April 2008, Interview with Alexandra Steinert of BIKINIRAMA

 BIKINIRAMA, photograph by Thorsten Klapsch, courtesy BIKINIRAMA  

BIKINIRAMA: the Fine Art of Provocation
Paul J. Thomas interviews Alexandra Steinert

The device-hammering, bat-wielding, undeniably attractive, self-proclaimed "amazon“ girls of German performance art group BIKINIRAMA might just break your heart in a whole new way: through destruction of the technological things which we hold sacred.

Over the past few years the Art-Performances of these bikini-clad, safety-goggled girls on film have presented the online public with the violent murders of computers, televisions, record players –then, upping the stakes- they graduated to smashing iPods, iBooks and finally the coveted iPhone (even months before 1st European release.) Online viewers and -more recently- live audiences have had a wide range of reactions to the group: from praise to outright rage. Nevertheless, regardless of the viewer’s personal philosophy or lifestyle, one of the key BIKINIRAMA messages is communicated over and over, ever more clearly: we worship these things, these products.

Their very first real live art exhibition at the Frankfurter Kunsträumen (in Frankfurt am Main) lead to significant coverage in the German media, and was effective in further getting their message across, as well as instigating further dialogue. The exhibition and the performances which took place during the show were the first face-to-face interaction the group had had with a live public.

After the show, which opened on Valentine’s Day, Whitehot had a chance to put a few questions to Alexandra Steinert, who co-founded the group with Manuel Francescon.

 Frankfurt viewers, BIKINIRAMA performance view,
 Photograph by Felicitas von Lutzau,  Photograph by Felicitas von Lutzau,

 Frankfurt viewers, Photograph by Felicitas von Lutzau,

 BIKINIRAMA performance view, Photograph by Felicitas von Lutzau,

Paul J. Thomas: Congratulations on the Exhibition! What are the most important ideas for you to communicate through Bikinirama? Is it aligned with any particular brand/philosophy of anti-consumerism or feminism? If not, where do the basic ideals stem from?

BIKINIRAMA: The destruction of consumer goods is a critique on the "throw-away“, waste-oriented society. Newer and better products are constantly introduced to the market along with the suggestions to consumers to think they need them all [sic]. They are used as status symbols and then usually find their way to the trash before the Guarantee even expires. BIKINIRAMA openly demonstrates the more-obvious lifespan of these gadgets in a clearly abbreviated form, so that the material goods are no longer suitable to be icons of consumer society.

PJT: Did you find it particularly challenging to take something that has previously only existed in these multimedia forms for these past few years and then and turn it into a real art show?

BIKINIRAMA: Naturally – working in front of the public was a definite challenge for us because the exact course of a BIKINIRAMA action is unforeseeable. By performing live we had the possibility to sort-out a few of the things which we really didn’t like. At the same time, everything has to be much better-prepared so that our statement reaches the public. We were also terribly excited because it was our first public performance!

 BIKINIRAMA, photograph by Mara Monetti, courtesy BIKINIRAMA

BIKINIRAMA, photograph by Mario G. Brucculeri, courtesy BIKINIRAMA

BIKINIRAMA, photograph by Mario G. Brucculeri, courtesy BIKINIRAMA

PJT: Was that a smooth transition for BIKINIRAMA? Did it translate from the small screen into reality as you expected?

We had to develop a completely new concept to transform the art from its online medium into live-action. That was quite a break from the usual, but we knew that and everything ended-up running as expected.

PJT: Was this an important step for Bikinarama to exist in flesh and blood?

BIKINIRAMA: We have always existed in flesh and blood, so that depends solely on the audience’s point of view...

PJT: I'd imagine that you don't get to experience people reactions to your content first-hand very often since they are probably watching at home online, so how were people's reactions when encountering all of this in real-life?

BIKINIRAMA: The public’s reactions are, of course, more polite and tactful that the anonymous Hate Mail we receive. The respect that you have for someone standing directly across from you is simple much greater than a message written to Kontakt@bikinirama.de
 Furthermore, that relates to positive reactions in the same way: in real-life the spectators are prepared to bring with them a certain validation of our expression. Also, not everyone who is excited about the online material writes to let us know that.

BIKINIRAMA, photograph by Mara Monetti, courtesy BIKINIRAMA

BIKINIRAMA, photograph by Mara Monetti, courtesy BIKINIRAMA

PJT: The look and feel of BIKINIRAMA as a whole is an excellent way of catching people's attention. However, the aesthetic of BIKINIRAMA – or the pure power of the image (i.e. beautiful women and violent destruction) has the potential to mask or overpower the message – is that a big concern for you? How do you balance the potency of the aesthetic with the importance of communicating your messages through these particular visual medium (i.e. photos, videos, website, viral content)?

