basic linguistic services
interview stephan pascher - rainer ganahl
(published somewhere on thing.net in 1996 - unedited)
SP: Why do you want to wor
k with private galleries?
RG: Of course, I would wish to be able to exclusively workwith public spaces, museum, Kusthalle and that sort but unfortunately, this isnot so easy to get access to. On the other hand, I might ask you what isnecessarily wrong with "private galleries" apart from the fact thatthey don't really treat artists always nicely?
SP: Let me repose the question: why does your work, whichdoesn't appear to necessitate an explicitcommodity form, "accomodate itself" to some kind of formal artobject?
RG: What kind of work are you thinking of?
SP: Actually any of your various works: the wall paintingsor transfers dealing with information technologies, works that addresspedagogical structures, and the work on cultural/linguistic identities.
RG: I don't see it this way. Let's take for example the workI produce and show in relationship to the studies of foreign langauges as artpractice. I film and photograph myself while studying. Myoptically speaking onecould see in the hunderts of video tapes from my daily studies just a commodityfor a gallery. But as a matter of fact it is the camera that helps me to study,it is the supervising gaze of the video equipment that somehow controls me andforces me to do my daily hours. Sometimes I decide the work upfront with aprecise amount of studies: "3 months, 3 days a week, 3 hours a day - basicmodern greek" or "4 weeks, 5 days a week, 6 hours a day - basickorean", or "6 days, 6 hours a day - basic italian". A similareffect have the fotographs I talk of myself when studying.
SP: Very well, however you are not alone being"controlled and forced" by the "supervisig gaze." There arein fact others in the photographs.
RG: Oh, I see, you are talking about the photographs of myworks entitled: "basic linguistic services, basic german, italian, russinaetc.... " where I actually teach languages as an art practice. In thesecases it is not so much about making me teach but about creating some kind ofdocument that allows to trace the event and to provoke discussions about thevery reasons of these works which are completely beyond the production of artworks what I like to equate with by-products without dismissing them asunnecesssary. I see in these objects that the context allows me to pass as artworks primary a vehicle for ideas and a catalyst for discourse practices thatgo beyond the confines of any exhibition space, private or public.
SP: I like very much the model of teaching as art practice.Yet these by-products have a definite existence of their own. Given theparticular historical development of photography as a policing technology andanalytic prosthetic, I would think that you might be more critical(self-conscious?) of its deployment. And regarding pedagogic systems, theirsuccess clearly depends on internalizing such control. I am not sure I see howthe work is critical of such practice. Language facility can also be seen asfacilitating domination.
RG: Well, pointing out that I use the camera as a controlinstrument for "policing" myself when studying is rather a sign ofawareness of these imaging technologies and their implication in the ratheroften problematic process of the "making of a society". I go even astep further and see in the activity of learning itself a kind of"technologoy of the self" (Foucault), a kind of imprinting andtracing that is in many cases might be imposed, forced. In fact with most of myworks - Reading Seminars, S/L (seminars/lectures), Please, teach me ... etc. -I am very much interested in the question of pedagogy and education as a mediumor "state apparatus" (Althusser) for the reproduction of society asan ideological, economical, social and racial battle field. You are right thatthe question of domination and power is central to it (as well as the mediathey use), but this is presicely the point why I am interested in it, why I getinvolved with it, why I want to observe and intervene with it.
SP: How are the photographs able to do this job?
RG: The photographs aren't doing it. I do the job outsidethe show and any kind of by-product I offer there is intended to indexicalize,to link, to refer to my practices and ideas. But nontheless, I am now alsointerested in taking these photographs very seriously and try to speak of themas "pedagogicl photography". By pedagogical photograph I think of allmy photoworks that deal directly or indirectly with education. Education hasbeen always anathema to fine arts and was hated though it is of tremendousimportance to society...
SP: How has education been anathema to fine arts?
RG: This has to do with the very ideology of the bourgoiseconcept of the arts as independent and made only by geniouses. As a matter offact there are bysides Joseph Beueys and some more recent artists very fewpeople addressing the issues of pedagogy and education as artists.
SP: But there have been many artists who have played therole of artist as educator, at least in the general sense of using the work ofart format as productive of specific knowledege. It seems to me that, despite the problems, the failures,this was expressly the project of much so-called conceptual art, a project ofredefining the viewer (receiver)/object relation.
