“A photograph that one has taken of oneself” is the definition that the Oxford Online Dictionary recently bestowed upon the ubiquitous selfie. Simple enough. But perhaps a bit too simple. On October 26, as part of the Walker’s 9 Artists exhibition, Natascha Sadr Haghighian will go beyond the surface reading of the prolific selfie during her performance performance/audience/file. Diving into the growing reality of the image as a purely digital file and the subsequent dissolution of the object, Haghighian asks, who or what has agency in the cloud?
Haghighian has long been concerned with both self-representation and the agency of the object. She has deliberately suppressed and thwarted readings of her own identity as the center of her work favoring instead the stories of the objects she uses in her installations. In de paso, Haghighian begins with a rolling suitcase and a water bottle, and through these two seemingly banal objects she goes on to convey urbanization and the “growing pains” of progressive modernization. Having traveled internationally, de paso comes to the Walker with an accumulation of regional contexts. Installed in 9 Artists, the work’s newest additions — images of the industrialization of St. Anthony Falls — will appear alongside images of Barcelona, Norway, and England, demonstrating a continuity that is at once overwhelming and aesthetically cohesive. Stemming from these two objects and the places they inhabit, Haghighian follows a story illustrated by “footnotes” found in local archives.
However, performance/audience/file derives from Haghighian’s growing disquiet with agency in the digital universe. It was no longer satisfactory to follow the story and representation of objects; she had to confront the way in which the selfie convolutes the subject/object relationship while also reckoning with the fact that taking a picture with a smartphone has become a serious ritual act in this new age. Capturing a picture at an event has become the motivation for taking part in the event itself.
Haghighian’s performance/audience/file references Dan Graham’s Performer/Audience/Mirror (1975). Graham’s audience sat facing a wall-sized mirror while the artist stood in front of them and delivered an impromptu commentary on his real-time observations, prompting both literal and figurative reflection on the relationship between audience and performer as well as subject and object. Haghighian will explore these issues of sharing and materiality through a multi-step performance involving audience participation, live drawing, and a Cyclone Hoover, which will act as the bridge both from technologies past to present and from artist to audience. Expect to learn something about centrifugal technology, a leftover of the methodology of modernity according to Haghighian.
As an artist who has consciously tried to subvert representations of herself by creating alternative biographies, Haghighian is evidently reticent to participate the normalization of the selfie, but as she said she “can’t run away from this reality.” So, as might be expected, Haghighian encourages audience members to bring their own phones for a selfie with the artist after the performance.