Re: Question to ganahlmarx - "No. 2"

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Posted by rainer ganahl on November 28, 2000 at 14:38:32:

In Reply to: Re: Question to ganahlmarx - "No. 2" posted by Craig Martin on November 28, 2000 at 06:57:44:

>>Q2 -- Craig Martin - : My point concerning the failure of a "textual" reading was based on the assumption that a textual/structuralist reading becomes overtly concerned with
an analysis of the text itself, rather than its content. Saying that, I agree that Althusser's work has been necessary for a sustained interest in Marx; I first became interested in
Marx's work through an early reading of Althusser. His Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses is still a very important text for me, given its points concerning the
relationship between the economic base and the supposed cultural superstructure - this work has sustained my belief in the possibilty of using culture as a tool for social action
in itself. This leads me to ask a further question: I'm interested not only in the idea of reading Marx 'a-fresh', as you rightly point out, but also in the act of reading as a cultural
activity; for example I'm interested in this activity of reading as an artistic practice through the work of Art & Language, particularly their Index work from the early 1970's.
What then would you see as precedents for your work with the Karl Marx Reading Seminar?

Q2 : Rainer Ganahl:
I think that culture is always the ensemble of social actions expressing common values and interests shared by a community. Any given cultural formation is therefore either respected, shared or ignored if not even hated and declared unlawful by others. But these formations and reactions to them are never absolutely fixed and its inclusions and exclusions, its forms of expressions are always in dialectical movement.

Let me give two example: drug using has to be looked at as a cultural practice though it is against the law and disrespected by the majority. But the definition of drugs and its aesthetic appeal and acceptance before the law as well as on movie screens and in public discussions can change and shift. Art collecting can often stand for established values, money, power and investment. This ideological determination can even be true when the real believes of a collected artist were against the very group that ends up collecting them. But of course, the process of identifying with certain objects and practices in the making and sustaining of cultural formations is permanently shifting and as such object of discussions and fights.

It is Marx that teaches us how material interests as well as social and institutional back grounds inform us in this process. It is Marx that explicitly points out that the development of technologies, the level of production, exchange, transportation and communication is crucial in these processes of taste and ideology formations. Cultural manifestations are often supported by social and institutional frame works, be it the state or the ones that are loosely defined by civil societies.

Introducing reading as a part of an artistic practice is therefore something that needs discussions and may encounter rejection since reading comes from a realm that is traditionally regarded as non-artistic. Working with reading in a field that doesn’t acknowledge it before hand as a valid artistic practice provokes interesting questions about the very nature of art making, its definition process and of its communities.

I started using reading for my art work in 1994 in Tokyo when I was showing in a museum an art work of mine entitled: “A Portable (Not So Ideal) Imported Library, Or How to Reinvent the Coffee Table: 25 Books for Instant Use”. This work played originally the role of pointing to European’s history of cultural imperialism. It accompanied my studies of Japanese as art practice – something that is another aspect of my work as an artist. Once I saw the books sitting on a shelf I soon realized that I wanted to actually read and discuss them with people that came to visit the museum. So every Saturday, during my show, I was reading by myself or with people coming.

From that moment on I made reading with an interested public a central element of my art work and an integral part in many of my exhibitions though not all reading projects do have the prospect of an exhibition schedule. In addition to mere reading I also found a variety of ways to present these common discussions and readings via video tapes, photographs and on the internet ( – a medium we are using right now for this discussions. The books and the status of the books change: sometimes defined as art works sometimes not ; the format of the reading seminars changes: sometimes institutional sometimes just private; and the authors and topics change according to the context and a specific interest I or my co-readers express. The resulting video tapes and photographs have become a systematic and central part on my exhibition circuit where they take on a role that go beyond the mere performance aspect of it.

A part from these art works, exhibited or not, the community creating aspect as a result of my interaction with readers is very important to me and the dynamics of these reading projects. I have learned to appreciate that entering a community and often even creating one is more satisfying and socially rewarding than just hanging on a wall in a gallery, a museum. I can learn something from it and enjoy the social exchange in these discussions of texts. Flying to a place and staying for a certain time, interacting with a group of people, getting to know them better and learning to understand how they look at things via the medium of a given text, is for me a relieve to all the current international show circus. A part from that I was trained as a theoretician and do have a certain drive to mediate texts, to inform and provoke discussions. Given the current state of cultural affaires with spectacle, entertainment and ever changing consumption of “new stuff” offering this direct and demanding person to person approach surrounding the common discussion of a texts somehow makes a difference in which I believe.

So as you see, I can speak only of my own back ground which I tried to outline a bit. My precedents for closed group readings have been more academic: An on going seminar on Wittgenstein, when I was 20 at the University of Innsbruck and a one year long experience at the Whitney Independent Study program with Ron Clark for which I moved to New York in 1990. But I would be very interested if you could tell me more about Art & Language’s use of reading in their work of which I am not really familiar.

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