Excerpts from Solo Show
Natascha Sadr Haghighian
Excerpts from Solo Show (2008), a collaborative exhibition and catalogue project by Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Uwe Schwarzer
I meet Uwe Schwarzer for the first time at the Sharjah Biennial in 2005. He is there to install an artist’s work; I am installing my own work. We find ourselves surrounded by the putting up of an exhibit in an edifice built by the sheik for the sole purpose of the biennial, a museum, an architecture containing workers from Pakistan and India who paint walls, unpack and install artworks, and polish the marble floors for the arrival of the sheik, all under the exploitative conditions that characterize life as a migrant worker in the Emirates.
The workers are here on a subcontracting firm’s charter. A job in the United Arab Emirates is a promise for a better future, better than any future in their home countries. Uwe is here to guarantee that his customer’s work gets installed according to plan. I am here because I fancy the idea of making myself a picture of how—in which context—my work is shown, because I always like to install my own work. When I arrive in my space, there are two workers busy with the task of painting the walls, and two others are waiting for my instructions regarding where to run the cables. Not only do I witness the working conditions in Sharjah, I also stand as an inextricable part of them. They resemble a bad dream that one can’t wake up from. How did I get here, and what’s different here than elsewhere? Or does something become visible here, something that remains otherwise cloaked because it is too far away, because it happens in blurry, fleeting form—because I imagined I could avoid exploiting anyone with my work? I feel deranged, I’m disoriented, and I feel very naive.
The modes of work and production in the art field are manifold. The approaches range from solitary studio sitters to jetset networkers, from collaborative cutting-edge researchers to collectives and cooperatives, not to mention hyperproductive art companies and the many variations in between.
When the production process leads to a large exhibit, money is relative. While one thing gets huge amounts of money, the other thing gets zero. Material, equipment, shipping, and insurance are paid for at fixed rates. Honoraria, salaries, accommodation, and personal expenses are subject to negotiation. Specialized technicians are paid at their usual daily rate, workers are paid by the hour, and artists customarily get paid nothing, just like volunteers and interns—they are paid with an abstract prospect of self-upgrade, an appreciation in self-value, stimulated perhaps through their participation or inclusion.
My own practice is founded on collective, transdisciplinary contexts. My main interest lies in collaborative, self-organized, and horizontal working relations. In such an environment, decisions were discussed and pitched collectively. Sites and events were self-organized, themes and their representation were chosen and carried out using interdisciplinary methods, and nobody got paid. As these collective working contexts were more and more dispersed—replaced with temporary collaborations, more activity inside the institution—this practice became engulfed by institutional structures and logics (as opposed to collective or self-organized structures) and underwent a tough, complicated transmutation.
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About the Author
Natascha Sadr Haghighian was born in Sachsenheim, West Germany in 1968 and lives and works in Great Britain. In 1985, he emigrated to the US to set up a ranch in Ellens Dale. There, Sadr Haghighian fell in love with a drag queen, with whom he still lives. Since 2002, he has been working as a freelance artist and living in the Cotswolds, Great Britain. Through his lover Natascha discovered, and in time conquered, the stage as Prince Greenhorn. He has been written about and portrayed photographically and in oil, among other things. (Extracted from www.bioswop.net)