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The One Year Performance
August 18, 2006 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Tehching Hsieh – Life Performance Never one to back down from performance art, Tehching Hsieh, a Chinese emigre to the US, has done some pretty impressive things: - A year in a cage in his loft without talking; -Punching a time clock every hour of every day for a year (and missing tons of REM sleep and making a film in the process;) -Spending a year outside, never entering a single building or roofed structure until he was arrested in a scuffle; Tied together with artist Linda Montano with a 8-foot piece of rope. Does Tehching Hsieh deserve to be called America's Greatest Performance Artist?
posted by parmanparman (27 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
A clip from the time clock performance
posted by shawnj at 10:38 AM on August 18, 2006


I dunno in terms of sheer audacity, I think that title will always be held by Chris Burden ^
posted by lumpenprole at 10:43 AM on August 18, 2006


If Hollywood ever runs out of ideas he'll make a fortune.

Outstanding video clip shawnj! Kinda wished he would have let his hair and a beard grow.
posted by hal9k at 10:43 AM on August 18, 2006


I'm pretty sure the clip is only a week or two. His hair is much longer here
posted by shawnj at 10:45 AM on August 18, 2006


Kinda wished he would have let his hair and a beard grow.

I remember seeing a video clip of a guy who did that. He was asian, I think but I don't know if it was Hsieh. It was a long time ago.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:46 AM on August 18, 2006


I don't think I can say he's the "greatest" not having seen that many, but the punching the clock piece is defintely art.

He's to be contrasted with shock performance art that evokes visceral reaction tinged with only the most superficial moral thinking.

I have to confess, my first reaction was "this is pointless", but upon reflection all of his works highlight that what it really means to be alive, to be human, is determined by what happens in our minds that no one else can see. Otherwise, we are all the same, because we all have clocks we punch, cages we live in, attachments to others that bind us. Maybe the outside piece points out that even outside, living like animals, we do not become animals (note the irony that he was involved in a fight serious enough to get him arrested and to restore his civility he had to be brought inside)

I guess in that regard, his final (latest?) work is the masterpiece - that art is not the cell, or the punching of the clock, or the rope, but what is happening inside. Maybe it says that art is created in the minds of everyone every day and for the thinker alone to reflect on between the moments that mark time? Those moments were the subjects of his earlier work.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:53 AM on August 18, 2006 [2 favorites]


On preview, Burden's work seems to exhibit the early signs of the masochism that turn most people off of modern art.

By contrast, Hsieh's work isn't masochistic. They require sacrifice ands suffering to be sure, and he may have had to have been masochistic a little to pull them off, but that doesn't make the work masochistic. However, these works are basically extensions or exagerrations of what everyone does every day anyway. What makes us able to sit in an office every day for decades on end is what is going on in our head, the point of the last peice.

Again, I suck at art, so what do I know. Just my opinions...
posted by Pastabagel at 10:58 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel: Great comments!
posted by parmanparman at 11:03 AM on August 18, 2006


Chris Burden = Jackass

except that he lacks joy, Spike Jonze, and a little person

I prefer Jackass

This Tehching Hsieh, on the other hand, him I like
posted by elr at 11:21 AM on August 18, 2006


Off-topic: Those ^ wiki links are fucking annoying.
posted by chunking express at 11:28 AM on August 18, 2006


he's welcome to the title.
anybody who can convince people to bring him his meals and take out his waste for a year should be able to canvass well for the position.
posted by Busithoth at 11:28 AM on August 18, 2006


I posted about Mr. Hsieh a while ago. Thanks for the new link.
posted by milquetoast at 11:29 AM on August 18, 2006


Interesting - thanks for the post. I liked this bit, from the second link:
But I am now not doing, and I am not an artist now. Some times people say, "Oh, the kind of work you are doing now is art," but it is not. If you want to call it art, it has nothing to do with me. ... If I am painting a house, people say I am painting or I am doing a performance. But it is not. I am doing what I have to do in life.
I just like the idea of him doing a bit of grocery shopping, or hitching up his pants, and there'll be a small crowd of hipsters with asymmetric haircuts saying in hushed tones: "Look, he's making art."

Like I said - fascinating post.
posted by bokeh at 11:57 AM on August 18, 2006


Oh performance art, you're such horseshit.


Look, I'm making myself uncomfortable in new and different ways! Surely this has value beyond mere spectacle disguised as art! Rite?


