war on ...

southfirst stamps


Stamped - ambivalence and paranoia, censorship and self-censorship in a minor case of artistic civil disobedience. - - plus personal greed and no respect for an artist (and lets not talk about curruption and power
(unedited 3/04)


In the world of art social clocks work slightly differently. It is a fecund ground to observe and experience social behavior that is considered rude, opportunistic, pushy, fake, nervous, unsocial, and sometimes even criminal when it comes to material aspects of this business: Words and promises not kept, art works not returned or stolen, and money owed, never paid or never passed on to the artists.

Being treated with disrespect is therefore nothing extraordinarily uncommon for artists. Recently, I have commenced paying specific attention to some cases in which disappointing or disrespectful behavior is more then just myoptic social “hedging” in an imaginary run to get ahead. I am now interested in the social, ideological and structural contexts of organisatorial misbehavior. Exhibition practices and politics have really become a cottage industry that exceeds the mere cultural dimension. Observing and describing exhibitions or proejcts that go wrong is for me now a way to come to terms with them and look whether there is some extra knowledge to gain that is beyond the personal and the petty. In the case of a project in Italy with Claudia Zanfi as the main curator for the wealthy towns of Modena and Sassuolo with the wonderful title “Going Public”, stress, disrespect, lies, deception and greed mixed with a context of regional racism and exploitation of Arab migrant labo .



In this essay, I’m going to describe the experience I have had so far with a very specific stamp project initiated in 2003: I have produced a collection of unofficial postmarks from a series of ball pen drawings that could be grouped together as War on T error-drawings or referred to as “Bushisms.“ War on T error was the significant wording used by President George W. Bush in the after-match of the tragic events of what became known as 9/11. These drawings all consist of terms that are already defining the legacy of this administration: 9/11, War on T error, Evil Doers, Afghanistan, Enemy Combatant, Operation Enduring Freedom, Homeland Security, Old Europe, Operation Freedom Iraq, Shock and Awe, and Patriot Act. I’m not elaborating here on the politics behind these “Bushism” or on the history and often cynical meanings and usage of these terms thought it is remarkable that “Old Europe” didn’t think that America was at War after September 2001. Old European theories on war and t_error understand t_error as asymmetrical methods of fighting against which a war cannot be declared. The bitter and tragic irony of history seemed to have rendered exactly this theory true in as far as the attack on various countries have brought t_error and t_errorism to a hitherto unknown and desperate intensity without resolving any problem. The problem of t_errorism becomes more and more acute and ubiquitous. Unfortunately, the pool from which Islamist fundamentalist t_errorist networks can recruit has incredibly increased and rendered the entire world less safe. Iraq is the most obvious example that has been transformed from a place without t_errorism to a breading ground of t_errorism as well as a symbol of failed international US politics since it divided even former allies on the subject.

Given this hostile political world climate dominated by t_errorism, preventive war doctrines, unilateralism, Homeland Security, U.S. Patriot Acts, global Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism it is no surprise that everybody in the USA – and not just here – has become a little bit paranoid. Sometimes, I have even had dreams that were characterized by political paranoia. Free and critical opinions on the current state of affairs are not only curbed by unconstitutional interpretations and redefinitions of laws but also by a subtle mechanism that doesn’t want to be named but can be called self-censorship.

Political self-censorship is a very complex and subtle mechanism that requires as much political understanding as it requires psychoanalytical acknowledgment. Am I an easily scared person to begin with? How far is my understanding and interest in politics? To what degree do I identify with political opinions or actions? To what degree do I even feel guilty for trying to understand the situation of our opponents, i.e. people who are willing to bomb us? When I spent 6 month in Tokyo, I was using a bicycle that was lent to me by a friend. Almost every day, I was stopped by the local police and asked for ID and the number of my Japanese bicycle was checked against a list of stolen items since I was considered a thief due to my racial otherness. Over the course of weeks, these permanent and repeated were not just annoying but also produced a degree of anger, paranoia and psychological effects that astonished me. I stopped using the bicycle, got scared and paranoid. I almost felt guilty of stealing the bike that was lent to me. For the first time, I started to have a slight idea of how it must feel to be an Arab or African immigrant who is regularly checked in most European urban centers.

Lets return to my stamp project. Given the magic quality of photoshop and a special kind of scissor I was able to fabricate small artworks inspired by US postal stamps for international usage – 80 cents. These I used for sending a series of special postcards depicting the World Trade Center to friends, galleries and museums I was currently working with. No authorized stamps nor a return address was added. The legality of this artist stamp project is highly dubious and I do not want a legal case to be mounted by US postmaster or anybody else against me. My intent never has been to damage US postmaster, the US public or the US taxpayer. My intend also never has been financial gain from these do-it-yourself stamps. These stamps are meant to be purely artistic. They are a case of artistic civil disobedience high-lightening the problems of handling the post-9/11 complex by this given administration. Since I am not copying existing stamps, a 5 year maximum prison sentence as allowed by US law for stamp fraud could hopefully be avoided in legal proceedings against me would be mounted.

