Condensation Cube (1965) is one of Hans Haacke’s earlier works. While over time the artist developed a critique of art as an institution and system, these early works focus on art in the sense of process and physical system. Interested in biology, ecology and cybernetics, in the mid-sixties Haacke was influenced by the ideas of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, especially those outlined in his General System Theory of 1968. For the Austrian biologist and philosopher, a living organism is an open system that continuously changes depending on its dialogue or interaction with the environment. Haacke’s early works, such as Condensation Cube, transpose this concept to the realm of art.
In 1962, Haacke began producing works that incorporated Plexiglas containers filled with water. Condensation Cube exemplifies his interest in such basic physical processes as the evaporation and condensation of water. The work consists of a transparent acrylic cube containing water. Because of the temperature differential between the inside and outside, water vapour condenses into droplets that run down the walls of the cube, taking on random forms. This piece summarises Haacke’s interest in closed physical systems, biological growth and random movement, while emphasising the idea of art that has lost its representative and referential ability to emerge as a fact or state of affairs. As Haacke himself explained: ‘...The conditions are comparable to a living organism which reacts in a flexible manner to its surroundings. The image of condensation cannot be precisely predicted. It is changing freely, bound only by statistical limits. I like this freedom.’ ( New York, October 1965).
A physical process as basic as water condensation allows Haacke to redefine not only the work of art as a living system, but, most significantly, the role of the viewer or user of art. While the patterns of water trails within the cube have to do with the conditions of their immediate surroundings, the human presence is also part of this environment. The artwork depends on the physical presence of the viewers who, by their proximity, modify the work unwittingly. Thus Haacke incorporates the viewer into the art in a very innovative way, as a physical body.
While there are ideas about psychological and emotional developmental processes held within the sculptures I make, the things themselves are actual physical explorations into thinking, feeling, communicating and relating.