Guys?
posted by stenseng at 12:37 PM on August 18, 2006


great post! i learned about the punching the clock piece in college & it's always stuck with me... such a great metaphor, such a great idea, so amazing that anyone could do it without going crazy. for me this is the best type of performance art. i will be checking out his other work.
posted by jcruelty at 12:38 PM on August 18, 2006


"greatest"? I dunno.
"most dedicated & tenacious"? probably.
posted by raedyn at 12:47 PM on August 18, 2006


Here's my question. Who sponsored Hsieh for all these projects? Is he independently wealthy? How much money does one need to survive on the streets for a year? or survive in your attic for a year?

Who patronizes these sorts of things?
posted by Parannoyed at 12:56 PM on August 18, 2006


Well, I try to be as patronizing about them as possible...
posted by stenseng at 1:11 PM on August 18, 2006


parannoyed: As far as I can tell, his family back in Taiwan was pretty generous. But he also started the project once he got either ownership or rental of a 5,000 sf warehouse in NYC that he was able to rent out. He now owns a big live-work in Williamsburg.

A valid question of who spends money on these pieces, as they can't ultimately hang them on the wall.
posted by parmanparman at 1:28 PM on August 18, 2006


America's Greatest Performance Artist?

I'll put this one in with the other dubious accolades, like "most admired serial killer" and "least corrupt politician."
posted by 1adam12 at 2:08 PM on August 18, 2006


Off-topic: Those ^ wiki links are fucking annoying.

So don't click them, take it to MeTa, or shut the fuck up.


Anyway, as regards Burden vs. Hsieh, there is less masochism. Still, I would say that if you were at the show where Burden got shot, you'd pretty much remember that as the most intense performance piece of your life.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:02 PM on August 18, 2006


Oh performance art, you're such horseshit.

Look, I'm making myself uncomfortable in new and different ways! Surely this has value beyond mere spectacle disguised as art! Rite?

Guys?


...and now, let's read the interview:

Action is not necessarily art. But I don’t really care about what is art and what is not. I want to know if something is interesting and that doesn’t have to be art. If there is an interesting message, let’s talk about it. Otherwise I am not interested.

Good effort though, stenseng. Snarking can be hard to do, don't feel bad.
posted by Jairus at 7:21 PM on August 18, 2006


So, not making art becomes art? Give me a break. The Emporer's new clothes, or as stenseng said, horseshit. The first four "pieces" are definitely interesting and raise some important questions, I grant, but the gushing praise of the article is rather overblown. The most universal artist? I don't think so, although he may be the best performance artist.


And Jairus, you are the one snarking. stensing merely expressed a succinct contrary view.

Still, nice post.
posted by blue shadows at 12:24 AM on August 19, 2006


While my tastes in art run to the... unusual, all these works are too damned boring for me. Punching a clock once an hour for a year, it's like dreaming about work. Oh, did I mention humourless?

I've read around this area for years but I can't help thinking when I read this that this is someone with money but without any particular talent who wants to be an artist. If your next door neighbor who hadn't gone to art school did these things, you'd write them off as crazy.

Note that I adore e.g. Tom Friedman, whose work is similarly very labour intensive. However, his stuff is very funny, and it also results in astonishing artefacts to divert the eye and tickle the brain.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:34 AM on August 19, 2006


On preview: one could have "raised these important questions" in a couple of paragraphs in an essay, rather than spending a year of one's life on each one of them.

And frankly, I don't think any of these questions is particularly important, even within the limited and increasingly sterile context of contemporary Western art.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:39 AM on August 19, 2006


lupus_yonderboy, thanks for mentioning Tom Friedman. I had't heard of him, but his stuff's pretty cool.
posted by ITheCosmos at 3:33 PM on August 19, 2006


one could have "raised these important questions" in a couple of paragraphs in an essay, rather than spending a year of one's life on each one of them.

The fact that you are discussing and thinking about his work right now - whereas you likely wouldn't be if he'd just written a couple of paragraphs - suggests that this is not so.

And it seems pretty clear that he wasn't simply out to make some point: rather, the lived experience of doing these things, as it affected him, was largely the point.

this is someone with money but without any particular talent who wants to be an artist.

I don't think any of this was entirely intended as art - it just gained him notoreity, and we t have precious few categories for things we don't understand and make us uncomfortable, so it's been called art.

Are these the acts of a privileged man? Sure, maybe. But I can't help having some respect for someone who uses his privilege to engage privilege - and push himself, for god's sake. Most of what's going on in the West is acting out of privilege, including most things done by people who are always so quick to cry "privilege!" I'd rather he be doing this than volunteering with the Democrats.

Great post. Thank you.
posted by poweredbybeard at 3:32 PM on August 20, 2006


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