Copying Newspapers – Coping with News

Having been invited to the Second Biennial of Tirana and to an international exhibition in Vilnius, I opted for art works consisting of newspaper tracings. For both events, I searched The New York Times for writings on Tirana and Vilnius. Electronic search machines assisted me. According to the definitions and the criteria one inputs, different results show up. They are accompanied by a comprehensive summary of the articles. I’m forced to make a selection and limit myself to three articles for each city. This selection is a representation of these places by The New York Times and narrowed down by my personal interest. The choice itself becomes part of the process reflecting my ideas about these two locations. It becomes a hard copy manifestation of a latent imaginary landscape.

I created my first New York Times drawing in the summer of 2002. The article was about a young British-Pakistani man who turned from a promising student at the prestigious London School of Economics into an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist. When it became clear that president George Bush was determent to invade Iraq, I started to collect and copy all the articles leading up to the war. Hand copying is different from mechanical or electronic modes of reproduction. This process is meditative, painful and time consuming. I quickly had to abandon this Iraq series due to the accumulation of articles. By hand-copying news reports I discovered the esthetic flip-side of news publishing. I opted for this futile yet effective way of coping with the news when the mass media’s coverage of the War with Iraq put me at odds with mainstream American news reporting. Anachronistic slowdown and fetishistic futility in chronicling chronicles seem to freeze frame historical events. Petrifying pleasures on paper are the results of futile finger-swelling tracings of micro-thin newsprint’s lettering adding to the stupor of “Shock and Awe”.

During the Cold War both Tirana and Vilnius existed for many years behind the Iron Curtain with viable information blocked in any direction. Severe press censorship was the norm. Soviet style communism and the Albanian version of Stalinism evaporated and changed news profiles. New stereotypes were re-established quickly: Poverty, corruption, lawlessness, civil unrest, illegal immigration, boat people, prostitution rings, drugs, illegal arms trafficking, mafia, killer capitalism, and an incapacity to deal with a dubious past. Therefore, it is interesting to see in Tirana a big international fine art event which promotes an image of international normalcy to attract tourism, foreign investment, and prevent legal and illegal emigration.

We are touching on the representation of others. I reciprocate by asking my hosts to select articles about New York City from their local newspapers. My counterparts have the disadvantage of less sophisticated archiving systems with insufficient or no electronic databases for their newspaper articles. Biennial stuff member Majlinda Agolli from Albania complained that she spent 10 days in the National Library “without finding an interesting article about New York.” She concluded: “People here are busy with themselves and New York is too far away to ‘explore’.” I could add that this could be true for any city, including New York. The New York Times reporting on these remote parts of the world influences New York’s investment and business communities. It also is of interest to those who were victimized under the Nazi regime or later under Communism living now in America. (see appendices). In Vilnius, exhibition coordinator Renata Dubinskaite selected a series of articles reflecting her interest in New York. She also wrote to me about insufficient electronic archiving. The newspaper clippings she sent detailed certain aspects of New York City life: mafia, sex, and drugs. Ironically, she touches on the same stereotypes about Lithuania predominant in America.

Historiographically speaking, these drawings are part of our collective memory. The practice of hand copying writings evokes the work of Middle Age monks who spent their lives duplicating books and chronicles in libraries. Before the advent of the printing press and other mechanical means of reproducing and distributing information, life turned slowly. Today, historical events are mostly recorded, reflected and distributed in audio-visual format with digital technology. Newspapers are about to become anachronistic. They have difficulties competing with audio-visual media like TV-broadcasts, Satellite stations, cable-networks and the Internet. Although changes in the news media are more complex: TV-hosts summarize newspapers on air, while newspapers themselves appear on the Internet. Writers use the Internet and satellite technology as well as electronic means to distribute their articles. A society’s complexity can be measured by its capacity to replicate and process information. Larger European airports station distributors offering hundreds of newspapers from around the world to be instantly downloaded and printed. Newspapers are “ready made” - my way of copying and coping with its content is not, I have to “try hard.”

