Broken Language

Rainer Ganahl

In terms of globalization I think what I read in the New York Times is interesting. A recent article talked about the Mayor of Treviso and his attempt to keep immigration away from his city. The interesting thing is that Treviso is also the home of the headquarters of Benetton, a multicultural, globalized company that trades on its public image as a promoter of a multicultural society… Obviously they make money from the kind of things that become associated with globalization. When we talk about globalization, one could ask: “What is really changing?” Nothing necessarily changes, and in particular Treviso, Benetton, and the racists… Every country has probably the same thing…
As an artist, languages are something that have been defining me from very early on. I was born in a little Austrian village, in the mountains, where we speak a kind of German dialect. Austria was one of the participants of Nazi’s craziness… As Austrians, we have all had to deal with this history, so I always wanted to learn Italian, Spanish and French… Trying in some way to disassociate myself from all that. Then I started to study oriental languages, with the first being Japanese. I then discovered ancient Greek… In Germany you have a Greek immigrant population that is looked down upon, whereas in school ancient Greek was something of an educational holy grail. I also began studying Russian, Korean and Chinese. I learned a lot from Edward Said’s studies on Orientalism and his critique of Eurocentrism.
Talking about ceramics, what is interesting to me is the relationship to the hand, and my way of using the hand, also involves using the brain. The brain is a kind of muscle and what you do if you take up the medium of ceramics is to stabilise something, it takes time and learning. And also, the repetitive act of learning takes years and years. It is almost like burning and putting the ceramics into the kiln…. I do not want to fetishize, either the hand or the brain… Obviously, it is the conceptual aspect of learning and making these references to the history of those practices that preoccupy me in my work as an artist. Now, may I say something about how I use language within an artistic context? For example: one piece is called My first 500 hours basic Chinese, and all I do is film myself studying Chinese. The work I create is next to works on paper — study sheets — a large sculpture consisting of piles of video tapes. The camera stresses surveillance and makes me study hard. These recorded tapes show the impossibility of representation in the sense that one cannot really watch 500 hours… In addition, these tapes begin to lose their information through ageing, a process equivalent to forgetting. Not-remembering is part of that entire practice. Recently, I also started working on My first 500 hours basic Arabic. Studying Arabic has this meditative quality of relating and engaging with these cultures without really engaging. It prevents me from going insane over news reports about this region. My practice of studying mimics the Kantian principle of enquiring into the conditions of the possibility of knowledge. The speaking of foreign languages is a privileged — albeit not sufficient — condition for successful cultural interactions. I am really interested in all institutions of knowledge production: the main institutions are universities and panels like this. There is a politics of the university. One of my works is called Seminar/lectures and consists of photographing professors, lecturers, students and audiences. This is why I am taking photos here too. In Europe, the Universities have been organised around the ideology of nation-building and which creates a lot of problems today in terms of integration of diverse cultures…  The nation state has to deal with false concepts: what is it to be English or Italian? Can you be English or Italian and not white?
In contrast with Universities in Europe that are still mostly state sponsored with little or no tuition fees, universities in the in the United States are very expensive. They are not obliged to adhere to a national culture and are now universities of excellence, where performance is measured in market and monetary terms. Education has become an investment. the university is almost a corporate product that operates like a corporation, and they are all competing. Another kind of work I do, involves reading seminars. My reading seminars consist simply of reading with people. Over the last ten years I have been reading many authors including Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon. Right now, I’m going to Florence to start a group Reading Antonio Gramsci. I love to engage people in learning processes.

Excerpt from the Proceedings of the “Local ceramic traditions and globalisation of contemporary art” conference, 19/20 October 2002, Fortezza del Priamàr, Savona.

Conference proceedings Local ceramic traditions and the globalisation of contemporary art

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