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Hans Haacke and the System Theory

I was only aware of the works of Hans Haacke's MoMA Poll and survey based works before, which I recently just look into Haacke's series of work chronologically. Which intrigues me, especially the concept of system in Haacke's work.

In his early years as a art student, he already notice the "behind the scenes" of galleries and museums, where he took pictures of cleaning ladies at Documenta as an intern. He starts to have interests in how the system works. 

He went through a phase where he studies natural systems as he joined Ground Zero, and created a series of work surrounding the biological and physical systems of the nature. Condensation cube(1965) shows the nature process of water vapouring and condensation, where the result is constantly affected by the temperature and environment around the cube. Grass Grows(1967) shows the natural process of grass growing as it constantly changes as visitor visit. Work such as Blue Sail(1965) and Flight(1965 ) shows the effect of wind, a invisible factor influencing the state of other objects.

Haacke has a non hierarchical approach to the understanding of systems, as he treats social and political sysyem the same way. When I read through "An interview with Hans Haacke" by Jeanne Siegel, In Hans Haacke's words  (Hans Haacke, 1971) "A system is most generally defined as a grouping of elements subject to a common plan and purpose. These elements or components interact so as to arrive at a join goal. To separate the elements would destroy the system. The term was originally used in the natural sciences for understanding the behaviour of physically interdependent processes. It explained phenomena of directional change, recycling, and equilibrium." 

In works such as MoMA Poll(1970) and Gallery Goers' Residence profile(1970) Haacke demonstrate the system of gallery in terms of the audience, the back ground of the gallery, the social and political relations between such, and the changes that occur due to factors after the work is created, which the artist does not need to control. This type of works further developed into works such as Volci Alcan and Metromobilitan, where the relation between gallery and sponsor, artists and audiences and its effect of social issue is presented at the same time. The focus of Social-Political system does not depart from Haacke's earlier natural elements of work, in fact the concept of the System Theory is still the same. Where in Social Political systems there is various group of elements constantly affecting each other, as Artist Haacke throws a pebble in to the water but the final effect of ripples are not artificially created, the work will be contemplated by all the factors in the system.

It came to me that the idea of isomorphism can apply to systems of the world, where the system of nature, or phenomena in other words, is isomorphic, just like the change of state of water is affected by the environment, temperature and humidity, the changes that occur in social relation can be from different aspects and people often do not notice them. Hans later work combines the natural system of biology and physics to the human system that is social and political, the unselected proposal of Calligraphie(1989) and the continuous work of To the population (2001-) at German Parliament is the creation of isomorphic system between Nature and Human.  In "to the population", the history and context of the parliament building Reichstag, the text from To the German People to To the population( from nation of people to nation of soil), the action of members of the Bundestag to bring soil from where they where elected and to plant seeds from their origin, creating a garden as long as the members are elected altogether becomes a demonstration of healthy systems. The changes and the grow of plants in the garden is a direct reflection to the condition of liveliness in the parliament, and the liveliness of the Country. 

Place, context, history, nature, change, time factors are all important in Haacke's work but non of them describes his works completely, I don't think it is earth art, political art, temporal art or investigative are, but all of them applies to. The concept of systems intrigues me the most, where it might be a sientific way of explaining material vitality, or if I put it philosophically it might be called Existential phenomenology or relational- ontology. But which ever way, the way Hans Haacke works around the nature phenomena of events is fascinating, where art does not stop at artist's creation, or gallery presentation, or audience perception, but participate as part of the phenomena in the world of complex relations.


Hans Haacke

Condensation Cube, 1965 (2006) (2013) 

Sculpture, 76 x 76 x 76 cm


Hans Haacke, Grass Grows, 1967-1969

Screenshot 2020-04-01 at 6.20.53 PM.png

Hans Haacke, Bowery Seeds, 1970


Hans Haacke, Blue Sail, 1964/1965


Hans Haacke, MOMA-Poll, 1970


Hans Haacke, Gallery-Goers’ Residence Profile, Part 2(detail), 1970,

732 black-and-white photographs and 189 typewritten cards,

each: 13 × 18 cm. Courtesy: © Hans Haacke 

Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York; photograph: Hans Haacke


Hans Haacke, Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real-Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971


Hans Haacke, MetroMobilitan, 1985


Hans Haccke Und Ihr habt Doch gesiegt ( And You Were Victorious After All), 1988


Hans Haacke, GERMANIA, 1993


Hans Haacke, Calligraphie, 1989/2011

Courtesy: © Hans Haacke 


Hans Haacke, To the Population, 2000-

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