"Coldness and Fluidity"
ATemporary Interface of Power, Knowledge, Sadism and Masochism, and OtherCultural Geometries
(unpublished,1995 : made for an unpublished catalog with galerie philomene magers)
MichaelCohen: The information you present, the writer Niranjana's Library of Congresslisting for example, can be exhibited in a variety of contexts and mediums,following the model of software. These mutations seem to mirror capitalism'sever-shifting de- and re-territorializations of information. Are these mutableforms directly critiquing capitalism's patterns or do you prefer, amibiguously,to highlight that system in its re-representation?
RainerGanahl: ISBN's and Library of Congress cataloging-in-publication data listingsare very interesting because their indexicality is about possessions anddistributions of printed knowledge and information. A book, for example, isgiven a number and stored in a computer data net where it can be administeredand kept at disposition for anybody. There is usually a wide range ofadministrative and quantifying information given that I somehow redirect and"misuse" to assign them with new representative and indexicalpurposes without stripping it of its original functions. Any selection,translation into space, zoom in, blow up, re-representation andde/recontextualizing of something doubles and singles it out, questions, andfinally criticizes and ambiguously highlights it. It is somehow perverse - seethe mutation of the words perversion, reversion, subversion, version etc. - toinstall an administrative price tag like info-marker so prominently as a bigwall painting in a modernist like posture. The same is the case with thevehicles for these translations onto the cold gallery walls, the window as aninterfacial space and framing device, that even in its functional environmentis designed to be opened and closed, zoomed in and out, sent to the back andbrought to the front of the visible surface.
Mutabilityis not just a product and major law of capitalism from the very beginning -think of the redirection of colonial wealth exploited through slavery tofinance the early industrialization in Europe - but also a way to try to escapeit. So you are in one way right to see in mutable forms a critique ofcaptialism as well as wrong, since mutability is what makes captialism flow. Tocrystallize such expensive, sophisticated surfaces in a simplified manipulatedform on a dumb white wall dries and freezes what makes capitalism todaycommunicate and run so hot. Somehow calmed down thanks to the institution wework in, we find time and a pretext to read what's written: "... Niranjana,Tejaswini, 1958-; Siting translation: history, post-structuralism, and thecolonial context /Tejaswini Niranjana ....".
MichaelCohen: I'm very interested in the way your project both invites and deniesrecuperation. For example, in your juxtaposition of the Honneth footnotes, thecomputer command "Snap to grid" and the grid graphic itself, each canbe read as information pulled out of a narrative of opening computer files oras perhaps colonialist knowledge functioning as a "snap to grid" onconsciousness. Yet, the way these heterogeneous materials are determinedlynon-linear in their interrelation produces a cognitive dissonance that deniessuch recuperations. How does this askew layering serve your work?
RainerGanahl: It has become more and more difficult to listen, see, recognize, anddistinguish dissonances since they are now built into such distorted contextsthat even total incongruity produces nothing but the effects of false harmonyand sense. With today's modes of material and informational production andprocessing which can convert anything into anything else - see string"Mutable Forms" - it becomes more and more difficult to naturalizestandards of "what goes together and what
doesn't".On the surface level all these different layers of my installation aren'torchestrated in a linear way since this wouldn't interest me. What I am lookingfor are connections that open up when match-making signifying narratives areignored. Connecting some kind of heterogeneous material that is linked on otherlevels is more productive to me as the first (not in the sense of best)visitor/reader of my exhibitions. The neutral looking public materials drawnfrom academic books (footnotes, indexes, ISBN's, publications of librarycataloguing-in-data listings), from tool boxes and from the language repertoirof software interfaces are cross-fertilized in a contextual game. This happenson a no-tech level - only paint on walls - yet stages, paraphrases ironicallyhigh tech info as performance acts. It also tries to redefine architectonicspace, which in a capitalistic context has to be predominantly seen as alayering of definitions that depend on power relations. Thus, my interventionstry to add new readings and link heterogeneous histories in an abstract way.
MichaelCohen: Has that approach been influenced by Michael Asher's more decentralizedworks from 1980 on?