RG: When talking about pedagogy or education I don't thinkof conceptual art as far as it was redefining the viewer-object relation whichI consider as important. Art is hopefully always a kind of knowledge productionand the reception of art is mostly aiming for educational, in the worst caseseven for moral goals but this again is not what I am interested in. I am morethinking of artists who use educational setups for their art works and therearen't too many unfortunately.
SP: Let's talk about the "educational set-ups,"about the model of teaching as art practice. Actually you have made severalbodies of work now, each manifested as a particular teaching/learningsituation. The earliest, I believe, involved learning/teaching a foreign
RG: I have been interested in the study of foreign languagessince I'm young, in order to escape the rather limited environment of theAustrian Alps where I come from. But only with the critical studies of Eurocentrism (Said et. al.) Ibecame interested in using the learning of foreign languages as critical artpractice. In order to engage in the practice of "orientalism" Istarted to study Japanese in 1992 which I haven't stopped since then.
SP: How does the actual experience of learning/teaching aforeign language itself become an art object?
RG: In a way I see this transformation as a prolongation ofthe ready-made paradigm. With thedifference that it is not an object that is decontextualized, but an entirecontext, an entire framework, and entire institution which is that of education,that is dedontextualized. In orderto paraphrase this, I'm not making a "ready-made" but, engaging in a"trying-hard."
SP: "Trying-hard" for what?
RG: Since I'm not interested in some sort of conceptualgesture, I really engage in learnng these languages over many years.
SP: So what is actually transformed?
RG: The learning remains learning, but the motivations aredifferent, the context of the presentation is now an art one.
SP: But don't you think this presents the problem of turningthe learning/teaching practice into spectacle?
RG: From a certain perspective you are right.
SP: The spectacle can never be reduced enough.
RG: One of the problems with spectacle is reification, whichturns things into something else than they are supposed to be.
SP: Why did you begin with Japanese?
RG: Because Japanese is an oriental language and it isconsidered very diffcult to learn. Also with Japan we are dealing with a country that is challenging theWest economically, and that faces resentments in the media and in popularopinion. This is not to ignore mypersonal interest in Japan.
SP: And what is that?
RG: In fact, I didn't know much about it.
SP: So your interest was actually motivated more bytheoretical and political concerns?
RG: Yes, exactly.
SP: How does language function in relation to theseconcerns?
RG: It starts already with our perception of their languageand writing system, which is considered mostly illogical, because it isdissimilar to Western languages. Also, that there is almost nobody in the West that wants to learnJapanese, or any other Asian language. Obviously it is not by accident that I was interested in Japanese morethan, e.g., Vietnamese, since most of the economic and cultural exchange iswith Japan.
SP: So it is really a question of the West's relation to theOther.
RG: That's right, but we should keep in mind that it is oneconstructed through a not always friendly media. On the other hand, by learning the language myself, I triedexplicitly not to represent the Other, but rather about me learning thelanguage and what it implies.
SP: And what isthat?
RG: It impliedthat I began to have a completely different perception of Japanese people, andof Asian communities as well.
SP: Does it then, represent a model for overcoming culturalstereotypes?
RG: Yes it is one model out of many models of manypossibilities without implying that the mere study of a language canautomatically resolve stereotypes. The structural stereotypes that I have grownup with, have not disappeared, but I am more conscious about them now, and Iknow how to handle them better. Both the negative and the positive stereotypes.
SP: But there is still the problem of exoticizing.
RG: Of course, I'm confronted with that problem. This alsoincludes some version of orientalism. But one of my tasks is to really becomeaware of this kind of complicity with a long tradition and its multiple formsof orientalisms. It is not so much a project to observe or critique somethingfrom the outside but more one of entering, of getting lost and and of failure.From the moment on one starts to get in contact with people relationshipsdevelop which are of course never free of desire, interests and conflicts. Whenone adds cultural and linguistic differences, race, educational as well associal and class differences the image become very complex for everybodyinvolved. But as I can't repeat enough, it is a project of understanding,involvement and exchange that necessarily implies mistakes, conflicts andproblems and be it just the one's of communication. In the end it is also aproject of decenterting myself, of moving away from my mother tongue -something I have been doing since I am 13 years old.
