the Orangery of the Lower Belvedere. In collaboration with the Austrian Federal Gardens, she cultivated plants that are, in one way or another, used to produce painting materials, such as flax, pine, madder, mastic, and cactus – the latter being the preferred host of the cochineal, a scale insect, from which a dark red is obtained that was for a long time responsible for the red color in Campari and lipstick.
Plants that produce these substances have also shaped the lives of the people whose livelihood depend on them as well as the shape of the surrounding landscape – madder in southern France in the nineteenth century, indigo in India, and pine in the southern part of Lower Austria, for example. To this day, some place names and colloquial expressions remain a testament to this close relationship such as the birthplace of Maria Lassnig, “Kappl am Krappfeld” (referring to the German name for madder), and expressions like “blau machen” (literally to “make blue”, meaning to “play hooky”) or “grün und blau schlagen” (the English equivalent to “beat black-and-blue”) that had their origins in the production of indigo.
The garden was created in collaboration with the garden architect Jutta Fischel and the Austrian Federal Gardens.