Circulation from Hans Haacke — Art Strategies Week 4 Writing Response

Circulation is an artworks from Hans Haacke in 1969. In this work, water and air are shot by circulating pumps from two sources. Then they go through a continuous and interconnected circuit of transparent plastic tubing and connectors. The movement of water and air is kind of mimicking that in arteries. However, two sources create much more possibilities of flowing directions compared to biological blood circulation.

What was the artist seeking to achieve in his/her work?

From my perspective, it tries to reflect Hans’ understanding of “real-time systems”, exploring interaction within an ecological system, including physical, biological and social structures.

What is the strategy at work? How is it used? in what context?

This work reminds me of the real-time systems discussed in the article System Thinking by Edward A. Shanken, ‘real-time systems gather and process data from environments, in time to effect future events within those environment.’ Since there are numerous and interdependence inside the system of Circulation, changing in the pumping power of one source will influence all the flows in the system. Also Circulation exhibits some dynamic, life-like behaviours which echos the criterias of a controlled mechanical system.

Was the work effective? Meaningful? Interesting? Why?

I think Circulation is extremely powerful in that it extends our mindset to a broader view of system thinking: with proper setting, a simple machine can generate unexpectedly complex behaviour. It’s meaningless to analyze part of the system to understand its mechanism. All the parts has similar structure, a fork with plastic tube, enabling water and air to go through. However, you could hardly predict directions of flow in certain part without looking to the whole system. Just like what Fritijof Capra said in Systems Theory and the New Paradigm: ‘The properties of the parts can be understood only from the dynamics of the whole’.

What is the relationship between the formal and material properties of the work and its content?

Circulation intends to keep the purity and simplicity of the system. Therefore it uses transparent, plastic tubes and water to demonstrate its mechanism. Also PVC and propylene guarantee flexibility of the tubes, increasing uncertainty of flow directions.

How does this work relate, respond, or differ from other works we’ve seen?

The time when this work produced is the year Les Levine released his interactive video installation Contact: A Cybernetic Sculpture. Also another work Game of Life from John Conway in 1970. These works reflect the same topic: even a simple but responsive system can still have its personality, since it is ‘capable of simulating complex systems.’

Compared to Contact: A Cybernetic Sculpture, Circulation represents features of cybernetics in a relatively micro and abstract way. Its appearance is more like an epitome of a logic pattern. It also differs from Game of Life in that it is in physical form, which shares environment with audience instead of alienating them with digital world.

How does the work fit into the context of the time period in which it was produced?

The time Hans made Circulation was actually right in the Cold War. From the reading, the rapid development of science and technology boosted systems theory and cybernetics, expanding it to artistic experiments. In 1960s, many artists tried to explore system thinking. Hans belief from Zero group motivated him in a way to participate into this movement. His works like Condensation Cube in the same period also reflects such tendency.

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