Tehching Hsieh is an artist who has been mythologized since retiring from making art in 2000. In 1970s and 1980s New York, he made an exceptional series of artworks: five separate one-year-long performances.
The exhibition will focus on documentation of his performance ‘life work’, One Year Performance 1980-1981 (Time Clock Piece).
For one year, the artist punched a worker’s time clock located in his studio, on the hour, every hour. Marking the occasion by taking a self-portrait on a single frame of 16mm film, the resulting reel documents a year in his life at approximately one second per day – a pace that is polar opposite of the enduring length of the original performance. The punch cards, witnessed by a third party for authenticity, and other ephemera, document Hsieh’s life restructured around this highly repetitive task.
Tehching focuses his work on the passing of time, and explores a number of themes relating to the seemingly meaningless things humans surround themselves with, and what happens when we lose them. He deprives himself of social contact and material comforts, and asks whether we actually need them to be able to survive?
He explored these themes via a series of Time Pieces, each of which took place over a year. Between 1978 – 79, for his first Time Piece Cage Piece, he spent an entire year locked in a wooden cage. He stripped his life bare of any comforts or commodities, and his only social contact was with an assistant who brought him his food and dealt with his waste. They did not speak, and he had no access to radio or television.
His third instalment in the series, The Outdoor Piece, involved Tehching living entirely outdoors for a year. He did not enter any roofed building for the entire time, nor did he travel by car, bus, train or enter the subway. It could almost be seen as the reverse of his first piece; exchanging a year of confinement for a year of entirely open space. Both asked questions about the basic needs for a human to live comfortably – how can we remain as ourselves when totally stripped of social contact, material goods, or ways to record thoughts and feelings? Is it really these things that make us who we are? What is it about our dwellings and having somewhere to anchor ourselves to that gives us a sense of identity? What happens to us when we are separated from our relationships and lose the intimacy of daily life?
For “Cage Piece” Mr. Hsieh built a cage from pine dowels and two-by-fours in a corner of his TriBeCa studio, furnishing it with a bed, a blanket, a sink (no toilet) and a pail, as well as some personal hygiene items. He entered the cell on Sept. 30, 1978. Robert Projansky, his lawyer, locked the door and affixed it and each dowel with paper seals that he signed. Every day a friend delivered food and dealt with the artist’s refuse. And each day the friend took a photograph of Mr. Hsieh, who had shaved his head at the beginning.
For the next year Mr. Hsieh was mostly alone with his thoughts: no talking, reading or writing; no radio or television. On designated days once or twice a month his loft was open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; people could visit it like a gallery and see the work in progress. On Sept. 29, 1979, Mr. Projansky returned, verified that none of the seals had been broken, and Mr. Hsieh left his cell.
The Outdoor Piece
Hsieh’s third and most challenging one-year performance began September 26, 1981. The Outdoor Piece demanded that he live outside and never enter a building, subway, train, car, airplane, ship, cave or tent. He permitted himself no exceptions, even to buy food or use the restroom. He had a backpack with clothes, a camera and other necessities and a sleeping bag. He mainly kept to himself. New York City became his extended home, Chinatown was his kitchen, the West Village his bedroom and other areas his bathroom. He documented the performance with photographic self-portraits and maps of his solitary journeys.