Issue a5 · 2012




Memories of life


by Doris Neidl





Paper is like the skin of a beloved.  You touch it, you feel it, you capture the structure of its surface, you smell it and you look at its color.  If I wouldn’t be an artist I would work in a paper store.  Or at the DM - market (The DM market is a fancy version of Duane Reade, with organic products).  I like the DM – Market.  I like to look at all these products.  I have to admit that I have an Anti - Cellulite Cream complex, and so I am often at the DM - market.  I steadfastly buy an anti-cellulite cream, although - without bragging – I do not have cellulite at all.  I almost never use the creams anyway. 


The other day at the beach, a man said to me: “From behind you look like a college girl, but your face!”  Merci Beaucoup!  Quel connards!  Perhaps I should start specializing in facial creams.  For my face I only use very cheap creams.  If I think about it, many people have asked me lately if I have dry skin.  Further, they do not call me Miss anymore, but Madame.  Might this be a sign to change to an anti-wrinkle cream?  But, to tell you the truth, I love wrinkles.  There’s nothing more beautiful than to look into a face that speaks about life. 


My affinity for paper, however, probably comes from the fact that I grew up next to a paper mill.  In the village where I used to live, there was nothing but a skyscraper, a paper mill and a little deli called ADEG.  It always smelled of rotten eggs and wet wood.  The paper, produced in Nettingsdorf was brown Kraft paper, rough and strong.  Every summer I worked in the factory to earn money.  I was a real paper specialist. 


The smell of rotten eggs reminds me of my childhood, a childhood that consisted of playing games.  School, I do not recall at all.  We “five high-rise kids” played for hours: ‘circus,’ ‘rich and poor,’ ‘gymnastics,’ ‘poor children,’ ‘father-mother-child’ (Let’s pretend, we would say, the father is at war), ‘hide and seek,’ ‘dodge ball’ or the Rudi Carell Show “Am laufenden Band” – a show where people had to answer different kinds of questions.  When we played the Rudi Carrell Show, one question would always be: “How would you like to die?”  A) to be shot B) to drown - or C) cancer?  All of us always wanted to be shot, even though Margit assured us, drowning is totally beautiful, because her mother once almost drowned and that wasn’t bad at all. 


From that time comes my fear of being shot through a door.  If I tell my friends about it, they always ask me: “Why on earth would somebody shoot you through a door?”  That’s right, it is absurd.  But secretly I think: Why not? 


We also played victims of a neutron bomb.  That was the time of the Cold War.  The only survivor was Bettina, who ran screaming for hours through the pouring rain.  The rest of us kids were moving like robots.  That’s how we imagined being hit by a neutron bomb! 


At that time, Bettina was the only one who survived.  Now she is no longer here, lives in a world that is still unknown to me.  Bettina was not shot and did not drown.  Bettina has fought like a lioness against this disease we call cancer.  She fought with so much humility and pride and strength.  In defiance of all prognoses she had fought for years to see her son playing the way we used to play.  She never complained and in all her pain, she still had the strength to console me in my solitude.  I did not have the feeling that I would be able to comfort her.  When I saw her becoming weaker and weaker, I cried on her bed instead of consoling her.  And when I once - when she writhed in pain and vomited - took her in my arms, nothing better came to my mind than: That sucks!  She looked at me saying: That really sucks!  Then we laughed. 


I miss Bettina.  When I arrived at the airport in Vienna after a couple months in NY, and turned on my Austrian mobile phone, it told me: Last call: Bettina September 22, 2008.  I dialed her number, even though I knew she would not pick up anymore.  Instead of the accustomed: “Bettina, hello.  Please leave a message” I heard instead: “This is the voicemail of 0996. . . .”  During our last phone call I was in a payphone on Time Square.  It was loud and we could barely hear each other.  Before she hung up, she would tell me that she would wait for me.  I hoped that she would wait for me in this world.  But now I know that when it’s time for me to leave, she will wait for me in this other world. 


When I saw her the last time I brought her water colors and a water - color pad.  She repeatedly stroked the paper, what beautiful paper!  How many summers had we counted woodchips together and taken paper samples? 


Since Bettina’s death, I now know for the first time in my life that I will die.  I always knew it, but now I really know it.  Everything is transitory, nothing belongs to you.  Nothing is left behind, except perhaps, the love that you give to someone. 


I take a sheet of paper, not an expensive one.  Expensive paper scares me.  I look only at expensive paper in a paper store.  I take a piece of brown Kraft paper, stroke this rough surface and draw.









Doris Neidl is an Austrian born artist who lives and works in Vienna, Austria, and in Brooklyn, NY.  She studied at the University of Art and Industrial Design in Linz, Austria, and graduated in 1996 with an MFA.  Her work has appeared in a number of solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally.  Her writings have been published by several publications and in 2008/2009 she received a writing grant from the Austrian Government BMUKK for her project “The Women in Symbols.”  She has participated in short and long-term artist residences in the United States, France, Italy and Czech Republic.  She is online at