Drawing on the complex nature of the connection between inside and outside; internal and external; private and secluded; power and liberty, the socio-politically charged conceptual practice of Hans Haacke is revealing in it’s ability to discuss specific power structures and systems while also allowing individual works to retain an element of ambiguity. The ambiguity of Haacke’s works stem from their deep connection to knowledge, time and context; a knowledge or at least a peripheral understanding of the social systems, political conditions and/or natural systems that form the basis of his works is often needed to understand them entirely. For this reason, Haacke often presents contextual didactic panels in proximity to installations.
Yet for me the magic of not-knowing, of being confronted with half-understood slogans, logos, arrangements and political messages is the most intriguing aspect of Haacke’s practice. Particularly when considered it in the present context of the Trumpian “Fake News” era. For example, one may not entirely understand why the American Bill of Rights has been printed on a larger-than-life pack of Helmsboro cigarettes cascading out of its deck (Helmsboro Country, 1990) but that is exactly the point. Not being able to completely understand a situation we are presented with or confronted by or even simply being allured by the aesthetic qualities of political messages, advertising and symbols reflects the smoke and mirror tactics that corporate and political systems use to disguise intents and achieve objectives. Most of the time we only ever know corporations or political systems present want to tell us, as opposed to what we want or need to know, i.e. motivations for wars, the health impacts of products or decision making processes.
As Australia transitions into a new cycle of political leadership, now squarely defined by the Australian Federal Police’s ABC Raids, Haacke’s works provide a timely reflection on the nature of power.