RainerGanahl: All of the few works I know by him have left an imprint on me. Whatinterests me are his interventions where the methodological, ideological, andhistoric/concrete aspect of reality fabricate something like reality. thisreality construct is seen as a fragile tissue which is made up and dependent ondefinitions that are constantely to be renegotiated in fights and struggelswhere the slightest, non-dramatic interference can have a far reaching effect.What is also very interesting to me is the way he observes, rearranges andsometimes even transforms overlooked things like armatures and patents, an outof use industrial stove, water pipes, the transport of dangerous trash, atrailer, the biographies of architects and urbanists from early this centurylinked with news clippings of historical incidents of their time, left behinditems in the psychological books of a library, etc. All these things are ofinstrumental, "interfacial" value and intrinsically linked withmodernism and industrialization as well as with their disappearance and itsconsequences. In relation with the nature of the observed materials he choosesdisplay strategies that inscribe themself in an aesthetic of administration,bureaucracy, and modernist print technologies in order to communicate his case.We shouldn't forget that in our post-industrial time the dominant display modesfor corporate use are computer/video screen/projection assisted. Somethingpainted on a wall is modernist in gesture and function. But the irony ofhistory unveals the fact that the used trans mask stencils for the wallpainters are all cut by computer guided knives.
string:Snap to Grid
MichaelCohen: In dialectical opposition to your dispersal mode, your layering or"Snap to grid" computer command montages gallery, social andpsychological space/signs in a manner which conjoins the disparate elements.Could you tell me a bit more about how this works?
RainerGanahl: You put it the way I like to see these things. This work is about thelayering of a variety of spaces, including social, psychological andtechnological ones. But there is also a linguistic dimension I would like topoint out by referring to Deleuze and Bataille (see also the strings"Fixed Information" and "Sadism as Masochism"). Thedifference between pornography and de Sade as well as Sacher-Masoch is thatpornographic literature is reduced to some simple words of orders whereas withde Sade these words of orders disappear and are replaced by descriptions anddemonstrations and in the case of Masoch by contracts. So what I would like tosay about computer commands is that they don't just strip language of itsdescriptive value and reduce it to the click of a mouse but also produce a kindof a conceptual short hand pornography that is part of an environment whereaggressiveness, narcissism, access, disposability, domination and consumptionfind new sites and models. There is also a surprising phenomenological effectconcerning the painted grid: the sharp individual squares produce violentafter-images that can be best compared to the burned image on a screen. Theseare the magnetic grid which you "snap to".
MichaelCohen: What's fascinating in reading Sade and Masoch is that the psychologicalspace they create for the reader seduces one into empathizing and, subtly,identifying with the author's position. For instance at the end of Venus inFurs, Masoch spends pages complaining about being beaten and humiliated byWanda's lover, although he himself has given her the idea for this scenario. Asone experiences this apparent tension, one slowly realizes that Masoch isloving it and that the reader has been trapped, through verbal seduction, intoidentifying with him, even if his position seems unappealing. Following thatmodel, are you suggesting that these computer commands create a seductiveabstract space where the viewer's conceptual/perceptual motion is confinedwhile at the same time attracting him/her into (pleasurably?) identifying withthe computer's "grid" on Other people and information?
RainerGanahl: Yes, I do think that there is an open and inherent aggressivness inthese computer commands that often stem directly from the military - kill, moveup, distort, etc... Now, interfacial control environments are becoming more andmore smooth as software designers try to imitate existing polite, clean, architecturaloffice and home environments that can be visited, walked through, and animated.Even orders are minimized since intelligent objects that embody functions andservices are approaching you, memorizing, thinking, and advising for you.Everything in there becomes your personal assistant tailored especially for you,like you can already now name and rename your hard drive by yourself. Afunction that I miss often in "real life" is frequently called inEnglish programs: "undo" when nothing is to be undone anymore. Thevery real danger I see in the illusion of total control and total empowermentthese worlds seem to offer. The psychic violence and reality distortions peoplesuffer through the fact of being consumed by multi-media programs is not indissociatablefrom the effects software infrastructures start having on their users. Butapart from this aspect - and this is what really interests me and where I startobserving - these new information processing workspaces are the sites wheretoday almost any type of knowledge is produced, processed, converted,exchanged, consulted and displayed. What turns a screen into an epistemologicaltheatre? That is worth being observed.
MichaelCohen: You mentioned earlier an interest in connecting your wall grids to thetraditional forms of Modernism. Do you think this Modernist device seducesone's conceptual and optical faculties or converts power's lineages in relatedfashion to what we've discussed above.