BIKINIRAMA’s appearance reflects the form of our personal aesthetic directly. We consciously portray the contrast between the pink, playful and flowery world of girls and this sort of raw violent style. The cliché and metaphorical elements are also no coincidence. The style of our representation is the medium for our content, which we can freely choose to modify at any time. From our point of view, that shouldn’t require any explanation; however, we consider it meaningful that the Amazons wear a sort of "Uniform“ which would make them the carriers of the message.

PJT: BIKINIRAMA destroys quite a few coveted Apple products – most recently the iPhone several months before it even came out in Europe. Have you ever received any official response from Apple?

BIKINIRAMA: From the official site there has been no reaction to BIKINIRAMA, but we know that they know... on different official Apple sites we are named and linked. Of course there have been heated debates in expert forums: people often ask if we really destroy these devices or if it is just a trick. The coolest reaction was from a technician who wanted us to send him the scrap parts so he could putt hem back together again: "We can fix it, we have the technology!“ Many people also believe that Apple pays for our art actions, which is not the case. We are financially supported by neither Apple, nor Microsoft.

 BIKINIRAMA, photograph by Mario G. Brucculeri, courtesy BIKINIRAMA

 BIKINIRAMA, photograph by Thorsten Klapsch, courtesy BIKINIRAMA

PJT: Would you ever collaborate with a marketing department/campaign to promote a product – seeing as it might be mutually beneficial for both you and them? – or is that completely out of the question?

BIKINIRAMA: Up until now this question hasn’t yet arisen. If we received a proposal we would decide on an individual basis. Of course, whoever we cooperated with would have to not only be a good fit for us, but also impose no restrictions. We haven’t found such a partner yet, nor have they found us. But if there is one, they can feel free to contact us!

PJT: You know, you hurt a lot of people's feelings with the violent destruction of technology, what do you have to say about that? I have a video up on YouTube where my turtle fell down one small carpeted stair and was upside down for less than a minute, it was cute so I filmed it – and I get the most HATEFUL comments about animal cruelty and abuse – they reminded me actually of some of the comments I have seen on BIKINIRAMA's YouTube videos. The question is – as you have hinted, and as this proves – why are people outraged by the apparent harm of pets or destruction of technology, yet we see images of human death and suffering in the media or on film and practically feel nothing? Have you ever had to update or expand the BIKINIRAMA Manifesto due to critical response?

BIKINIRAMA: It is exactly this tragic way of thinking which we would like to draw-out and bring to light with BIKINIRAMA: the destruction of the iPhone as an icon of our over-civilized society will ignite the more sense of injustice in the mind than pictures of African children who are victims of land mines. It is as if that is simply much too far away to care about...
This is quite clearly verified by all the reactions which we receive per email. From "you should’ve sent that iPhone to me instead of destroying it!“ to "other people have to save for a long time for such a device, you guys are assholes!“ – we get everything. One frequent suggestion and simultaneously a strange suggestion is "with the money you paid for that iPhone one could feed a child in the third world for a year.“

 BIKINIRAMA, photograph by Thorsten Klapsch, courtesy BIKINIRAMA

 BIKINIRAMA, photograph by Mario G. Brucculeri, courtesy BIKINIRAMA

PJT: I noticed there was a blog post on WIRED dedicated to BIKINIRAMA, which is great – but it was still a critical post. Do you just take it in-stride as: "any press is good press"? How do you handle and respond to criticism, (i.e. nasty YouTube comments or blog posts?) Or is it even important to respond?

We just have to live with the fact that we tend to polarize people. Of course, we follow these sorts of discussions with great interest, and – in principle – separate all the comments on our art into thoughtless or intelligent statements. The intelligent statements we take the time to answer, and the thoughtless ones we simply ignore.

PJT: BIKINIRAMA has a very signature aesthetic, – I tend to think 70's and/ Bond Girls (and maybe a bit of Russ Meyer in there somewhere) as well as Mid-west America for some reason- maybe because of the baseball bats and tools, but I imagine everyone sees something different. A lot of people might draw Tarantino references now, but what were the biggest influences on the overall look of the girls and what they do when you were getting started? What are your influences?

BIKINIRAMA: It is nice that there are so many different possible references and interpretations available, one can really get lost in their imagination with that. Or course, the image that Tarantino presents of women is one that we like. The BIKINRAMA Amazons are very heroic – like Barbarella – but not reduced so much to the external, natural/physical characteristics, like the women in Russ Meyer films. The BIKINIRAMA Amazon is a contemporary Superhero!


Paul J. Thomas

Paul J. Thomas is an American born in California but with no real solid roots of which to speak. He has lived in Germany on-and-off since the early 90s. He currently lives in Berlin with his wife and works as a journalist, while writing and drawing off the record. Paul is perhaps better known by the pseudonym TAR ART RAT
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