I will soon travel to Tirana and Vilnius and try to read these foreign newspaper articles in their original languages. For this performative work, local people will assist me. I will strive to get a sense of how each language works and what the articles say in detail. I will incorporate papers produced from these studies plus a video documentation into my presentation. Reading and learning processes are integral to my artwork with foreign languages. Studying foreign languages as an artist is something I have explored for over 10 years. I’m currently studying Arabic and Chinese. I am unable to learn a language within a few days. My job in Vilnius and Tirana will therefore be restricted to translations with special excursions into how these languages function. The traveling and the decoding of these foreign newspapers will conclude my newspaper work.

Rainer Ganahl, July 2003, New York



Articles from Tirana selected and summarized by Majlinda Agolli. The articles do not include the name of the authors:

This is how I defeated Levinsky: the wife of the American Ex-president Bill Clinton narrates in a book how she saved her marriage; The war of the Clinton's, a very much liked and criticized book, Balkan, June 6, 2003. These two articles are on Hillary Clinton while she was presenting her book in the Spring of 2003, accompanied by a story on Monica Lewinsky, showing her in a photograph at least as big as senator Clinton’s. The Americans thought Hillary would open up as a human about the difficult moments of her life, instead she wrote a book as part of the presidential campaign. An explanation about the long road of the Clintons is given there. She emphasizes the fact that democrats should pay attention to foreign politics.

USA invites Albanians: Invest in Iraq, Korrieri, April 18, 2003. A picture shows a Baghdad ministry that had been bombed. George Bush has invited Albanian companies to invest in the reconstruction of Iraq. The president invited all the countries that have taken part in the coalition to do so. The participation in construction is considered a good opportunity for Albanian companies to expand internationally. The rebuilding process will be divided evenly between American companies and the rest of the coalition. The Albanian government is planning meetings with the business community.

Albanians Escaping the Islamic Terror of New York, Koha Jone, November 17, 2001. The story is about Bardhyl Quku and his daughter who were both working in the World Trade Center and about Aldo Mita who was working nearby. Mister Quku is a successful manager who has worked for Morgan Stanley for 35 years. His three daughters were also working at the WTC. Two of his daughters took September 11 as a day off. Danielle, his third daughter was on the 30th floor but was lucky to escape. Mister Quku arrived late to work and witnessed the disaster as he was approaching the WTC. They lost many friends. Another survivor story was less dramatic.

Before I give my selection on Tirana as provided by The New York Times, I would like to insert an excerpt of the results that showed up in my research of Tirana and Albania from 1996. All abstracts taken from The New York Times are written in an idiosyncratic English and are preserved unedited.
A Scoffer at Albania's Old Regime Scolds the New
Albania's Old Habits
Albanians, Cash-Poor, Scheming To Get Rich
Albania's Democracy Has Full Support of U.S.
New Bricks, Same Old Walls For Europe's Poor Nations
In a Poor Land, a Classic Swindle Leaves Rage and Emptier Pockets
Mikel Cardinal Koliqi of Albania Dies at 94
Balkan Pyramid Scam Shouldn't Breed Smugness
Albania Struggles to Contain Dissent Over Lost Investments
Eastern Europe's Wild Capitalism
Albania Chief Tightens Grip In Crackdown On Protests
Albanian Emergency
As Fears Grow on Albania, European Envoys Try to Mediate
Rebel Albania Port Prepares to Repel Government Attack
In Bow to Rebels, Albanian President Proposes Elections
Europe's Role in Albania
Albania Chief's Associates Flee; Gunfire Halts Evacuation by U.S.
'Europa, Europa' Was Our Cry