I’m aware that many artists have fabricated and sent mail with their own stamps. Even before their was an entire art movement called mail art in the 1970s, Ives Klein in 1957 and 1958 had sent his invitation cards with stamps depicting his own art works – anticipating Maurizio Cattelan’s and many others that have engaged in self-made stamps featuring their own art works. Some of the reports also speak about legal complications and legal proceedings against artists. What makes my series of stamps a bit different from other projects – as far as I can tell - is the chosen sensitive political content in a hyper-nervous public climate characterized by a new department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, public spying, mutual eavesdropping and security color alerts creating censorship and self-censorship. I also use WTC postcards and write texts that could be understood as government critical or provocative. In addition to this, when it comes to commercial galleries, I try to implicate the dealer as well as the curator collector in this act of civil disobedience with its legal limbo. A collector interested in it receives the card addressed to him/herself. The collector has the option to just keep it or to drop it in the mail box risking to be caught in this game with US postal services and US authorities. This game can have multiple outcomes: the cards return with classical hand stamped postal marks, with automatic postal marks like bare codes or stickers or the card may disappear and the purchased item is gone. In such a case there remains a chance that the collector could get a visit by an investigator if the accumulation of cards that don’t make it through the mail process could constitute a legal case and accumulate in an office file for later bulk delivery. As some legal experts have suggested it could even be in defiance of the written law to possess or show postcards that arrived with these fake stamps – but again the situation is open to interpretation and can be contested.



Now, I am going to focus on two negative experiences I have had with these post cards leaving out numerous positive cases that are still in the making. One of my first postcards with these Bushism-stamps I have sent to Nico Israel a critic and writer who just had completed a paragraph on my artwork entitled “Iraq dialogs” to be included in an article concerning artists working in relationship with Iraq to be printed in Artforum, January issue 2004. Artforum collected my images and a fact checker completed her job with me. To my big surprised Nico Israel disapproved of my postcard. He got nervous when I forwarded the image of the postcard I already had dropped in the mail. A couple of days after he understood that the card was sent – it never made it through the system – I got an email in which he told me that his editor removed my paragraph from his article. He added that being removed from a written article even after it has been fact checked is nothing unusual and is in no relationship to the postcard. Now, I got paranoid. Below is the sequence of emails sent to me by Nico Israel that show his political nervousness about the card as well as explains that the wording and timing made me suspicious, paranoid and think of censorship in spite of his assurance to the contrary. Today, I am not saying that this writer removed me from the article based on the postcard but I admit that it raised in me the spectrum of censorship. I do not hold anything against this writer but decide to write about this – risking further disapproval by him – since it gives an idea how complicated, unclear, confusing and paranoid our time has become.

(email addresses and irrelevant parts that the email repeats from quotations are removed )

Thursday, November 27, 2003 9:37 PM
could you send it to my work address: c/o –REMOVED-
thank you!
Quoting rainer :
> dear nico
> how ar you
> what is your address. I d like to sedn you a postcard wiht one of my special
> stamps.. (a bit illegal.. so only private.. and you don't have to know where
> it comes from)
> r



Friday, November 28, 2003 8:48 AM
rainer, it's an interesting piece, but i honestly think you ought to consider
what could happen to the recipient. (maybe you have?) given the present
political climate, it's likely to draw attention from the homeland security
department, and i'm really not sure i want to have my phone tapped (and i'm
sure artforum feels the same way).
> nico..
> I sent it already.. just to artforum
> hre it is. I don' tknow whether it will arrive.. since it is a bit
> "bricole"....and against ht law..
> but let me know whether you get it..
> also again, thnaks
> r
> the stamps are from my drawing series..


Friday, November 28, 2003 8:49 AM
so please don't send it to my office address. ok?


Friday, November 28, 2003 2:02 PM
it's not that i'm worried that they're going to actually think i'm involved
with al qaeda (me--an american jew, what a thought!) but that i get on some
list or something--which i probably already am.
you might think i'm being excessively sensitive, but if you look at what
cointelpro did in the 70s, you might not...
happy thanksgiving.


Sunday, December 7, 2003 11:46 AM
Dear Rainer,
No--I didn't get the postcard. Maybe they got it at Artforum and haven't yet
sent it to me.
While I have you on line, I have some news that will probably be disappointing
for you. As my piece on Iraq was being edited, the paragraph on your work got
cut. My editors decided that the center of the piece was art related directly
to "being there." This often happens in the editing process--it's just one of
those things.
Thank you for being so cooperative; I'm sorry it didn't work out.
Best wishes and happy holidays to you.



