Art & Photography

Natascha Sadr Haghighian

William Kherbek reviews the artist’s first solo exhibition in London from a selection of fifteen years’ worth of work

 de paso, 2011
de paso, 2011 Courtesy of the artist and Carroll/Fletcher

Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s show at Carroll/Fletcher Gallery is distinctly unafraid to wade into some of the deepest aesthetic and political water currently swirling. While there are dozens of artists who attempt to take on the big questions of gender, science, politics, and the environment–all major starting points for works in Haghighian’s show—few combine

conceptual heft with the kind of unpretentiousness that characterises Haghighian’s best works. The show is expansive, using not only all the rooms of Carroll/Fletcher’s generous space, but the stairwell, too, is included as a site of aesthetic engagement and destabilisation. In a show of this size, the question is always whether the aesthetic momentum can be

maintained throughout; with Haghighian’s show, the answer, for the most part, has to be yes. This achievement is made all the more remarkable given the strength of the piece which opens the show. Titled de paso, the work consists of a bottle of water—bottled by a certain corporation which shall remain nameless—being repeatedly run over by a plastic suitcase.

“While there are dozens of artists who attempt to take on the big questions, few combine conceptual heft with the kind of unpretentiousness that characterises Haghighian’s best works”

The suitcase is run by some form of internal motor, thus giving the piece a magical-realist feel—though, it should be noted, the sheer ubiquity of the materials seems to push magical realism into a somewhat new territory, something like “corporate surrealism”. As it is repeatedly crushed and uncrushed, the bottle’s creaking plastic is amplified by a suspended microphone which dangles in the centre of the room. The amplified sound is then broadcast with speakers stationed opposite one another overhead.

There are a dizzying number of reference points in a work like this; I stopped listing them after I’d written the name of the pioneering French philosopher Rene Descartes down twice for two separate reasons. The danger is that a work as

intellectually serious and as clearly willing to engage massive issues as de paso could, like the water bottle of which it is partially composed, collapse under the contents of the intellectual suitcase which both threatens and completes it. Luckily, the intrinsic humour of watching an automated suitcase creep over a plastic bottle in an art space manages to puncture any pseudo-philosophical puffery.

The next room extends the piece, displaying an array of bottles against the gallery’s west wall which seem, at once, to reference a stream of flowing water and the clunkier work of Joseph Beuys. These bottles lie beneath a letter from the water company about its corporate activity and lineage. The context magnifies the work in important ways and lays bare some of the less obvious

aspects of the piece’s intellectual heritage, for example, historic “holy” wells in Britain as sites of exploitation, and the transport of corporate water via air which vaguely mimics—or perhaps satirises—the movement of water in weather systems.

The strongest piece in the downstairs is titled schnitte. It consists of three projectors positioned on opposite walls projecting images of light as it passes between two edited slides—the contents of which are not visible—and the blade which was—if you’re the kind of person who believes press releases—used to cut the slides. Granted, it may sound a little cloying on paper, but in situ, the light divides the shadows quite powerfully, and the projection of the blade veers perilously between comedy and horror.

Natascha Sadr Haghighian is at Carroll/Fletcher until September 22nd