In Poor Albania, Mercedes Rules Road, by Daniel Simpson, The New York Times, November 10, 2002, ABSTRACT– Virtually every model of Mercedes-Benz produced since 1970's can be seen on roads of Albania, one of poorest countries in Europe; cost of new Mercedes is amount majority of Albanians would take lifetime to earn, and official Mercedes dealership on outskirts of Tirana, Albanian capital, sells only 50 cars per year; most Mercedes in Albania are used, and most of them are imported legally; spare parts are easy to find; Albanians are able to buy used Mercedes with money sent home by one million Albanians who have emigrated during last decade; photo (M) This may be one of the poorest countries in Europe and its bumpy, winding roads a world away from the German Autobahn, but the most popular car in Albania is the Mercedes-Benz. More than a decade after Communist rule collapsed in the Balkans, most Romanians still drive copies of the boxy Renault 12, made by the local car company, Dacia. Traveling around Serbia, you are more likely to find yourself stuck behind a sluggish Yugo or Zastava than overtaken by the latest BMW.”

Tirana Journal; In Albania Politics, Are the Changes Skin-Deep? by Daniel Simpson, The New York Times, November 21, 2002, ABSTRACT – “Life and politics have changed little in Tirana, Albania, despite superficial face lift in city center; Mayor Edi Rama, architect of city's recent transformation, admits it will take long time to make city attractive enough to deter more people from emigrating; residents are pleased with clean-up effort; opposition leader Sali Berisha and Prime Min Fatos Nano, once implacable enemies, are united in their distate for Rama; map; photo (M) The murky trickle of water that flows through the center of the Albanian capital still gives off a foul stench, but the rest of downtown Tirana -- one of the least appealing of monuments to the drabness of brutal Stalinism -- is getting a facelift. Various shades of pastel paint adorn the city's decaying concrete tower blocks; bulldozers have cleared away hundreds of illegal kiosks to create parks and flower beds; stylishly dressed young people with little apparent gainful employment sit at outdoor cafes and sip endless espressos.”

Albanians, Cash-Poor, Scheming To Get Rich, by Jane Perlez, The New York Times, October 27, 1996. ABSTRACT – “Pyramid schemes with links to Government have emerged as major economic engine in Albania, attracting investments from some half of adult population; International Monetary Fund and World Bank, pressing for end to economic excesses, are urging Government to crack down on such schemes; economists fear inevitable collapse of schemes will have major impact on small economy (M) Gjergi Peci, a poet and translator, sat in his easy chair and explained how, like hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, he could afford to relax, not work too hard and even buy a grander place in the future. A few months ago, he sold his apartment in a good section of this dilapidated capital for $30,000, paid off some debts and sank $20,000, his entire savings, into a pyramid scheme called Vefa. He collected his first interest payment of $3,200 a few weeks ago, he said, and is confident that he will get $6,400 more and his principal by February. At least, he is sort of confident.”

Articles from Vilnius selected and summarized by Renata Dubinskaite. The articles do not include the name of the authors:

The myth of mafia’s honor has smashed to stinking smithereens: the famous family of NY’s gangsters that had inspired writers became a pathetic group of robbers, Lietuvos Rytas, October 25, 2001. The article reveals detail by detail the fall of the mafia family tortured by inner conflicts and wars. The main idea of the article is to juxtapose the honorable past of NY mafia embodied by Joe Bonanno with the shameful behavior of recent leaders. Tommy Pitera’s gang cut up the bodies of the victims into pieces.”

The mayor of New York is entangled in the advertising of marihuana, Lietuvos Rytas, April 11, 2002. As one can see on the image, the topic is how the mayor of NY advertises normal marihuana smoking.

After 2000 years the spirit of Caligula revived in America: in NY terror sex has helped some people to create an illusion of a new life support, Lietuvos Rytas, September 7, 2002. Few days after September 11th in New York, a lot of people engaged in wild sex, referred to as ‘terror sex.’ The terror helped to find real priorities. Not work, not money, but partnership. As in other historical precedents wars or disasters push people to sexual intercourse.

