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Natascha Sadr Haghighian

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'present but not yet active', 2002, Performance, video, photos, Manifesta 4, Frankfurt am Main

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"Quicksand" Exhibition catalogue (De Appel): Vice/Virtue - English

Natascha Sadr Haghighian
Interviewed by Solvej Helweg Ovesen

Solvej Helweg Ovesen:
You have worked in many different formats: guided tours, newspapers, interactive sound installations and in Quicksand you present an animation, Vice/Virtue, - is there a core to your praxis and interest that runs as a line through these works?

Natascha Sadr Haghighian:
The way I work is a constant process of researching, manoeuvring and doubting. The different formats are intermediate results, comments, reactions, proposals towards and within the contextual formats I encounter during my attempts to emancipate myself from them. Every format seems to be part of a larger one and follows certain rules. They are mainly rules of representation and hegemony. Sometimes hidden, sometime very obvious. But every format I produce inevitably becomes part of that. To find out more about this mechanism I did a project on art in hospitals for example [Point of View with Michael Guggenheim]. We tried to examine how hospitals choose and use artworks for specific purposes. In another project I tried to find out why art was used to promote the pharmaceutical industry [Touch the Screen]. In both cases art represents a certain cultural claim of the contextual format. It basically works the same way in a museum.

The impossibility of escaping the rules of representation creates the desire to defrock them, slander, offend, destabilize them, and make them loose their authority and power. I guess you could see that as my main focus. At the same time I try to eat, drink, sleep, meet and collaborate with other people. I guess a lot of the impulses come from that as well.

You compare a prison yard with a stage in your animation Vice/Virtue – it seems both sites share characteristics in terms of how they present a claustrophobic space simulating ‘freedom’?

I was working on the project The Making of Islands. It was about isolation techniques on several levels. The term ‘to isolate’ actually comes from making something an island, an ‘isola’. I was wondering why isolation techniques where so successfully used as a means of punishment, as scientific practice and at the same time for creating value and meaning within many cultural spheres. Here you pick/chooses/isolate something or someone and state that this thing or person was specifically interesting, valuable or bad. Through the selection, whether positive or negative, the chosen entity becomes an object of observation, desire or projection. It is detached from its context and individualised, hooked to its new host – the system that it was chosen by. Its place within reality, its state of being is now completely dependant on the evaluation and further observation by the system.

What are the techniques of isolation? How would I be able to recognise these if I came across one of them? I found that a common denominator of those techniques was the visualisation of the object. The most successful format of representation at present is the visual image, that's no surprise. So any method of creating an image of someone or something is such a technique. It begins with pointing a spotlight at the object. It becomes brighter than its surroundings, more detailed, easier to observe.

To be more sophisticated, you can exchange the spotlight in vice/virtue with a camera, or a microscope but the mechanism stays the same. In the process of research I found a photo of a prison yard. It was lying upside down. The spotlight was pointing at the sky and first I thought the image depicted a stage. Then I turned it 180 degrees and found it was a prison. That was what kicked off the idea for vice/virtue. I used the photo as a blueprint for the drawing. For the animation I choose a centrifugal spin, as it's a common scientific method of isolating cells from each other.

Vice/virtue suggests that there is actually no difference whether the lights go on on stage or in a prison yard. It’s the same technique and as that part of the same system that no one seems to be able to escape from. At the same time we're the ones who produce and reproduce this system and believe in it. Why? It’s obviously very silly.

You are very careful about the presentation of your work, or should I say careful about changing normal parameters of presentation. It almost seems as if presentation in itself is an issue for you as an artist?

I can't make a difference between presentation and representation. It seems like the two are melting in the same frying pan. The idea of originality seems superfluous and naive. Everything you present represents something at the same time. It doesn't just stand for itself. At this point it's about the language created by the presentation as much as about the idea or object you want to present. Otherwise, wouldn't you just try to deny the context of your presentation? I ended up involving this context into the presentation and let it represent itself.

For the project unternehmen: bermuda for example I met the jury of ‘ars viva prize', a prize by the German industry (BDI), at a bus stop to discuss the mechanism of image with them - a knowledge transfer. They offer me money (the prize) and I am supposed to present my artwork in their context. The transfer in that case is that they exchange their own image with mine i.e. I represent them through my artwork. I filmed our meeting at the bus stop and that was the artwork that I presented afterwards. It is an image of me and them agreeing on the transfer. Basically I mirrored the transfer and gave them back their own image for the money, adding the questions about the concept of the deal.

In vice/virtue the presentation format is an animated drawing on a pile of paper. While the animation of prison and stage points out an anonymous system that is forcing people into a certain disciplinary space, the presentation proposes that it's just a sketch, an exercise. A handmade drawing on a piece of paper repeated again and again. At the same time the presentation involves a video beam with which the drawing is projected onto the paper. It utilizes the technique of the light-beam as is used in the prison yard and on stage. The artwork is part of the very same system that it's criticizing.

Natascha Sadr Haghighian

1975 born in Berlin, Germany

Lives and works in Berlin, Germany


Natascha Sadr Haghighian

Johann Koenig
Dessauer Str. 6-7
10963 Berlin

+49 30 26 10 30 80
+49 30 26 10 30 811


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