Tehching Hsieh: Doing Time / Taiwan Pavilion, Venice Art Biennale 2017

Tehching Hsieh: Doing Time at the Taiwan Pavilion of the Venice Art Biennale 2017 is one of the most remarkable exhibitions of the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Curated by Adrian Heathfield and organized by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum of Taiwan, the show introduces the visitor to the work of Tehching Hsieh, who in the late 1970s and early 1980s carried out five separate yearlong performances that were unprecedented in terms of their use of physical difficulty over extreme durations.

The exhibition “Doing Time” at Venezia’s Palazzo delle Prigioni presents two of Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performances together for the first time: Hsieh’s “Time Clock Piece” and his “Outdoor Piece” and also three of Tehching Hsieh’s previously unseen works. This video provides you with an exhibition walk-through and with excerpts of the interviews with the artist Tehching Hsieh and the curator of the exhibition Adrian Heathfield.

Tehching Hsieh realized six durational performance pieces completed between 1978 and 2000. Five One Year Performances and a Thirteen Year Plan. In the Cage Piece (1978-1979) the artist locked himself in an 11.5-by-9-by-8-foot (3.5 by 2.7 by 2.4 m) wooden cage, furnished only with a wash basin, lights, a pail, and a single bed. During the year, he did not allow himself to talk, to read, to write, or to listen to radio and TV. In the Time Clock Piece (1980-1981) Tehching Hsieh punched a time clock every hour on the hour. Each time he punched the clock, he took a single picture of himself, which together yield a 6-minute movie. In the Outdoor Piece (1981-1982) the artist spent one year outside, not entering buildings or shelter of any sort, including cars, trains, airplanes, boats, or tents. In the Rope Piece (1983-1984) Tehching Hsieh and Linda Montano spent one year between 4 July 1983 and 4 July 1984 tied to each other with an 8-foot-long (2.4 m) rope. They had to stay in the same room and were not allowed to touch each other. In the No Art Piece (1985-1986) Tehching Hsieh stayed away from art, that is did not create any art, didn’t talk about art, didn’t look at anything related to art. Tehching Hsieh’s thirteen Year Plan (1986–1999) consisted in Hsieh making art, but not showing it from 31 December 1986 until 31 December 1999.

Tehching Hsieh: Doing Time / Taiwan Pavilion, Venice Art Biennale 2017. Exhibition walkthrough and interviews with Tehching Hsieh and Adrian Heathfield, Venice (Italy), May 11, 2017.

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Excerpt from the press release:

In Manhattan’s downtown art scene in the late 1970s and early 80s, the young Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh made an exceptional series of artworks. Working outside the art world’s sanctioned spaces and economies Hsieh embarked on five separate yearlong performances. In each, he made a strict rule that governed his behaviour for the entire year. The performances were unprecedented in terms of their use of physical difficulty over extreme durations and in their absolute conception of art as a living process.

Doing Time exhibits two of Hsieh’s One Year Performances together for the first time, assembling his accumulated records and artefacts into detailed installations. In One Year Performance 1980-1981 (‘Time Clock Piece’), Hsieh subjected himself to the dizzying discipline of clocking on to a worker’s time clock on the hour, every hour, for a whole year. In One Year Performance 1981-1982 (‘Outdoor Piece’), Hsieh inhabited a further sustained deprivation: he remained outside for a year without taking any shelter. Together these monumental performances of subjection mount an intense and affective discourse on human existence, its relation to systems of control, to time and to nature. Hsieh’s fugitive presence – traced throughout – speaks both of the abjection and ingenuity found in survival by those who have nothing. During the course of his One Year Performances Hsieh was an illegal immigrant.

The exhibition also takes its spectators back to three of Hsieh’s previously unseen works: short performances and photographs, all made in Taipei in 1973 before his emigration. Each piece singularly investigates the ground, its relation to organic events and to image capture. Together, the works chart Hsieh’s course away from abstract painting and mark his emerging interests in action, repetition and serial images. Hsieh has been actively engaged in this recovery of past works, and the exhibition involves a reconstruction of a lost film.

In addition to the revelation of Hsieh’s early artistic concerns, a new short documentary on the artist by photographer Hugo Glendinning and curator Adrian Heathfield, Outside Again, will be screened continuously, and a publication with new critical essays on the artist by Adrian Heathfield, Joshua Chambers-Letson and Jow Jiun Gong accompanies the exhibition. At the opening and close of Doing Time, Hsieh and Heathfield will be joined in talk events at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia by leading thinkers from the visual arts, performance, philosophy, anthropology and architecture. Speakers will respond to the exhibition and discuss the relation of Hsieh’s work to questions of endurance, labour and waste.

Tehching Hsieh was born on December 31st 1950 in Nan-Chou, Taiwan. Hsieh dropped out from high school in 1967 and took up painting. After finishing his army service (1970 – 73), Hsieh had his first solo show at the gallery of the American News Bureau in Taiwan. Shortly after this solo show, Hsieh stopped painting. He made a performance action, “Jump Piece,” in which he broke both of his ankles. He trained as a seaman, which he then used as a means to enter the United States. In July of 1974, Hsieh finally arrived at a small port near Philadelphia. He was an illegal immigrant in the States for fourteen years until he was granted amnesty in 1988. Starting in the late nineteen-seventies, Hsieh made five One Year Performances and a “Thirteen Year Plan,” inside and outside his studio in New York City. Using long durations, making art and life simultaneous, Hsieh achieved one of the most radical approaches in contemporary art. The first four One Year Performances made Hsieh a regular name in the art scene in New York; the last two pieces, intentionally retreating from the art world, set a tone of sustained invisibility. Since the millennium, released from the restriction of not showing his works during a thirteen-year period, Hsieh has exhibited his work in North and South America, Asia and Europe. Hsieh lives in Brooklyn and is represented by Sean Kelly Gallery.

Adrian Heathfield is a writer and curator. He co-curated Live Culture (Tate Modern 2003) and the creative research project Performance Matters (2009-14). He was a curatorial attaché for the Sydney Biennale (2016) and, as part of the freethought collective, is a co-director of the Bergen Assembly (2016). He has published extensively on contemporary performance, art, theater and dance. He is the author of Out of Now a monograph on the artist Tehching Hsieh, co-editor of Perform, Repeat, Record and editor of Live: Art and Performance. He has worked with many artists and thinkers on critical and creative collaborations including film dialogues and performance lectures. Heathfield is Professor of Performance and Visual Culture at the University of Roehampton, London.

Full-length video (24:36 min.):

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