Back to Reviews
by Maria Wutz
How to Reinvent the Coffee Table Or the Exhibition as Interface
In our society in which profit is the goal of all things, art does not escape more than religion the logic of the market economy and is found equally compromised in the daily power struggle. Today, pedagogy alone seems to offer a possible space for resistance. Joseph Beuys had well understood it by creating the Free International University, where his commitment as teacher has appeared more political then art related
Though he deals directly with political problems, it is as an artist that Rainer Ganahl practices his pedagogical activity. Whether it is during his reading seminars which he organizes and leads, or whether he spends hours studying foreign languages, Ganahl does not cease to be an artist doing so. What concerns him is less knowledge as such but the ideology that goes with it and the situation it creates. It is not so much about preparing the conditions of a hypothetical social change by working through the mind and consciousness, but to institute already, here and now, a different situation where the pressure of power struggles and profitable imperatives are replaced by the generosity of exchanged ideas and shared knowledge. In the seminars of Rainer Ganahl the "coffee table" (see his title below) as place of encounter and discussion constitutes an islet of liberty in the middle of spectacular communication.
"Resistance is futile" is a slogan proclaimed everywhere on posters of the latest Star Trek. We have to take this message from the entertainment industry very seriously, because it makes all revolt look like luxury. The price to pay has raised since most often, it is one of social exclusion. The intelligence of Rainer Ganahl's work is to successfully maintain its viability and its legibility in the world of art while operating as artist in an other context. The honesty of his approach lies in the fact that as he teaches he is a real teacher, and as he studies he really studies. In other terms, his teaching is never a simple pretext for his video recordings, the reading seminars are in no way an alibi for photographing, the pedagogical practice is certainly not the motif for an exotic ready-made as an exhibition. By prolonging the computer metaphor that characterized other works of Rainer Ganahl one could say that the exhibition is the interface of his work.
The Paris exhibition at Galerie Roger Pailhas consists of color photographs that show different moments from Ganahl's multiple seminars organized around the world--Moscow, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Stuttgart, Florida--with his different national versions of a portable (not so ideal) imported library, or how to reinvent the coffee table: 25 books for instant use. Next to the French Version of his portable (not so ideal) imported library... there is also a box of ten video tapes allowing the visitor to see and listen to the entire seminar organized for the Villa Arson in Nice. One also finds a poster of the reading seminar he is holding on the internet (http://www.thing.net/thingnyc/wwwboard2/wwwboard2.html),discussing for the moment Julia Kristeva's recent book Sens Et Non Sens De La Rèvolte as well as a draft for a publication the artist is editing to resume his reading seminar projects. All these elements situate itself for the visitor as to be taken and used as instruments.The very intriguing aspect in the exhibition are the photographs covering most of the gallery space. These are not mediocre documents one could have expected done in the name of neutral objectivity refusing any esthetic effect. On the contrary, a real esthetic pleasure seems to have inspired the faces of his participants, positioned them on the picture, ruled the lighting and decided its colors. One sees nevertheless clearly that there are no mere posings, that the whole is done simply, the camera passing from hand to hand around the table. Everybody was taking pictures, close ups or larger views, while discussing. It was then that the artist chose from the documentary mass the images that are strong in their banality, strange in their simplicity, and finally beautiful in these paradoxes. The interesting aspect of this current exhibition resides in the new status of this photography which Ganahl calls provocatively "pedagogical photography." By the simple gesture of hanging them without respect for any chronology or space, these images, taken during his seminars, pass suddenly their status as witness document to that of by-product. Rather than to coagulate in some sterile radicalism that would not allow for any art work in a pedagogical institution and that would exclud him from any art context, Rainer Ganahl, thus, takes the example of the entertainment industry and anticipates for a demand by the art world in offering what is expected: by-products. It is not about fighting against the market that structures the system of the art world, but to neutraliz it in order to protect the space where the work is really done. The artist who refuses to produce decorative objects has the choice between disappearing or becoming himself a decorative object. But Ganahl has made an unforeseen choice. The product with which he makes the exhibition is no longer a specific object, but a specific public, since he works elsewhere.
Back to Reviews