Seminars/Lectures – Rainer Ganahl

For over a decade, I have been accumulating a small archive with
photographs captured mainly but not exclusively in university class
rooms and lecture halls. During such events in the classrooms, my
photos describe not only of the lecturer, but also of the
audience/listener/students, and of the various pedagogical slide or
film projections. These photos therefore give a certain idea on the
production of knowledge, how knowledge is thus exchanged within
concrete academic settings, and therefore revealing people in their
intellectual habitus. The idea for this S/L series came to me while
auditing a seminar by Edward Said entitled “The representation of
intellectuals” at Columbia University in the mid-1990s. This on
going photo series has for me become the back bone for an artistic
production with a specific aesthetic; visual and intellectual scope
marked by administrative systematism, continuity and contingency. As
with other works of mine, these photographs have a strong indexical
quality and refer to a body of knowledge that present my interest
in issues of cultural critiques and politics - issues that are
vibrant in understanding today’s social world.

The perspective of the camera is not an objective one but rather the
view of a participant, a listener, a student. As with other artistic
practices of mine that make sense even without the institution of
fine arts – studying foreign languages, reading seminars, dialogs
etc – this work series makes me attend classes and lectures that
are usually most likely only followed by students or fellow
academics. I sometimes participate in discussions while taking
photographs in the same setting. I mostly work with the given light
and from the place I am seated without using flash light and without
changing or elevating the camera for shooting. Since I have been
living in New York since 1990, my list of attended seminars and
lectures mirror not only the my intellectual interest but also give
a certain cross section of US intellectual history. On my travels to
Europe I also visited universities and lectures including those in
Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna and other places. Thus, I have
been in a role of an intellectual flaneur/activist functioning so
far mostly outside the market system.

Currently, Europe may seem to experience a fundamental crisis in
educational politics. The classical European national education
system must redefine itself within the context of an ongoing
globalized supra-national formation that is confronted with new
demographics and new market driven university models. This S/L work
proves to be at the center of crucial current and future European
debates on educational politics since a good number of the
institutions and universities I have visited in the USA were held
in expensive and diverse private Ivy League schools and public
schools with tuition. Today, most continental European universities
are still more or less tuition free but such private market driven
universities are only about to be considered now. Completely
different than the continental European situation, the US academic
market has been very early, very actively engaged in a kind of
rapid educational decolonization. Higher US education has thus
opened curricula dramatically for the introduction of non-European
literature and thinking. Higher US education has also been pushed
through the aid of “affirmative action” – the privileging of
minorities – for the need of more diverse faculties and students.
The USA is also a platform for an international educational market
that is massive in volume, all in terms of money and consequences,
and of which an equivalent outside America is rare.

What came to be known as “multi-culturalism” during the 1990s can
very clearly be understood in my photographs of lecturers,
audiences as well as in the titles of visited presentations.
Europe’s demographics are also undergoing a massive transformation
and its traditional curriculum will soon be challenged from a
stream of new students that don’t share the same national
mythologies. From this point of view, these images record not only
a decade of educational changes in the USA with its drastic
difference to European institutions (only few people of color
attending or lecturing in European institutions I have visited) but
also provide a image of what European universities might look soon.

These photographs of intellectuals in their working environment
address not only the representation of intellectuals but also point
to new phenomena to come: the marketing of intellectuals services
by an ever growing and important educational industry – something
that is immanent due to the technological possibilities of
archiving, internet screening and marketing. My artistic work will
therefore soon not only be part of our intellectual collective
memory but also part of an outmoded technological area; when
comparing my still photographs with the state of the arts (i.e.
digital capturing capacities) that are already available and yet to
come. It is only a question of time before not only guest lectures
but regular classes also will be digitally recorded and offered as
marketable services.

The reception of these photographs has proven difficult since the
main orientations of these works are indexical and referential in
nature. For some people familiar with the intellectual theater
certain photographs of students and professors may perhaps take on
the quality of some extended family album, and even to the extent
of visual gossip. For others, no single individual on the
photograph is recognizable but the lecturer may either be known or
the subject of the lecture may be sympathetic or hostile to the
audience. We also have a non-reading public that is unfamiliar with
the names of these lecturers and the photographs which make it
harder – yet not impossible – to relate with these photographs. The
same goes with the interest in the subject of the S/L sessions
documented. Power relations are not only inscribed in the photos as
such – Who is allowed to be in these often expensive private
universities? – Who plays a role in the reception of these
photographs? Who has the educational back ground to refer to these
intellectual properties? How do people react to these photos? Who
feels excluded from this type of educational real estate?
Higher education in our socially divided capitalist world is a
highly contested and valuable asset that stands and reproduces
privilege and class power, social mobility and exclusions. Until
recently, there had been even only a singular notion of legitimate
“culture” which had its home base exclusively in the Eurocentric
museum, the art gallery, the university, and the library.
Decolonization of our minds proves to be an endless process. Also
classism, racism and cultural arrogance keep living on as a major
problem and are mirrored in the reception of these images. European
curricula based on 19th century old notions of an imaginary national
unity are even more coming to be under pressure.

From the very beginning, I have tried to attend lectures that very
much address these issues and are oriented against a curriculum of
cultural arrogance. This S/L series is for me therefore some
instrument that not only lets me stay in touch with current
discourses – I love the role of a student – but also allows me to
articulate specific subjects by simply using these tacit, non
speaking images in non-S/L specific exhibition contexts. Even if
all participants are unfamiliar to me and my ideal beholder, and
even if everybody on the picture looks somehow bored – our current
visual idea of people listening, concentrating and listening is
contradicted by my images – the title of a lecture still can ring
bells: “Is terrorism forever,” “Female genital mutilation,”
“Xenophobia in Europe”, “Anti-semitism”, “Muslim representations,”
“Glory and misery of pornography” etc..

By now, this series is over 10 years old and I intend to continue. I
have come to realize that these images “age better” than I do and
that its complexity in reading them grows and far extends my full
understanding of it. To a certain degree the S/L series teaches me
and leaves behind some kind of intellectual diary that is more than
private visual thinking and note taking. I was quite happy and
surprised when Artforum (February 2004) asked me to reproduce S/L
image of classes I visited by Edward Said and those of the Whitney
program since both are people and institutions that are at the
origin of my artistic and critical practices.

Each S/L unite contains at least 2 photographs but can also include
more. The size of the given photographs are 20 x 24 inches
(approximately. 51 x 61 cm).











<< return