Right after this experience I stopped sending postcards. Some people who received them enjoyed them highly, with only a minority of people who didn’t seem to be pleased by these cards. One instance that also contributes to our subject I remember well though I will not name the people involved. When I asked the wife of a friend of mine whether they received my card – showing her a sample – she started to yelling at me furiously for doing so. She was afraid that her husbands naturalization process could be jeppordized. The fear of my fellow Americans spilled slowly over to me and I became myself very concerned about the possible legal complications since I took it only as artistic disobedience and not a potential legal problem. I stopped sending them but continued writing them: Instead of an address I would write sentences like ”dear US postmaster, this is not for you” and handed it over to friends as presents.

At that moment, Maika Pollack and Florian Altenberg from Southfirst Gallery in Brooklyn came by to visit me for a drawing show. Pollock immediately liked the stamp project and wanted to include them in her upcoming “works on papers” show. I proposed her a series of drawings using the postcards with the stamps without sending them together with some Bushism drawings. The dealer insisted and wanted postcards sent to the gallery in spite of the possible legal implications. I agreed and started sending 12 postcards with the uniform address: “dear collector.” 10 or so arrived.

I also promised and sent a postcard to the dealers directly as a present. At that moment we didn’t discuss the issue of pricing. Later on the phone Pollack mentioned 150 dollars a card. Having had a pricing issue with them before I didn’t object. Only a week into the show I became aware of the pricing problem since only one card was postmarked by US postal services in a classical manual way. The rest of the cards were postmarked mechanically with strip codes or were delivered without any postmark. Two cards did not make it through the mail system. At this point I decided not to sell the postcards individually, but as a combined set. This idea was also reinforced by the most likely correct assumption that the boldly stamped card would be sold first and the rest of the cards would risk to be left behind. At the same time I was considering this stamped postcard for reproduction in BT, a leading Japanese art magazine that just wrote an article on me and asked for pictures. I didn’t want the gallery to lose an opportunity of sales at the agreed 150 Dollars a piece and therefore decided to offer postcards addressed personally to a potential collector with the scheme already described earlier. In my letters to the gallery, I clearly underscored the illegal aspect of this project and addressed it openly. I very much appreciated the idea of a collector as a co-criminal law offender, a collaborator in the legally inculpating sense of the word.

Interesting enough, a petty dispute erupted over the postcards with the stamp. Maika Pollack was not anymore interested in the postcard addressed to them personally but wanted to keep for herself my postcard with the big black postal mark which I declared to be a part of a series to be sold as a set for a higher price than she proposed.


Wednesday, February 4, 2004 4:57 PM
No, for us we are taking one each from the ones that we already have.
> On 2/3/04 12:53 PM,
–REMOVED- wrote:
>> wasn't necessary or useful.
> remember that is th privat one for you both.. not for the show
> I asked you whitch addrss.. you prefered southrifrst addrs
> but stop sending..


After I made it clear that she cannot just keep one or even two postcards of her choice herself she aggressively decided – without a phone call to clarify the situation – to eliminate me from the already running group show, erasing me from her press release and any gallery information, i.e. falsifying her own gallery records.

Saturday, February 7, 2004 1:40 PM
It was clear to me from our discussion before the show that we were to keep
two postcards from the show, one for each of us, from the postcards you
sent. It was also clear that I was to price the work and that it was all
for sale. I don't have the kinds of problems that I've had with you with
other people. I am very sorry that you hold yourself and your work in such
high regard but that is your right as an artist. I find, however, that your
behavior is neither consistent, nor really tolerable.
I will have to take you out of the show due to the misunderstanding. Please
come to pick up your work--all of it--by next Sunday, a week from tomorrow.
I will remove you from any press and cards about the show.
I really tried my best to work with you, but I think it is not in the cards,
All best,

> -------------------

My question in regard to censorship and self-censorship is whether it was solely the disrespectful behavior of a young dealer that caused the removal from a group show. Could it also have been due to the fact that the operation was crossing legal boundaries implicating the gallery into potentially costly complications? This case for me shows how psychological shortcomings mix with sensitive questions of censorship and self-censorship.

Rainer Ganahl, March 2004



Quite surprised about the result of Googles search machine when entering my name and the infamous T-word, I decided to change the spelling of the word in order to evade simple google searches. This is just another significant instance of self-censorship and paranoia which I like to point out.

April 2004




so the conflict started when she fell in love with oine of the arrived cards for hte piece in her show....and wanted that...

but she actually was nor respecting the work as a work but wanted to just pick the best. also it s pretty unusual that a curator, a gallery owner forces a person out of a show bc he she doesnt donate the piece... incradibel


see how these works are supposed to look ...




war on t...

southfirst stamps