20 JANUARY – 7 MARCH 2009
Johann König, Berlin, is pleased to present FRÜCHTE DER ARBEIT, Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s second solo exhibition at Johann König. Haghighian’s installation blocks entry into the gallery space by means of a large glass panel, creating two separate spaces. In the smaller front space, which is accessible to visitors, stands a used multi-fuel heating stove. Next to the oven, on a wooden loading pallet from the Europool trading system, lies a stack of around 400 briquettes made out of shredded Euronotes amounting to a former value of ca. 90 million euros. The notes were collected by the German Federal Bank, voided, and pressed into briquettes. One briquette weighs around one and a half kilos, is formerly worth a quarter of a million euros, and burns for four hours. An approximately eight-meter-long, winding exhaust pipe comes out of the stove and leads through the front space, through a hole in the glass panel, and into the sealed-off gallery space. Behind the panel, which, due to its framing, appears to be a display screen, a cloud of green plastic apples, made in China, billows out from the exhaust pipe. Spotlights in blue and yellow, the colors of the European Union, cast light onto the fake fruit, and euphoric Eurotechno music resounds behind the glass; the booming bass is perceptible in the front space.
Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Früchte der Arbeit, 2008, detaail © courtesy of the artist
FRÜCHTE DER ARBEIT was developed by the artist in the fall of 2008 for her solo exhibition in the Frankfurter Kunstverein. The point of departure was shaped by an examination of the history of the financial center, Frankfurt am Main, with a focus on the European Monetary Union. While the implementation of the euro in 1999 strengthened and stabilized Europe’s clout in terms of foreign commerce, the value of money in the hands of the population dropped by fifty percent virtually overnight: the creation of value and the obliteration of value, simultaneously. A strong currency and expanded markets go hand-in-hand with both the loss of jobs and the relocation of production facilities. Haghighian’s staging of two seemingly separated yet still interconnected spaces conjures a strong image for this manifest contradiction.
The installation, with its “event character”, ironically celebrates the European Union’s story of success, a story which the viewer can attend only by way of the mega screen. Considering the current financial crisis, the work attains a further level for reflection. Money is definitive of our everyday, practical lives and is nonetheless a totally abstract unit. Even though the money briquettes are completely worthless, the thought of the value they held once upon a time stimulates an emotional attraction. Like previous works, here the artist also challenges the rules of representation. How, and by whom, is value gaged within existing economic and social relations? Value is relative, according to a speculative logic that follows financial markets, and it is based, above all, on the trust in an image or an assertion. The presumption that a spring-fresh cloud of apples could emerge from the addition of worthless briquettes of money to a fuel-burning stove is purely a matter of faith.
FRÜCHTE DER ARBEIT, itself presented in a commercial gallery, is thus integrated into the market-economic chain of value-creation. Diedrich Diedrichsen says that “every form of immaterial value relies on an aura of pricelessness in order to become recognized as art. This construction alone guarantees the consumer – buyer and viewer alike – that he is exposing himself to something other than caprice. Authority and capital converge in the artwork and declare its perceived value.” (Diedrich Diedrichsen; Der Kunstanspruch der Medienkünste, http://www.artechock.de/kunst/magazin/re/dididr.htm)
What meaning does this crisis hold for art? Or to be more precise, what role does art play within the financial market’s logic of value creation? Has the big party come to an end?
Natascha Sadr Haghighian describes her work as a continual process of interrogation and unhinging of sociopolitical hierarchies and conventions, a process which she articulates with varying media, such as video, slide projections, short films, website presentations, photographs, actions and events.