Diana Baldon on Rainer Ganahl, March 2002
DB: Your latest show at Baumgartner Gallery, NY entitled Money & Dreams brings together one of Austrias prime raw materials the psychoanalytical notion of repression and the advent of the Euro. How did it originate?
RG: I tried to extend my curiosity from the issue of living out of a native country to my subjective I mediated by dreams. An oniric currency collateralized with love, joy, sex, desire, gossip, paranoia, fear and a good portion of disgust nurtured by international politics. With the event of the Euro as a new monetary instrument for a nascent European unity, the Schilling has ceased its career as Austrian official currency. Millions of 50 ATS banknotes have disappeared and with them Sigmund Freuds portrait. Like the majority of Austrians, I was never aware of his presence but because of Freuds importance for dream analysis, I converted my vivid dream-activity into an artwork transcribed and publicly disseminated for seven months. Taking a break from my other projects like the Reading Karl Marx seminars or interviews with holocaust victims, it didn't take long to understand that my dreams reveal a private world equally shaped by politics.
D: I was confused but also fascinated by your dream transcriptions. Your free descriptive style also distinguishes exhibitions like Basic Belgian at Saint Lukas Gallery in Brussels (2001). Why did you choose casual interviews and photographs of local monuments to depict the complexity of Belgian social fabric?
R: I didn't intend to address local monuments. I was invited to play with Belgiums linguistic complexities for which interviews were the ideal medium. But once I listened to peoples stories, I found out that they had a conflict relationship with these monuments. Most expressed a remarkable distance from the Atomium as well as for the European union and its institution. A visit to the Atomium confirmed this disinterest. This desolate place lying in abandonment for 50 years seemed to signify a nostalgic unity of imperial and colonial Belgium before it fell apart.
D: A previous European conquest was the mid-19th century alphabêtise system where reading became as important as speaking. Reading fertilizes your practice, its the constitutional element of your seminars. Apart from discussing cultural politics, globalization, nationalism and tourism, is learning also a topic?
R: I hated school because, in the repressive educational system I grew up with, I never had good teachers. It was some sort of anti-authoritarian counter-knowledge that sustained me: Adorno, Horkheimer, Marx, Freud, Proust, Rilke, Kafka, Wittgenstein, and the unpredictable schooling of hitch-hiking throughout Europe as a freak. My interest in educational politics reflects my ideological positioning and my provenience. Access to information is crucial for the mutual understanding of people. By systematically excluding a group or a class of people from education, health systems, financial networks, social acceptance and self-representation, society endangers itself. Globalization is nothing but a catchphrase for a demographic, social and cultural reality that is dominating almost every aspect of industrialized societies. Reading with a group of interested people allows me to be in contact with people and exchange views.
D: How did the seminars start?
R: I was in Japan for a show in a museum with my Basic Japanese (1993). I had all my books with me, decided to use them in the cafeteria and came up with this title: A Portable, Not So Important Imported Library, Or How To Reinvent The Coffee Table: 25 Books For Instant Use. I decided to read on Saturdays, and was then asked to repeat the same event in Russia where I gave books as a present. It has continued since then.
D: What are the conditions of participation?
R: There are no conditions. Perhaps the only condition is peoples interest.
D: I find there is a correspondence between your artistic practice and vampire stories as they are both modeled around individuals subjective expressions. Sinister figures like Dracula and Lacan seduce through an arcane power of language that passes beyond understanding and geographic boundaries. Is a similar transnational self-expression fundamental for your work?
R: Transnational self-expressionism is an interesting way of describing me but I am not sure whether this is what I am looking for. Languages interested me since I was child. I started to learn on my own in order to escape from a narrow mono-lingual and mono-spiritual world. My kind of linguistic escapism was encouraged by border crossing, something that wasn't so exceptional in a part of Western Austria where three national borders were almost within walking distance. Today, it is more the breaking away from nationalism which I consider important for peaceful co-existence.
D: Apart from your personal response to the EU coronation, is your intention ultimately to portray culture going into psychoanalysis?
R: Psycho- and schizo-analysis are always healthy and part of our general culture be it now in form of hysterical TV-shows, expensive tête-à-tête or in the form of interviews, dreams reports or self-reflexivity. I love it.