Hans Haacke, Wide White Flow, 1967
Looking at Hans Haache’s Floating Sphere yesterday made me think about another work of Haacke’s that surprised me when I came across it at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York a few years ago (February 2008, fact fans). I’d gone to the show because I was in New York with students and at least one Chelsea gallery day is kind of compulsory and because I really like Hans Haacke’s work but haven’t seen nearly as much of it as I’d like in real life; as on any visit to New York, there wasn’t time to see everything I wanted to, but this was always going to be high enough on my list to make the cut. My previous knowledge of Haacke’s work was in the main of more politically driven works and of a drier, more conceptual approach.
I fully expected to be interested and absorbed. Being bowled over by the beauty of the work came as a complete surprise.
Wide White Flow consists of a large piece of white fabric, secured at the corners and blown from underneath by fans at one end. It occupied pretty much the whole of the space it was shown in. The fabric moves beautifully and I was held there for quite a while watching it billow and flow, almost like water.
Throughout his career, Haacke has been interested in systems. But while later works explore social systems in a way that is often overtly political – and on the same visit to New York I remember a distinctly heated, and somewhat alcohol fuelled, debate with a colleague who’d seen Haacke’s Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971 (also in the Paula Cooper show but a work I already knew well and really liked) that day and hated it and who appeared to feel that art had no place even attempting to affect social change (a view I still find rather depressing, but that’s not for today) – this one seems more rooted in an exploration of natural systems like wind and water. Haacke, I think, describes one of his main concerns as processes of change and certainly the fabric here is in a constant state of flux.
I think I’d love this work regardless – it is genuinely mesmerising to watch – but the simplicity of the whiteness of the fabric in the whiteness of the gallery space definitely adds to it for me.