What Should Be Done (English Tr.)

“Buhrlesque”, “Les must de Rembrandt”, “Und ihr habt doch gesiegt”: three pieces by Hans Haacke. He knows what he must do. The works of this German artist were exhibited in the Centre Georges Pompidou contemporary wing in Paris in May ’89. The exhibition’s opening coincided with the colloquium “Causes humanitaires et création graphique” [Engl. “Humanitarian Causes and Graphic Design”]. But this was no coincidence. These two events had important points in common: in essence, both dealt with political awareness; in form, both made use of design. And yet they both had a kind of absurd insularity, apart from their differences in scope and ambition.

On the one hand, there was artistic work that encompassed an unambiguous agenda, exhibited in an institution for art. Haacke’s work informed about and thereby denounced apartheid, the arms race, the implications of great art amateurs being involved in some very sordid affairs, etc. This work certainly questions institutions and the immunity of the artist. Hans Haacke clearly responded: “I think defamation laws should not stop at the museum’s doorstep. It would be naïve to think that museums have immunity…” “In my opinion, the art world plays an integral part in the industry of conscience. Its productions and debates, like those of other industry players, interact with politics and the ideological climate, even though this process is difficult to describe.” (Art Press, no. 136, May 1989) With regard to the exhibited works, what interests me is the notion of effectiveness, and Haacke’s work is very effective. This exhibition calls to one’s conscience. When facing these works, we no longer have a choice: one either has a conscience or not.

On the other hand, there was graphic design for humanitarian organizations, health foundations and associations, etc. Here, a creature’s involvement is not without ambiguity, as I remarked in the colloquium “Causes humanitaires et création graphique”. Visual communication work (letterhead, logo, posters, signs…) for these organizations was not intended to appeal directly to one’s conscience. Its purpose was to associate the institution with an image. The work is purely formal. In fact these same designated forms are used for all kinds of partners and sponsors. The partners one chooses, I believe, represent the ways in which we try to clear our consciences. With the right humanitarian partner, I can feel good about myself! This way I can cover up any real questions or problems related to injustice.

Our conscience refuses to be commanded. We should know on our own what we need to do.

Thomas Hirschhorn Paris, 1989

(Translated from French)