Friday, September 26, 2008

Tehching Hsieh

Tehching “Sam” Hsieh was a noted New York City-based performance artist; he has been called a “master” by another performance artist, Marina Abramovi?. He no longer creates art, as of 2000.

Few records remain of his early career; one of the few things that is known is that he once learnt art making with a Chinese Art Master, Shiy Der-Chin. In 1973, he immigrated illegally to Philadelphia, United States, where he worked as a dishwasher at China Town for 4 years before he moved to New York City and created his first noted performance piece — One Year Performance 1978–1979.


He is most known for his One Year Performance pieces :
* One Year Performance 1978–1979 “The Cage Piece”
* One Year Performance 1980–1981 “The Time Piece”
* One Year Performance 1981–1982 “The Outdoor Piece”
* Art / Life: One Year Performance 1983–1984
* One Year Performance 1985–1986

Also a 13 year plan “Earth”, 1986–1999, which was his last work.

Artwork details

* One Year Performance 1978–1979 “The Cage Piece”: September 29th, 1978 through September 30th, 1979.

In this performance, the artist locked himself in a 11′6″ × 9′ × 8″ wooden cage, furnished only with a wash basin, lights, a toilet, and a single bed. During the year, he was not allowed to talk, to read, to write, or to listen to radio and TV. A lawyer, Robert Projansky, notarized the entire process and made sure the artist never left the cage during that one year. In addition, this performance was open to be viewed everyday from 11am to 5pm for the entire year.

* One Year Performance 1980–1981 “The Time Piece”: April 11th, 1980 through April 11th, 1981

Hsieh punched a time clock every hour of the day for one year. Each time he punched the clock, it took a single picture, which together yield a 6 minute movie. He shaved his head before the piece, so his growing hair reflects the passage of time.

* One Year Performance 1981–1982 “The Outdoor Piece”: September 26th, 1981 through September 26th, 1982

Hsieh spent one year outside, not entering buildings or shelter of any sort, including cars, trains, airplanes, boats, or tents. He moved around New York city with only a sleeping bag.

* Art / Life: One Year Performance 1983–1984

In this performance, Hsieh and Montano spent one year tied to each other with an 8 foot long rope. They had to stay in a same room while not allowed to touch each other until the end of the one year. Both of them shaved their hair in the beginning of the year, and the performance was notarized by the lawyers of Paul Grassfield and Pauline Oliveros .

* One Year Performance 1985–1986

For one year, Hsieh did no art, spoke no art, saw no art, read no art, and did not enter any museum or gallery. He just went about life for one year.

* 13 year plan, “Earth”, 1986–1999.

At the beginning he declared:
:“Will make Art during this time. Will not show it publicly.”
This plan began on his 36th birthday, December 31st, 1986, and lasted until his 49th birthday, December 31st, 1999.

At the end, on January 1st, he issued his report:
:“I kept myself alive. I passed the December 31st, 1999.”


Why one year pieces? First, because a year is long enough that the work is not simply a performance, but becomes life. Second, because a year is the longest natural unit of time: “several years” is a human invention.

His pieces are not feats of stamina nor motivated by a desire to suffer , but rather are explorations of time and of struggle.
He is not spiritual, but his work draws parallels to monasticism, and he has compared himself to a monk:
:“I have no interest in the spiritual but I am in some ways like a monk who is dedicated in a serious way.”

His works easily admit readings as: prison/solitude/confinement/interior, work/time, homelessness/exposure/exterior, marriage/human relations, and finally, life.

His last two works lead one to question the relationship of life and art, and the effect of designating something as art.

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