Friday, October 14, 2005

Learning Rainer Ganahl

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, and unable to change the date (the cards were printed), my friend Bill gave an intimate gallery talk with Rainer Ganahl, whose work he curated in the exhibit "Please, teach me..." at Columbia's Wallach Gallery.

I first learned of his work when I had an "emergency" dinner with Bill and Karen while waiting for Jason and Mariani to land at LGA (I was picking them up). Among their many fascinating pieces were a few postcards Rainer had sent them using postage he had created. Then later in the summer I was reading a report from Momenta which had shown his work.

Please Teach Me's subtitle is the "politics of learning". The exhibit has three main sections. The first is institutional, or dispository learning, as Josh informed me. Where there is an expert giving information to an audience. The section consisted of photographs Ganahl had taken at public and, not so public lectures, beginning with a class he audited from Edward Said.

There is an element of celebrity in the series, finding Said, Chomsky, West, Koolhas among others. At the same time, I felt there was a subverting of how people idealized institutions like Columbia or the Cooper Union, in addition to the cult of personality, with these very informal, intimate photos, of people perhaps a bit shabby, but nonetheless gathering highminded ideas.

The second section was individual learning, particularly language learning, and Ganahl's documentation of his learning of German, French(Canadian), Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, and Arabic. The process is embodied in the formidable stacks of video cassettes of footage of his study sessions. I thought the stacks were a marvelous representation of the discipline to study language for hours upon hours, much as the discipline in a military parade feels impressive. It was also interesting how he explored how immigration forces language learning for some; and in other cases language bridges some conflict, such as his study of Arabic as the Iraq came to be.

The third was group learning, reading in a group, or dialog among two or more actors. Prime among them are a series of reading circles Ganahl organizes to read line by line various master pieces. He will lead a reading with high school students as part of the this exhibit.

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