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February 2009, Natascha Sadr Haghighian @ Galerie Johann Koenig

February 2009, Natascha Sadr Haghighian @ Galerie Johann Koenig
Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Fruechte der Arbeit, 2008, courtesy Galerie Johann Koenig

Natascha Sadr Haghighian
Galerie Johann König
Through March 7, 2009
Früchte der Arbeit

Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s latest work at Galerie Johann König is the most exclusive of parties. One to which none of us has been invited. To view The Fruit of One’s Labour is to be perpetually stuck behind the velvet rope, left on the outside looking in. Haghighian has divided, or rather blocked off the gallery, making it inaccessible to visitors. The huge glass panel which seals off the main exhibition space only allows us to look through, to see an enormous club space illuminated by blue and yellow lights (colors of the European Union) and filled with the throbbing pulse of Eurotrance, or to look at it and see ourselves present, but not really present, at the party. 

Besides the specter of our own presence/absence from this celebration there is only one other element that connects the space of the viewer to the space of the event. A coal stove dropped in the middle of the lobby makes it difficult to approach the front desk and the winding pipe of the coal stove that snakes through the lobby space before finally piercing through the glass screen further complicates movement. Next to the stove lies a palette of briquettes made of shredded and compressed Euro notes. The exhaust from each briquette, which according to the artist burns for four hours, winds its way through the pipe and emerges into the exhibition space not as smoke but as a cloud of fake apples, made in China we are told, floating through the empty party.

The totally abstract valuation of everything under the sun promoted by money culture, as well as the past life of the briquettes themselves, creates an irrepressible attraction to these objects that we nevertheless know are not as valuable as they seem. The subsequent conversion of these briquettes into an exhaust cloud of apples compels us again to recognize the speculation and faith at work in the valuation of these objects. Haghighian has constructed a network of emotional relays that brilliantly describes the function of ideological fantasy in contemporary money culture. We know the real state of things but are still compelled to act as if we did not know. 

The event character of the installation, which the artist says is meant to ironically celebrate the European Union’s success story, reinforces this response. We know that these days, with scared talk of some peripheral E.U. countries having to drop the Euro all together, that there is very little worth celebrating. Yet the music plays on and we wish that somehow we could find our way into this party. 

The installation of the work in a commercial gallery, a space charged with promoting the innate value of works of art, adds another layer of complication to this network of relays. Fruit of One’s Labour is deeply embedded in the space of the gallery both physically and conceptually. No attempt is made on the part of the artist to separate the work from the economic structures that endow it with its own particular value. Rather it is able to work critically and reflexively from its position within a larger art economy. This allows Haghighian to ask complex questions and make difficult assertions about our own faith, desires, and illusions - questions and assertions that are relevant to art but also to the seemingly dire and intractable economic situation in which we find ourselves today.

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David Knowles

David Knowles is a musician and researcher living in Berlin.  He fronts the video/music project Donkey Kong and has performed extensively in Europe and America.  His ongoing writing, research, and performance projects in the fields of architecture, urbanism and new media are documented extensively on his website www.openofficepok.com

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