Act of destruction

with Rainer Ganahl

Along with the famous Bicycle Manifesto, doing reading seminars for Rainer Ganahl is one of the main artistic practices since 90’s. Perhaps at least half of the planet has personal relation with Lenin’s text on imperialism and no matter how evil or influential has it been for particular people or countries’ future. Matters only the question – what can be still learnt out of the book and the discussion which time after time turns into the Dadaistic act – social and political background of the original writing. But how it deals with the book destruction presented as the video documentation of the performance in the same exhibition hall? Rainer Ganahl speaks about the memory examination and alternative ways of rethinking.

CaucasusArtMag: One of your main artistic practices since 1990’s is Reading Lenin…

Rainer Ganahl: Yes, and I use very specific book for that. Book about imperialism, which is very important part of my artistic universe as the imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism. The book was written in 1916 in Zurich, opposite to the Cabaret Walter – the historical and social background of Dada and of course the book itself. From this point, I’ve developed the huge work called Dada-Lenin and reading seminars since the early 90’s. Basically this project consists of communal readings and discussions, though I’m not as much interested in the historicity of the text as in its current viability. And never ask at any particular process how many people has Lenin killed, or how miserable the Soviet Union was for Georgia. For sure I’m not blind towards other questions but it doesn’t keep me from reading the book. I think it’s very informative text that can still teach us a lot. It’s the content that everybody seems to hate or ignore. For instance I’m trying to find this book here, in Tbilisi, Georgia. I’ve already phoned literary to all the book shops around. People are getting upset – are you crazy? This book belongs only to the library or trash bin. It’s impossible to find elsewhere. But still I’m planning to make one additional work, the book destruction. I have destroyed the same book on the red square, Moscow. Firstly the police threw me away and then extracted the money. It was very fanny. They caught me for hooliganism and then asked for dengi, dengi (Russ: money).

CAM: Is it a challenge for the public?

R. G.: Georgia has this very comic, extremely intrinsic I’d call Dada-Leninesque relation with Russia. Russian language was once dominant here and now people are trying to get rid of it. Of course you encounter new problems doing that. Because, it’s not only learning project, but unlearning as well. It’s a biggest unlearning project in the history. Unlearn Russian. And this is crazy because Russia is still important under no matter of conditions, it’s gigantic, it has lots of resources and economic parts. It’s creasy even if Canada says we don’t want to have US here. Georgia is intrinsically linked this way. It’s somehow the similar situation which the Nazi Germany had with Switzerland. Independent from that the history is very complex. We know Stalin comes from here and so forth. Each particular discussion has its specific historical and local contextual reference to the reality. I’ve been destroying the books for over the ten years. And these book destructions were very aggressive. As we have very fetishistic relationships towards the books, it’s perceived more than just destruction of physical object. Historically speaking all book destructions is very severe and they are all very indicative of political and ideological climate. That is very problematic. Also I destroyed Freud – Psychoanalysis and people got upset. The woman came and screamed to me – why do you destroy this book?! – Somebody wanted to save it. When I did it with the Lenin book on the Red Square, to my surprise, people were photographing the act and nobody was actually saying something, but the police who wanted dengi – money. So currently and that’s only currently destroying the book like Koran can cause havoc, you know like around the world people kill each other. So it becomes again incredibly political and explosive and it’s a nightmare. I’m not touching any religious icons, but as you know Lenin was almost a religious icon and now this icon has no sense. So you need really proper understanding at least to read this, and project it on the history of what can happen when you destroy other types of books.

CAM: But probably it is also about how far you go with unlearning practices, no?

R. G.: Yes, in my sense the act of destruction is the way of preservation. Because after the book is destroyed, I bring it to the certain places like an icon. Back in to the museum context.

CAM: The way how you make people to remember …

R. G.: Exactly, about the action by offering this object. I offer something in many ways, but I cannot prescribe people how to look at it. I can guide, I can invite but I’m not in charge of controlling. Here I want to destroy Lenin on the Stalin’s place.

CAM: The book and its historical context… the idea of the book melted during the years with different approaches and attitudes towards the proposed ideas as the ice cube will be…

R. G.: In reference to Francis Alys?

CAM: Maybe, because it’s also doing of something.

R. G.: When you keep the ice cube, which I think is the great piece; it is more like also the Mexican city context. And it’s also like the act of fertility. The ice itself is like, ideologically neutral. It doesn’t care about the content as such. It has connotations, but it’s not a carrier of content. The book is not just an object. People are associated a lot with the books, they are attached to them. It touches the stomach. It hurts you.

CAM: But if to continue this way can it be called purity? Something like a common symbol of purification?

R. G.: It’s not necessary to think about purity when you look at the ice. You think about the cold. We think about something cold. For example I don’t drink the water when there is ice. Because I know that the water of which it consists is not pure. So I don’t like to have ice in my water. I prefer to have water than this industrial cube of ice, the piece which was held for a long time in a plastic and so on… So the ice is opposite of purity, for me but the book is neither pure. I don’t know where this concept of purity comes in; I mean I can’t really deal with the purity.