Rainer Ganahl: Rziehungskomplex (Educational Complex);
Generali Foundation, Vienna, Austria
Rainer Ganahl curated "Educational Complex," an exhibition at the Generali Foundation in Vienna. It featured a vast body of his own work--79 selected color photographs from his series "S/L (Seminars/Lectures)," and was juxtaposed with a small group of works by other artists and filmmakers. With "S/L (Seminars/Lectures)" Ganahl has been documenting a variety of lectures and seminars, which he has systematically attended over the course of the last two years; photographing both the speaker on the one side, and the audience on the other. This work dominates (because of its size, scope, and elegant presentation) the exhibition space. The pieces by the other artists--the installation dialogue #1 by Mike Kelly, the photographs by Candida Höfer, and the films If by Lindsay Anderson and Blind, High School (and High School II) by Frederick Wiseman--therefore act in this context, rather as additions or comments on Ganahl's piece, than as solitary works by themselves. Kelly's piece for example--a hilarious but also extremely strategic dialogue on theory production conducted by two stuffed animals--is an excellent addition, and adds an essential critical viewpoint to the "theory-industry." In addition, Höfer's photographs, in this context, represent a limited but important (and intriguing) aspect to the overall theme of the exhibition. As an auxiliary, but integral, part of this exhibition, Ganahl offers reading seminars during the course of the show. These discuss and explain, in a group process, some of the subjects being taught by the depicted lecturers and philosophers.
Since 1995, Ganahl has been building up this enormous photographic archive of contemporary theorists and intellectuals. By visiting their seminars and lectures, Ganahl participates as an interested viewer, systematically documenting the lecturers as well as their public. Rainer Ganahl's pedantic endurance in his work is remarkable, and is one of the compelling aspects of this piece--and his art in general. Following a concept over the years, without losing or altering the initial context, is an important artistic exercise. This fixed dedication is one of the key elements of his art, which can be seen in all other work Ganahl has developed. When he, for example, teaches himself (as an artistic, theoretic, and experimental exercise) Korean, Greek, Japanese or whatever other language over the years without ceasing, one can see the same obsessed self-discipline and intellectual concentration. The fact that the artistic process relates to each work, and thus the work itself might never have an end and can always be expanded, is important. It is especially important in the context of this exhibition (one of education and learning), which, as we are taught from the first moment on, should never end.
Ganahl's exhibition functions on a variety of levels: at first glance it seems an overview of a certain intellectual scene, clearly recognizing the problems--but also the attraction--of such a self-contained circle. This is where theory and critique is only taught to the already converted, where it needs "message carriers" (they themselves being biased)--and Ganahl could be one--to break the barriers and spread the intellectual discourse to other fields. On a micro level, it is a documentation of each of the speakers and his or her particular audience and surroundings; exposing hierarchical levels, stature, and attitudes of the lecturer as well as the interested followers. But, and maybe most importantly, it is (as already indicated with the term "message carrier") an impetus; an invitation to get engaged with the curated, intellectual discourse, which is also being offered in Rainer Ganahl's reading seminars--an integrated part of the piece and the exhibition.
Rainer Ganahl seems to be the ideal artist/curator, as in his art (especially in his Reading Seminars), he already includes and documents the artistic and intellectual work of other artists and philosophers. Thus, he is experienced in assembling a group of ideas, works, artists, and theories. On the other hand, Ganahl immediately interprets this work, picking out the aspects that fit his way of thinking, and limits the meaning of the other artist's work. (This is also obvious in his texts for the catalogue, where Ganahl gives excellent analyses of parts of the work by Anderson, Höfer, Kelly, and Wiseman which are of interest to him). Nevertheless, this strategy demonstrates the overall concept of this exhibition.Including the works of the four aforementioned artists, Ganahl has not actually curated a show but rather juxtaposes or complements his work with several smaller works from other artists, whose work reflects an aspect in which he is singularly interested i.e. altering, or at least highlighting, certain parts of their work for his purpose and the overall theme of the exhibition.
The intellectual discourse is an essential part of Ganahl's work. It is not only the exhibited material, but also the additional explanations, documents, and supplementary texts which (being available for the visitors) are of importance. In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, Ganahl discusses at length a critical attitude towards an institutionalized intellectualism which is offered in universities and museums--privileged institutions with restricted access because of tuition fees, educational demands, cultural boundaries, and requested intellectual capabilities (therefore always discriminating to the public at large). Ganahl raises all sorts of problems that are apparent in today's educational realms. If this text should be taken as an inherent critique of the "theory-industry," it has to remain, of course, a rather ambiguous one. When Ganahl describes the problematic nature of elitism and the access restrictions of the theory-teaching institutions and lecturers depicted in his series, one has to admit that his exhibitions and reading seminars are elitist, being held in similarly elitist exhibition spaces, with similar requirements in regard to education and conversational skill.
Ganahl outlines the problems of superstardom of the new theorists being nurtured by privileged universities, but he himself is attracted by the fame and importance of these lecturers as well. Thus, Ganahl can only offer an overall critique of the weak points of the institutionalized educational programs (criticizing economic, technological and socio-political, monetary, ethnic, and other limitations, coming close to an Oliver Stone-like all-embracing conspiracy theory) but it is impossible to offer a solution. Rather, we have to acknowledge the fact that Ganahl is an artist who is highly aware of the inherent problems of a system in which he flourishes, and whose proponents have an enormous relevance, attraction, and influence on him and his artistic development.
New York, New York