Systems Aesthetics: An Artist Is Not A Isolated System


For my conference project, I decided to do a sculpture based on the artist Hans Haacke and my understanding of systems. Hans Haake was the main inspiration for my conference project however I also took from the ideas of sculpture from Damien Hirst, linking to his use of large glass vitrines and his exploration of air and its relationship with movement. The simplicity of these works stood out to me and became the basis for the formation of my conference project mixed with the classes evolution of our understanding of systems. Looking at Hirst’s “What Goes Up Must Come Down” 1994, “Mental Escapology” 2012, “I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now” 1991 and Hans Haacke’s “Blue Sail” 1964 – 1965, and “Condensation Cube” 1965 (2006) (2013), I created my “An artist is not an isolated system”. Taking from their simplicity in materials, in display and focus; this work stands in between Hirst and Haacke.

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I had this work envisioned in my mind, however as I was testing it out and constructing it, it did not go exactly as planned. I found that some of the fans I had purchased and tested out were not strong enough so therefore did not make the ping pong balls jump around the case like I had envisioned. I wanted constant active movement in my work and the air was to be the instigator of this. A minimalist structure would be the base for this however as I began experimenting the idea – the work began to evolve itself, shifting the system I had planned and the outcome I had proposed.


Researching Hans Haacke for my conference I found a variety of interesting statements from him revolving around systems, art and the museum space which became another level to the transformation of my ideas and the evolution of the work;

“The artist’s business requires an involvement in practically everything… The total scope of information he receives day after day is of concern.”

“When works of art are presented like rare butterflies on the walls, they’re decontextualized. We admire their beauty, and I have nothing against that, per se. but there is more to art than that”

“Museums are not normally presenting the works on the walls as provocations to work. It’s more like going to a Jacuzzi”

“An artist is not an isolated system. In order to survive he has to interact continuously with the world around him… Theoretically there are no limits to his involvement.”

When speaking about his piece, “Mental Escapology”, Damien Hirst states “My idea of a perfect art piece would be a perfect sphere in the centre of a room. You would come in and walk around it; it would just be there, floating without strings or wires”. I am reflecting on this in my piece – playing with simple visual trickery.

Throughout the semester, I think we had been constantly searching for immense action and change in each of the systems we studied and created and instead (with my work) the power sits in the cleanliness and subtly of the changes that occur within. Playing with the presumption that something drastic may occur at some stage also becomes a part of the system, manipulating the viewers expectancy when interacting with the work.

I think the use of the text and the Hans Haacke quote adds another layer of meaning and significance. The power of the work does not lie in the constant and large movement of the ping pong balls jumping around the cube like I had planned for the piece, but instead is the combination of the text, the slight movements of the balls and the sound of the fan. I envision the work in a large white room, standing solitary in the middle of a sterile room in which the sound of the fan fills up the space and only movement is seen when being with the piece for an extended period for of time. Movement of the audience also becomes essential to the piece in order for the viewer to read the text around the cube, however this system does not need an audience nor cares for it to continuously evolve. The text can also be read differently from person to person as it can be read as a wrap around or focusing on each side of the cube – how the viewer reads this all changes everyone’s experience and perception of the work. Its self evolution may be slight but now I prefer that to my original intention of having the balls jump all around the perspex box. Preferably I would have the fan be the same size as the cube therefore it is cleaner and tighter visually, however I do not this this effects the power and/or message of the work overall. By just using white ping pong and black texts this minimises the possibility of distractions and instead the eye becomes more focused on the subtlety of the movement and the meaning of the text.


If I were to redo and reshape the piece, I would work with perhaps different materials such as feathers, cellophane – lighter materials that would move easily with the power of the fan. I would also consider working with a smaller cube and perhaps making 2 or 3 with different materials. Overall I am pleased with how my piece turned out. I think at the beginning of the semester I would have never done anything like this. The title “An artist is not an isolated system” is essential. The artist is never static, everything can be an inspiration and a starting point in which a system can be found and evolve from that point on.

Author: gmcdonald