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Live Art Development Agency on the Extraordinary Work of Tehching Hsieh

In the vibrant downtown Manhattan art scene of the late 1970s and early 80s, the Taiwanese-American artist Tehching Hsieh made a series of extraordinary performance works. Between September 1978 and July 1986 Hsieh realised five separate one year long performance pieces, in which he conformed to highly restrictive and adverse rules throughout each entire year. Hsieh moved from a year of solitary confinement without any communication, to punching a time clock on the hour every hour, to a life without shelter on the street, to a life tied intimately to artist Linda Montano without touching and finally to a total abstention from all art activities. These works were unprecedented in terms of their use of extreme durations, physical difficulty and in their absolute conception of art and life as simultaneous processes.

Hsieh meticulously documented these epic conceptual works, retaining all of the materials, objects, texts, audio, photographic and filmic traces from these visually rich pieces.

Though Hsieh’s works are now cited as seminal art works of the era, for many years they suffered from under-exposure in a predominantly white and westernised art world. The radical transience of the work — its resistance to circulation as a commodity, object or image — didn’t help its circulation or representation. Nor did the project Hsieh pursued shortly after the close of his last one-year performance. In 1986 Hsieh announced that he would spend thirteen years making art but not showing it publicly, entering a prolonged period of invisibility. For many artists Hsieh remained a cult figure. The rigor and dedication of his art inspired passion, while the elusive and epic nature of his performances generated speculation and mythology.

Since the late 80s, interest in his work has grown steadily and by the beginning of the 21st century artistic, academic and curatorial interest in Hsieh’s work reached a critical mass. In 2009 Hsieh collaborated with the writer and curator Adrian Heathfield to create the book Out Of Now: The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh (Live Art Development Agency and MIT Press), a meticulous and visually arresting record of the complete body of his artworks from 1978-1999. Marina Abramovic, who had always cited Hsieh as one of the most inspirational and influential artists of our times, invited him to be a guest of honour during her The Artist is Present performance exhibition in MoMA, New York in 2010. And in 2017 Hsieh again collaborated with Heathfield on Doing Time, a major exhibition of his work for the Taiwan Pavilion as part of the 2017 Venice Biennale.

Following the huge popular and critical success of Doing Time, Hsieh is coming to London to talk about his work and show a film that was made by Heathfield and filmmaker Hugo Glendinning for the Venice exhibition, Outside Again. In the film Hsieh returns to the original sites of his performances many decades later, and momentarily relives their sense. Some locations have transformed beyond recognition, some have remained relatively unchanged, and others have fallen into dereliction. The occasion of these returns prompts Hsieh to articulate his thoughts on art and its outsides, long durations, and the testing of human limits. 

 

Outside Again will be screened by the Live Art Development Agency as part of its LADA Screens series on 30 November at 7pm. At the event Hsieh will present a short talk on the topic of ‘wasting time’ and be joined in conversation by Adrian Heathfield and Hugo Glendinning. The film will then be freely available online until January 2018.

Hsieh will also give a talk at Tate Exchange and be in conversation with LADA’s Lois Keidan on Saturday 2 December at 4pm to coincide with the installation at Tate Modern of Hsieh's seminal work One Year Performance 1980-81, in which he recorded himself punching a time clock on the hour every hour for a year.

Out Of Now: The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh (Live Art Development Agency and MIT Press) is available at a special sale price until January 2018 through LADA’s online shop, Unbound.