Before presenting my selection on Tirana with abstracts from The New York Times, I am listing excerpts on Vilnius from the years 1997 and 2003. For 2003 the search machine listed the following:
Glass Walls to Bunkers: The New Look of U.S. Embassies
Nazi - Hunting Center Criticizes Austria
PLUS: AMATEUR BASKETBALL; U.S. Fails to Advance In World Juniors
A Painter Who Was Horrified by War, but Also Inspired by It
Discarded War Munitions Leach Poisons Into the Baltic
THE PRESIDENT IN EUROPE: ST. PETERSBURG; Putin Asks Europe to Open Borders to Russian Visitors
Lithuania Cheers Overwhelming Vote to Join European Union
A Lithuanian Legend's Century-Old Quartet, or Most of It
Rightist Wins Presidency In Lithuania
THREATS AND RESPONSES: A DANGER TO COMMERCE; Old Trading Partners Are Concerned About Effects of the Split Over War
American Says Painting In Spain Is Holocaust Loot
THREATS AND RESPONSES; New Allies Back U.S. Iraq Policy
INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS; Latvia's Oil Routes Dry Up as Russia Alters Flow
A Delicacy, and Indelicacies; A Family Tale of Infidelity, Drugs, Suicide and Caviar
Remember The Fear; Europe: Lithuania: New Leader To Uphold Europe Plan
For 1997 the search machine listed the following:
Honoring A Savior; Once an Exile, Now President
TRAVEL ADVISORY; Genocide, Recorded by Victims
Sugihara's List: A Drama Of 6,000 Jews Rescued
Clinton and 3 Baltic Leaders Sign Charter
U.S. to Back Baltic Membership In NATO, but Not Anytime Soon
European Union Taps 5 for Talks on Ties, but Excludes Turkey
Reporter for Russian TV Freed By Belarus, Easing Tensions
Pope, in Poland, Reaches Across Borders to Push a United Europe
Clinton's Good Deed
Lithuania Has No Right To Keep Jewish Archive
A Jewish Heritage Endangered

Vilnius Journal; Is Big Brother Being Replaced by Big Oil Company? by Michael Wines, The New York Times, September 19, 2002 ABSTRACT - Williams International, Oklahoma conglomerate that owns 27 percent of stock and exclusive management rights in Mazeikiu Nafta oil refinery in Vilnius, Lithuania, will turn over keys to Yukos Petroleum of Moscow, Russia's second-largest oil producer; $85 million transaction gives Yukos 54 percent of refinery's shares and control of business that not only dominates Lithuania's gasoline supply, but also contributes tenth of its gross domestic product; deal catapults Russia into ranks of Lithuania's top foreign investors, and this gives Lithuanians pause; photos; map (M) This is a story about a Lithuanian oil refinery, a fact that might ordinarily stop all but the most slavish reader. But not many oil refineries symbolize a people's aspirations and fears. Not many refinery stories pack a surprise ending. The Mazeikiu Nafta refinery symbolizes all that. As for the surprise ending, Lithuanians got it in late August: after secret negotiations, Mazeikiu Nafta's American manager sold its stake to the Russians.

Vilnius Journal; Unearthing Heroes (and Lithuania’s Edgy Past), by Stephen Kinzer, The New York Times, October 6, 1994. ABSRACT - Investigators in Vilnius Lithuania have found the remains of more than 500 people buried in Tuskulenai Park. The park, during the Lithuanian rebellion of the late 1940s, served as a secret execution site for the KGB.

Lithuanian Calls for Remorse For Crimes Against Jews in War, by Stephen Kinzer, The New York Times, September 23, 1994. ABSTRAC - In the first public effort by a Lithuanian leader to atone for crimes that Lithuanians committed against Jews in WWII, Prime Minister Adolfas Slezevicius appeared on TV on Sep 22, 1994 to urge citizens to acknowledge and repent for shameful aspects of their country’s history. He said the government assumes responsibility for prosecuting those who participated in murder and ordered that black crepe should be flown next to the flag on Sept. 23, the anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto.