Systems function as a structural common denominator that allows Haacke to move seamlessly between projects that exclude human interventions and those that include them.
Condensation Cube provides a poignant example of a work of art that change its form without human involvement. Haacke explains that this work of art is ruled by a system that does not depend upon the artist or any other human to function: “The system’s programme … is absolutely independent of the viewer’s mental participation. It remains autonomous – aloof from the viewer. As a tree’s programme is not touched by the emotions of lovers in its shadow, so the system’s programme is untouched by the viewer’s feelings and thoughts. ….A system is not imagined; it is real.”4
Systems function as a structural common denominator that allows Haacke to move seamlessly between projects that exclude human interventions and those that include them. He explains, “The difference between ‘nature’ and ‘technology’ is only that the latter is man-made. The functioning of either one can be described with the same conceptual models, and they both obviously follow the same rules of operation. It also seems that the way social organizations behave is not much different.”5 For this reason Haacke’s art output includes a hydrological cycle captured within an enclosed box, and a waste water system conducted by a municipality. .
In Rhineland Water Treatment project, Haacke exposes the municipal system that polluted the Rhine River. As such, this work provides an example of art that serves as society’s moral watchdog. Human misconduct is exposed in such renowned works of art as The Battle of Aboukir (1806) by Antoin-Jean Gros; Gargantua (1833) by Honore Daumier; A Midnight Modern Conversation (1733) by William Hogarth; The Uprising (1931) by Diego River; and ‘Interrogation III (1981) by Leon Golub.
a. Choose any one of these works of art. Identify who is being accused by the artist. Would this guilty party be likely to view the art work? Did the artist risk retribution for exposing the misdeeds? Apply these issues to Haacke and Rhineland Water Treatment.
b. Moral warnings and indictments are also delivered by the following artists in this book:
Discuss the environmental issue featured in Rhineland Water Treatment and any one of these artists. Compare the artistic strategies used to expose these trangressions.
c. Identify the aspects of Rhineland Water Treatment that distinguish it as eco-art and
4 1967. Previously unpublished. Hans Haacke, Walter Grasskamp, Molly Nesbit, Jon Bird, Phaidon Press Limited, 2004, p 103
5 An Interview with Hans Haacke by Jeanne Siegel, Arts Magazine 45, no.7 (May 1971): p 18-21. Reprinted in Hans Haacke for real: Works 1959-2006, Edited by Matthias Flugge and Robert Fleck. Richter Verlag Dusseldorf, 2006, p 252.
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