SP: You say since you are thirteen. What precisely do youmean by "mother tongue," and why this project of de-centeringyourself?
RG: "Mother tongue" seems to be the word that isused in many languages to refer to one's first language, the language one talks"at home" which in my case was "Vorarlbergerisch", aAustrian dialect spoken by not more then 100.000 people in one particularregional area in the Alps. In school and in public institutions High German wasobligatory which I never really liked since it was the language of most of themany tourists that made us look like somehow exotic alpinist locals. German asa language is also the identification mark of a Nazi history Austria was anactive part of.
I guess decentering myself started when I started to studyon my own - Italian, French, Spanish - since I was 13. By the way English wasthe language of the institution, the school which I hated. These languagesallowed me to easily travel, to travel differently all around Europe trying todisguise my origins and intermingle with locals. This somehow continues untilthis day but now there are also racial lines I am crossing.
SP: How is this different than a project of tourism?
RG: In most cases I am not traveling. I have been studyingKorean for almost 2 years without having gone there or traveled for it. AlsoModern Greek I studied in New York, as well as Russian and Japanese. With thelater two languages, I eventually ended up going there. Of course, tourism is avery problematic phenomenon that is destructive as well as creative at the sametime. It is the middle class equivalent of global capitalism, the 747 versionof this new telecom-satelite-internet era with flying bodies who perceive theirencounters through cameras, postcards and other media without futherengagement. If I would have to construct a relationship with tourism, and Ilike the combination of "linguistic tourism" - something thatdescribes part of my motivations for learning until a certain age but notbeyond the point I started to study for my art work - it would be more anegative one, in order to point out the differences: engagement in a longprocess of apprenticeship, endurance, not traveling and tourism as a goal,interests and relationships of another type, critique of tourism etc...
SP: So you perceive yourself as attempting some kind of"authentic" or
let's say "more authentic" interaction with thisother, even if it is an
imaginary one conducted from your armchair (coffee table)?How would you
distinguish "encounters through cameras, postcards, andother media" from
your own encounters through cameras and language books? Weare of course
discussing the nature of the mediation.
RG: Making a difference between my language projects andtourism doesn’t mean that I have to introduce notions of authenticity. Ifmost of the time I don’t travel when studying how can I be related totourism in an authentic or inauthentic way? Most people I encounter who speakthe language of my studies are just living in New York like me. But of course,when I do travel, I become automatically a tourist independent of whether Ispeak the language or not.
SP: But don't you think you can be engaged in a sort oftourism without
ever actually travelling? a flaneur in language?
RG: Yes, you can if you want to be a“post-structuralist”, but I wouldn’t want to inflate the wordtourism since it has definite materialistic, economical, ideological, andecological contours I don’t want to ignore. A flaneur and a touristaren’t necessarily the same thing. Studying on a regular basis at home isa bit less exciting then being a flaneur in Paris at the time of WalterBenjamin.
SP: However practising language with another is somethingcloser to flanning, and closer to flirtation. This I believe is where yourmodel "kicks in," not in studying alone at home.
RG: You are right, but there are two aspects to be takeninto account: one is the very important daily live one - which of courseincludes also what you address - and the other is the so-called conceptualaspect which sets this practice up for discussion, for critique, for art. It goeswithout saying that they overlap and are not really separated.
SP: Could you discuss a little more the nature of thisoverlap? It seems to
me that the discussions you set up and the problematics youaddress are
really quite distinct from the other aspect which is thepractical one, and
which necessarily involves a psychological dimensionpossibly at odds with
the utopian (if you will) nature of the project?
RG: I don’t know what to answer you, because I don’t think usually about what I do except if there is a necessity, a decision to make, a demand, a question like in this interview or when confronted with “Why is this art?”. Apart from the fact that it would be utopian to speak all these languages I have been learning “perfectly” I don’t think that my project is utopian since I just want to offer something to think and not giving people any kind of utopian homework assuming that reflection hasn’t already turned utopia. Psychologically and socially speaking it “effects” me whether it is looked at as art or just as learning. So again, it is not a particular practice that makes it call art but it is my discursive and practical attempts to confront notions of art with it.