Aus der Serie "Seminars/Lectures (S/L)", 1995-97
12 color photographs, 8 wall labels with captions
49 x 59 cm each, framed 52 x 62 cm each
S/L is a long-term project in which, since 1995, I have attempted to present a sort of “representation of intellectuals.” I try to visit lecturers and teachers that seem interesting to me in their natural environment— seminar rooms and lecture halls—and photograph them. I hope that this visual research will provide a sociologically interesting picture archive of the speakers, their audience—mostly students—and the memory of the events themselves.
Each photograph is individualized with a title that contains the name of the speaker, the event, the institution, the location, and the time. As I have intimated elsewhere as well, most of the institutions in this photo series are privileged ones, where access to knowledge and its environment, if not directly bound to extravagantly high study fees—12,000 to 20,000 US dollars per academic year—is subject to indirect restrictions: Matura (Austrian high-school graduation exam), language and theoretical skills, entrance examinations, to name but a few. Privileges, knowledge, and power are opposed everywhere by powerlessness and structural discrimination that are coincident with social, ethnic, and gender-specific borderlines. These injustices are reflected to a high degree in such institutions, even though the lectures I attended mostly developed alternative and critical models of society and analysis.
Contradictions, however, are not only characteristic of this material situation, but are also inherent in the ecology of representation itself.
How do these pictures behave in relation to knowledge and to that which knowledge should stand for? What does it mean when the academic field, too, is in danger of being appropriated by a cultural industry predicated upon show, stars, and spectacle, and apparently made consumer-oriented—a new lingua franca? These questions can best be translated into the symptoms from which even the academic sphere is beginning to suffer, as it, too, increasingly succumbs to the trend of thinking in terms of so-called “corporate culture” and its PR-competitive situation. At the elite private universities in the USA and Japan, prominent academics are already being lured like sports stars with salaries, while “ratings,” “media presence,” handy “readers” put out by prestigious editors, theory tourism and even staged, theatrical, performance-style lectures are growing more and more important. In Europe, too, these tendencies are becoming ever more noticeable, particularly in art academies. The behavior toward and treatment of knowledge, or what can be termed knowledge in each respective case, is changing, as are the contents on offer. As someone who himself has a critical attitude toward these phenomena, I am interested in intervening in this process, and in raising awareness of the problem, though not with innocent means—through photography, exhibitions, lists of those portrayed, etc. (Rainer Ganahl)