Natascha Sadr Haghighian was born in Tehran in 1967, and is representing Germany at this year’s Venice Biennale — only not under her own name. Her installation can be viewed at the German Pavilion through November 24.
The Berlin-based multidisciplinary artist is calling herself “Natascha Süder Happelmann” for the occasion — an intentional misspelling of her name, used for the public presentation of her work at the Biennale. It’s actually a computer-generated amalgamation of autocorrected and misspelled variants of the artist’s name taken from 30 years of correspondence with various government agencies.
At the Biennale press conference last October, Haghighian made an unusual appearance. She wore a stone-shaped papier-mâché mask over her head, and had an actress who goes by the name of Helene Duldung speak for her instead.
In her practice, Haghighian uses performance, installation, sound and text to explore themes of culture, identity and belonging. Critical of how Europe handles refugees, she has declared the German pavilion an immigration detention center.
Haghighian describes her art as “a continual process of interrogation and unhinging of socio-political hierarchies and conventions; of seeking to defrock and destabilize systems of representation and authority.”
“Natascha Süder Happelmann is an important voice of contemporary art,” said the German Pavilion. “In her work, she unfolds the poetic, imaginary and critical potential of art. She stands for an artistic position that not only analyzes or comments on aesthetic and scientific concepts and social or political conditions, but actively changes them.”
Haghighian studied at the Kunsthochschule für Medien [Academy of Media Arts] in Cologne, Germany with Valie Export and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with Lin Hixson. A two-time Documenta participant, she is a Villa Aurora Fellow and holds the professorship of sculpture at the Hochschule für Künste [University of the Arts] in Bremen, Germany.
This is not the first time that Haghighian has refused to be categorized by conventional biographical information. The artist has always disconnected herself from representative roles or political instrumentalization.
Already in 2004, she launched the CV-exchange platform bioswop.net, enabling people to swap parts of each other’s résumés, renegotiating concepts such as identity, representation, facts and self. “I think all forms that are taken for granted are not interesting,” said Haghighian in Spike Art Magazine. “What interests me is what you can attach or take away from them so they are suspended and start to be negotiable again.”
One of her best-known works is her sound installation pssst Leopard 2A7+ (2013), a Lego sculpure that’s the same size as the eponymous German battle tank. The installation includes a sound recording of the artist reading an archive of material on German arms exports and state-sanctioned forms of violence.
For the most recent Documenta exhibition in 2017, Haghighian joined the Society of Friends of Halit to investigate the 2006 murder of the 21-year-old son of Turkish immigrants Halit Yozgut, who was killed by a neo-Nazi group.
Haghighian has held a number of solo exhibitions at the König Galerie, Berlin and Carroll/Fletcher, London.