Midterm Essay: Hans Haacke and Systems Art

Crystal Sun, A10882923
VIS 159/ICAM 150 Midterm, Winter 2015
TA: Stephanie Sherman
Feb. 17, 2015

Hans Haacke and Systems Art

“A system,” artist Hans Haacke asserts in his 1967 Untitled Statement, “is not imagined. It is real” (1). For a significant portion of his career Haacke has focused on real-time systems and processes by creating projects with components that physically communicate with each other and with the surrounding environment (Haacke, 1). Influenced by the rise of conceptual art during the 1950’s, Haacke’s system-based works contributed to a new artistic approach now known as institutional critique. This methodical inquiry into the world of art, motivated by the period’s social upheaval, gave artists the opportunity to critically reflect on and push the boundaries of the power structures involved in art institutions (Sheikh, 1). By incorporating this form of critique into his distinguished artworks, Haacke stimulates dialogue about the nuances of life and its broad spectrum of complex systems.

hansAs an artist renowned for his controversial commentary on political and social establishments, Haacke consistently aims to encourage the engagement of his viewers. Among many others, two of Haacke’s projects that embody this goal are Chickens Hatching (1969) and Norbert: “All Systems Go” (1970-71). For both projects Haacke engages in systems thinking (a thought pattern that celebrated critic and personal friend Jack Burnham introduced him to), draws inspiration from the metaphorical relationships found in the field of biology, and utilizes live animals to explore artworks as systems. In Chickens Hatching, Haacke installed eight small incubators in the Art Gallery of Ontario and placed inside fertilized chicken eggs, which he synthetically monitored with a feedback system of lamps and thermostats until they hatched (Skrebowskihans2, 1). In his proposed project Norbert: “All Systems Go” (1970-71), Haacke attempted to teach a black mynah bird perched inside a chrome cage to repeat the phrase “All systems go.” Unfortunately, the artist failed to do so and as a result his show at the Guggenheim museum was cancelled. Although both Chickens Hatching and Norbert along with Haacke’s other systems artworks confront the object status of art and the divide between reality and representation, the shortcomings of Haacke’s Norbert reveal the limits of seemingly controllable systems. The bird’s inability to repeat the phrase illustrates the unpredictable confines associated with Haacke’s entanglement of the natural and the social and thus demonstrates the problematic of articulating the relations between the two systems.

**This is only the intro of my paper.

Crystal Sun

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