"Please, teach me..." Rainer Ganahl and the Politics of Learning

September 28–December 10, 2005

Contemporary art touching the core of a university's mission to educate will be on view at Columbia University in an exhibition titled "Please, teach me..." Rainer Ganahl and the Politics of Learning. The exhibition presents more than 200 conceptually based photographs, videos and artist's projects that operate at the junction of art and education. This is the most comprehensive gathering to date in the U.S. of work by Rainer Ganahl, who represented Austria in the 1999 Venice Biennale.

For more than ten years, Rainer Ganahl's oeuvre has offered a subtle exploration of the points of overlap of art and learning by engaging both as mutually imbricated rather than mutually exclusive. Through the examination of preexisting practices and the production of new ones, he creates possibilities for image and knowledge production that partake of each other. Much of Ganahl's work falls into several ongoing series of distinct types: Libraries, S/L (Seminar/Lectures), Readings, Studies, and Dialogs. These series—each examining a different aspect of the formation of knowledge—comprise a variety of media, including photographs, videos, books, wall texts, and tapestries.

Ganahl has had numerous solo exhibitions in Europe and New York and was selected as one of three Austrian representatives to the Venice Biennale in 1999. Though he now lives in New York as a US citizen, much of the work included in the exhibition and documented in the catalogue has never been exhibited in the U.S. and some of it has never been shown.

Ganahl's work is based on the documentation, in photographs, video, and other formats, of processes of learning. Sometimes he documents existing situations, as in his S/L series, where he attends and photographs seminars and lectures by leading scholars. He also creates his own educational environments, as in his Libraries, which are collections of scholarly books, intended to be perused by gallery visitors; and in his Readings, where he photographs and/or videotapes invited participants as they analyze theoretical texts with him. Ganahl also examines the processes and mechanics of education. His Studies are portraits of himself as a learning machine, documenting his efforts to study new languages; and his Dialogs, undertaken as either interviews or collaborations that explore cultural differences, engage with learning as a process outside educational or quasi-educational institutions.

William Kaizen, a Columbia University doctoral candidate in art history, is the curator of the exhibition and primary author of the exhibition catalogue. The publication, issued in conjunction with the Wallach Art Gallery exhibition, provides a comprehensive overview and a scholarly exploration of the artist's oeuvre. In her introduction, Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak discusses her personal connection to Ganahl and finds in his work an answer to Marx's question "Who will educate the educators?" Kaizen's essay takes up the politics of Rainer Ganahl's claim that education is art's "abhorred other" and explores the means through which he creates possibilities for both art and knowledge production. A color plate section with commentary by the artist includes more than 400 images that document Ganahl's varied artistic practices during the past decade. Two additional contributions by the artist—"Marx and again Marx: Antonio Negri interviewed by Rainer Ganahl" and "A Portable Library for Columbia University"—expand our understanding of his practice.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the gallery will host a gallery talk with William Kaizen and Rainer Ganahl on Thursday, October 13 at 6 p.m.