venice biennial 2007


"Anna Sansom"
Dear Rainer,
I am a journalist and have been commissioned to
> > > > write an article about
> > > > politically oriented art for Wonderland, a
> > bimonthly
> > > > arts and
> > > > lifestyle magazine published in London and
> > > > distributed
> > > > internationally. Please see
> > > >




6 Questions from Wonderland

Anna Sansom:
1. How did you begin working on 'Homeland Security’?

Rainer Ganahl: Homeland Security is the third work of a series of language-based videos. The first was called “Basic Feelings” 1997 (“today, I feel miserable;” “heute fühle ich mich scheiße …”) and the second – during the bombing of Yugoslavia – “Basic Conflicts” 1999 (“My country is the greatest”, “Mein Land über alles”… “I only believe in dollar”, “Ich glaube nur an die Mark”; etc.. Homeland Security was produced in the winter of 2002/2003, at the hight of paranoia, xenophia and general war mania here in the USA. I imagined myself being investigated by Homeland Security, a newly made department with a quasi-Nazi sounding (Heimatsicherheit) type of name. You can see me with long hair – inspired by the American Taliban fighter, John Walker Lind, captured in Afghanistan, after having seen a MalcomX movie, that inspired him to read the Q’ran and learn Arabic. I pose in front of a work from my series “Afghan dialogues,” embroideries made in Afghanistan showing some typical elements taken from Network news design. You see me uttering fife different sentences in all the languages I have been learning so far. The sentences – I’m not a terrorist; I am not a relgious phanatic; I don’t know how to build bombs; I don’t give money to terrorist networks; I am not downloading dangerous information from the internet – are translated like in a language lab. At the origin of these video clips lies my work that consists of learning languages, eleven so far, as part of my artistic practice.

2. Was your concept to address how the Bush administration has internationalized a vocabulary related to its war on terror, and the disseminating role that a global media network such as CNN plays?

You are perfectly right, that the Bush administration / regime introduced its own vocabulary and knew very well how to instrumentalize language for their politcal ends. Like in other works, that focuses on the political and manipulating use of language I produce some kind of parody that still seems to unnerve some people. Only yesterday a Wallstreet review on the Venice Biennial, that accused the curator to cater to Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism, they singled my video out and called even the British historian Eric Hobsbawm who I photographed for my series “Seminars/Lectures” a “radical”. The fight over lanuauge, and media power becomes in times of war very blatant and brutal. The question over the politics of representation is central to most of my works.

3. What message do you wish to convey?

There is no message. Its more about questions and confusions. Foreign languages we can’t understand have something unnerving, unstabilzing and also comical. Me speaking Chinese is producing a different effect then when I speak in Arabic, a language that is currently difficult to dissociate from disastrous headline news. These clips try to mess with various paranoic cliches of media, politics and langauges.

4. Through repeating the same expression in 11 languages, are you hoping to enforce the impact of sound bites?

The eleven languages are the languages I have been learning over the last 16 years as part of my conceptual practice. I reiterate them in the inverse order of how I learned them, putting English first/last as reference language.

5. To what extent is 'Homeland Security' also a critique on the role and responsibility of global media networks?

Behind my long hair, which I grew for this video, you can see the network logo “CNN” and “live” embroidered in silk. My face is shown not only like in a police head shut but also like some live reporter from a war zone reporting back by videophone.

6. What is the relevance of the linguistic order – from Arabic first to English last? And how fluently do you speak these 11 languages?
As mentioned above, it is about the reversed order in which I have learned them over a long time. Given the concept of these clips I wanted to start with the “unfamiliar” languages, like Arabic, Chinese, Korean etc… given the Eurocentric context I’m mostly frequenting. For my artistic practice, it is not so much about linguistic performance and mastery but more about studying itself. In most of these langauges, I’m really fluent but this is also due to the fact that I have been learning languages since age 10, and mostly on my own, outside of schools. But it is also no wonder, that the result of “My first 500 Hours Basic Arabic” – 250 VHS tapes in boxes of 10 showing me studying - has evaporated due to the specific difficulties of this particular langauge. My modern Greek never materialized to something usefull since I only studied “3 months, 3 days a week, 3 hours a day – Basic Modern Greek” (120 hours in 60 vhs tapes in 6 boxes) and “5 days, 5 hours a day – basic Modern Greenk” (25 hours). And my nearly 1000 hours of recorded Basic Chinese learning since 1999 could need my presence at the next Olympics for refreshment. (Is there any curator to invite me?)

7. Regarding your photographs of events at conferences and universities – what types of events are you most interested in attending and photographing and why?

Well, I attend classes and lectures I’m interested in wihtout being systematic or programatic. Attending the seminar “The representation of intellectuals” by Edward Said at Columbia in the early 1990s gave me the decisive kick to start this ongoing photo series, entitled Seminars/Lectures. Universities are very important interfaces where society produces and reproduces itself. The politics of education and the nexus of knowledge, privilege and power are of major interest to me. Class rooms and audiences look different in the USA and in Europe, in schools that are free or schools that costs 50,000 Dollars yearly. Who sits in there? I like the way people look when listing, talking and thinking. I like to link boring pictures with less boring topics and references that are dominated by the title of the lecture and the name of the lecturer and their heterogenic public. Last but not least, a lot of my work is related to the langweilig (long durée – boring) subject of learning, reading and listing, practices best entertained in universities. Apart of making art, I also learn something and it keeps me going; Universities, teachers, books and languages make sense even witout any artworld.

June 28th, 2007