RainerGanahl: Whatever might be taken as a Modernist Grid: metric measurement systemsinvented for the cause of the French Revolution; the serial alignment oftextile machines in new industrial sites which suddenly needed everybody -including children - for 12 hour long workdays; Baron Haussmann's urbanisticdesign with straight Grand Boulevards in response to the revolution of 1848;Wundt's experimental psychology anticipating Taylor and Ford with their timingand rationalization programs of work logistics; the development and use ofradio and TV in conjunction with the construction of Hitler-Germany's"Autobahnen" (and isn't it called "info highway" today);European geometry in all the arts and its emigration to the post-WWII UnitedStates etc... -- whatever might be taken asthe Modernist Grid is like its so-called post-industrial/post-modernsophisticated follow ups, not just limiting and seducing our conceptual andoptical faculties but creating and constituting us. But even if we look at the ModernistGrid in the most limited, most aestheticized and a highly selective, arthistorical way we can not overlook the instrumental, power related, oppressivecharacter it has had and and continues to have. We cannot abstract from thedirty, concrete, and banal involvements connected to abstract art since itsexistence, its violent, problematic legitimizing histories, ideologies andinstitutions. But again, these factors didn't just make themselves apparent,since its surfaces looked as clean, sober and reconciliated as the instrumentaldesign does I draw and abstract from.
MichaelCohen: I'd like to consider for a moment several of your discourses together.First we have the "windows", "rulers" and"markers" which define and measure cyber/real space, next "basiclinguistic services" where you teach, third "Please, teach me(Japanese, Russian, etc...)" where you learn and are taught foreignlanguages, last your "IMPORTED - A READING SEMINAR ..." in which youimport and export theoretical texts for examination with your students. In thefirst case you mark and define the space with a code that appears to besite-specific, but is actually an imposed reading and sign-system that is notorganic to the space. In the other examples, you import and export even anduneven cultural exchanges with the students through an imposed framework on theheterogeneous subjects and texts. I'd like to suggest that the subtle masteringand subjection of these spaces, discourses and peoples functions, on thisplane, sadistically. Do you see this power relation as integral to thetransmission of knowledge? And if so, how does it operate in your work,theoretically and practically?
RainerGanahl: Your question is very intriguing. First, I want to underscore againwhat you address as "fixed information", or what I'd like to call akind of "freeze framing" (see strings "Mutable Forms" and"Decentralized Information"). This is definitely true with theinterfacial aspects - "windows", "grids","rulers" - of my projects. But it is more complicated to apply thefigure of "fixed information" to the studying and teachingsituations, be it in relationship with me or in relationship with foreignpeople I encounter through institutions, schools, or through amicable relationships.Concerning the studying, teaching of languages, and the prometheusian importbusiness in printed matters I do inscribe myself consciously in a history ofOrientalism, Eurocentrism, educational arrogance, and cultural and linguisticimperialism that, generally speaking, has met, and, unfortunately, often stillmeets the lowest and most violent criteria of sadism. But in opposition to whatexists outside my dilettantish "academia in mobile" I try preciselyto point out and work through these problematic histories and presences. Said,Spivak, Fanon, and others in my reading lists help me to do this. But so far,besides a general interest in my offered classes and reading seminars, whichwere always voluntary, I have also encountered resistance: for example inMoscow, when we read about AIDS politics and the situations of ethnic minoritiesor feminism, a more complex and responsible understanding of things could notalways be so easily agreed upon.
Thepainful patience and discipline of studying a foreign language is for everybody- and in particular for me - a hard thing to deal with and accept - which alsoshowed on certain occasions. It was not for nothing that I started video-tapingmyself for my studies of basic modern Greek: the camera fixed on top of me -"fixed information" - fullfilled the function as a sort of artificialsuper-ego control mechanism that I could then use also as an "artisticagent". It produced tapes. But again, think of the power relationsinvolved, and not just in peripheral states which exclude or include peopleaccording their language competencies. We find ourself in the paradoxicalsituation where the teaching of the English langauge in Eastern European orThird World Countries allows people access to material and informationalresources. But on the other side it also reinforces the dominant trend ofEnglish-American language imperialism. Knowledge and power are more linked thanwe might even imagine. And don't forget, all the pedagogical (state) apparatiwhose operations we shouldn't stop thoroughly criticizing and renderingideologically transparent must also be defended and protected when they riskabolition and the loss of their widespread legitimation.
String:Sadism as Masochism
MichaelCohen: It would be interesting here to further explore the idea that the willto overpower and dominate is a redirection of the death-drive (the urge fornon-existence) - see also string "Mutable Forms" -. Even in thesadistic state, parts of this essential desire for self-destruction remain.Familiar cultural displays of sadistic violence inhibit the free expression ofsuch aggressions, generally forcing the subject to turn these aggressivedisplays back on the self -- one definition of masochism. I'd like to suggest,then, that your work follows a series of intensities from sadism to masochismand does not remain in a fixed state, although it is temporally fixed(sadistically/masochistically) in each moment of emergence.
Specifically,I'm interested in the "Please, teach me..." series where you aretaught and endure the long, grueling "painful patience and discipline"(Ganahl) of many hours of language training sessions. In this your "authorfunction" reverses from active to passive mode. As well, I'm interested inthe way you describe your own teaching as problematic, Eurocentirc,"strategically dilettantish and arrogant" (Ganahl). Whereas in thefirst case it seems the sadism has been turned around with the other taking onyour power role and you theirs, in the second, there is an air of "moralmasochism" where you liberally punish/incriminate yourself but are notpassive with your object (the students). To me, this is the middle groundbetween S & M. In both cases, there is a "crushing" idealism, buthere it's done with "persuasion and education" (Deleuze). I'm notsaying the people interacting with you are suddenly going to transform intosadists, but more that in your "authorial" postition you mold them tothe specs of an ideal "oppressor" who is "the double orreflection of masochism." (Deleuze). How do you see this?
RainerGanahl: Let me take you up on the word "idealism" and make a littleexcursion. In a good Hegelian way the world seems in your string openingstatement devided into slaves and masters that reverse their roles. Generalschool systems in Europe historically emerged at the heydays of idealism,romanticism, industrialization, nationalism and its national militarycounterparts. The later three forces paid much interest to the installation ofthe general public school systems that became necessary to educate anddiscipline their subjects for their increasingly sophisticated purposes. Thenew industrial machines and the Prussian military demanded discipline andknowledge. But let me just remind you of some important names in education,domination and submission in the idealisitic and romantic first half of the 19thCentury: de Sade, Kant, Hegel, Darwin, Napoleon, Metternich, W. v. Humboldt (afamous founding figure of the German education system), Jahn (an educationalhero who linked physical education with German nationalism, pedagogy and thepropagation of the German national language) and a bit later Sacher-Masoch.
Lookingat this historical spectrum we soon start to see another dramatic result oftheir manufactured modern ideologies: unequal abusive power relationshipsbetween the emerging but highly aggressive European nations which were competingin their struggles for overseas colonies and global domination. Colonialideologies in relationship with highly funded cultural, geographic andlinguistic studies, which served as a legitimazing factor of imperialisticpolitics, imposed culture, languages, administrations, laws, and systems ofgeneral exploitation upon a people which were studied, classified, degraded,abused, enslaved and even killed. World Wars I and II must be seen in directrelationship with the disastrous enlightened nightmares of the 19 century:wasn't the Nazi-ideology informed by a cruel large scale educational idealismthat captured and inspired people to commit atrocities with the help ofbureaucratic means?
I myselfbelong to the last generation of people in Germany and Austria that still wereeducated directly by people who were educated, morally distorted, and abused inmany respects by these oppressive killer machines which were nearly impossibleto escape alive. So learning foreign languages was for me the most importantand most effective step to break with the Heimatland, its educating"vaters" and a loved/hated mother tongue. As a joke I might add thatthe Hegelian "Weltgeist" (world spirit) subjects me to the terrifyingpunishment of learning all his languages and dialects.
MichaelCohen: For your own work, the idea that you might make your students suffer isless interesting as sadism than in the way the ideal of knowledge itselfcreates a sadistic microphysical imprint on you and them - transmitting powerand revealing it's operations by example at the same time. Your statementsabout Eurocentrism, Orientalism, etc., suggest that this revelation is in fact,part of your intention.
Just asSade's protagonists held the abstract goal of "libertinism" to bemore important then their own or others' bodies, in your projects, you, thesite, and the subjects, are depersonalized before the higher ideal ofeducation, specifically, the deconstruction of cultural power and linguisticnorms. Now, it's understood that your students choose some of the texts, butthe general structure of the power dynamic (text - teacher - student) seemsboth to flow through you and be set up by you, for this educational purposebefore which all else is subservient.
Thisstructure of sublimation characterizes your different seminars and shares someof the mechanization that Deleuze discovered in Sade's writing style. Yourendless repetition of Computer motifs and procedures and their subsequentabstraction, likewise follow Sade's automated program. If the death drivecauses us to desire destruction for ourselves, and through the projection ofthose drives outward, the destruction of the other, Sade's machine encompassesboth aspects of that wish. Your ideal strategies partake of this samedeath-drive in that they continue accelerating and condensing and imperializingwhile at the same time allowing anyone to take up your graphic motifs and approaches,without needing your participation to determine its operations. You and yoursubjects are ultimately expendable in this process. Such decentralizeddominance is the Sadien ideal. By bringing this to the surface you conciselyreveal the hidden circuit which transmits power in philosophy, pedagogy andart.
LosAngeles, Cologne, June 1995