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Keep moving away from your Mother Tongue...


(Rainer Ganahl – Momoyo Torimitsu) 1999


MT: Could you be a little bit more precise. What do youread, write, learn, and teach?


RG: For example, for almost a decade I have been learningforeign languages as part of my art. I have been studying Japanese, ModernGreek, Russian, Korean, Chinese as my art work. I have been learning on aregular basis over many years. I don't do this just as a short livedperformance act. The decision to incorporate learning into art making has beenmotivated by my studies of Edward Said's critique of Orientalism, a fundamentalcritique of Eurocentrism that shows how the cultural apparatus has collaboratedwith imperialist politics and ideologies. Therefore my linguistic choices havebeen Oriental languages since they are also considered difficult or impossibleto learn for Europeans. Already in the appreciation of languages negative orpositive stereotypes surface something that changes when studying.


MT: But doesn't learning so many languages drive you crazy?Don't you forget them again?


RG: In a piece of mine I once came up with the slogan"Keep moving away from your mother tongue." I embrace that slogan. Itis true, this kind of studying is definitely a decentering practice, but thatis the point. In today's world people must learn to "de-center"themselves and to cope with cultural, racial, sexual, and social differences ina better way than we see it on TV reports over Kosovo. Concerning the secondpart of your question, I – of course – forget languages. I am not acomputer or a genius. My language study project is not about perfection. It isabout "basics" and remains dilettantish. In a world that lures withperfection, art is mostly involved in some kind of strange diletantism.


MT: Aren't people asking you why your studies are consideredart since every student studies? What is it you actually show in an exhibition?


RG: I could return your indirect question with a directquestion: What is art? Every artist has to answer this question for himself.There has to be a permanent change of what is considered art; otherwise we willend up selling post cards and turning culture into kitsch. If we always acceptthe same products as art we lose the essence of art: vital discussions aboutart and its social context is what it should stand for. In my case studyinglanguages, holding reading seminars or publishing books [Rainer Ganahl,Imported - A Reading Seminar, New York 1998, Semiotext(e)] is as much part of alarger commitment to communicate and express something than installations orthe production of objects or photographs. What I show in an exhibition contextdepends from show to show, space to space. For example, my work for the currentgroup show "Conceptual Art as Neurobiological Praxis" at ThreadWaxing Space here in New York is about my Chinese studies. The major piecethere is called “My first 500 hours Basic Chinese” and consists of250 Video tapes. This work is accompanied by my “Basic Chinese”photographs and my “Basic Chinese” study sheets. The photographsshow me studying and the works on paper are simply my study sheets.


MT: What are all these tapes for? Do you tape yourselfstudying? Nobody can watch 500 hours of video tapes.


RG: You are right. I tape myself studying. The taperecording makes me study and quantify it. It monitors me and creates a kind ofan external (Freudian) linguistic super ego. But it also tries to representsomething that can't be represented. I am particularly interested in thisparadox: trying to show what cannot be shown and create some kind ofinformational congestion where there is really nothing to see. The point ofmaking my studies the only subject of representation and monitoring isprecisely to focus on the biased and "impossible" task ofrepresenting others. As such it is not so much about the other but - and almostin a Kantian, transcendental sense - about the (linguistic) conditions of thepossibility of communicating with the other and - in a psychoanalytical sense -with oneself.


MT: You largely privilege language. Is that where you"live" since you left Austria about 15 years ago and have beenpermanently settled in New York?


RG: Language is the most important cultural property peoplehave though we are not aware of it as long as we aren't confronted voluntarilyor forcefully with other languages or linguistic barriers. We live, weremember, we speak, we think, we work, we dream in language, we are thrown andset and have to find ourselves a place in it. I grew up in a linguistic border  zone - indeed a linguistic struggle -since I was a child. Freud wrote about “Civilization and itsDiscontent” (Das Unbehagen in der Kultur);  I grew up with a "discontent in dialect", a"discontent in Austrian German", and now, – in our time ofglobalization, digital communications, unlimited mass transportation and theculture of post-national mergings, code sharings and alliances, I could sayeven: "discontent in German," and "discontent in any Europeanlanguage other than English." Of course, speaking for myself, I feeldiscontent also in English and in any other of the 10 languages I somehowmanage to utter something in. So living in New York for me is almost"natural" since it is a diasporic place with a vast array of speakersof different languages. It is "unheimlich heimlich" if we falselytranslate "unheimlich" as "un-homely" and not so muchuncanny. But the uncanny quality is what makes New York so vital.


MT: Are you happy about your invitation to the VeniceBiennial?


RG: Ignoring the organizational chaos and the short notice,I say  yes.  Venice will be a pleasant and playfulexcursion and a place where many people with many languages will becirculating. But for my contribution the Venice Biennial isn't so much locatedin Italy but “at home”, i.e. anywhere I move: I am allowed to usethe generous budget not just to produce works in the traditional sense of theword - expenses for the creation and transportation of this and that object -but to "invest" it in teachers who teach me Chinese, Japanese,Korean, Russian and so on over an extended period of time. Apart from theinstallation and presentation in the Austrian pavilion I will maintain anInternet site (www.ganahl.org)  forthe discussion of language issues in the age of globalization. My contributionwill expose small "national" traces and use only modest visual signs.


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