Tehching Hsieh and the Experience of Time

My initial impression on the work of Tehching Hsieh, a performance artist known for his ‘One Year Performances’, was awe. I could not imagine doing one thing the same way continuously for a year. Yet in some way, we all have our markings of time. We all have a ritual that we carry out every day, whether it is brushing our teeth every morning or eating rice everyday for lunch or going for a walk outside to bask in the golden skies of a sunset. Time is essentially a construct of man that our bodies have become programmed to respond to. The experience of the passing of time is central to Hsieh’s work.

Hsieh arrived to the United States in 1974 as an undocumented immigrant from Taiwan. Beginning in 1978, Hsieh had six various one year performances. In particular, it was in 1981 where he decided to spend a whole year living outdoors. In “One Year Performance 1981–1982 (Outdoor Piece),” Hsieh would not enter any sort of shelter, whether it was a building or a cave, and survived with money he had hidden beforehand in various places. Hsieh’s work can be seen as representative of a life of monotony or survival that some migrants go through. More than being specific to the theme of migration however, Hshieh’s work is a testament to the weight time can have on the body. Ngũgĩ eloquently defines performance to be a “representation of being – the coming to be and the ceasing to be of processes in nature, human society, and thought” (Thiong’o 11). In living life as a performance, Hsieh carves an existence that acknowledges time as a part of life. Far too often do we take the time we have for granted. Hsieh mentally and physically subjects his body in a way that acknowledges the space around him and yet rejects it through his willingness to be isolated and exist in another state of living.

In defining space, there is no one set interpretation to his work. Space can be seen as New York City itself and how the constructed environment overwhelms the individual to the point where the body can feel insignificant. Space can be seen in terms of the unknown; the idea that one migrates to a place for a purpose and tries to integrate into the society but feels alienated. Hsieh’s work is going to mean different things to people because he is going through an experience that we try to understand through our own experiences. Even more importantly, we each have a distinct relationship to time. The duration of Hsieh’s performances of lasting one year is representative of human existence itself and how it is connected with the earth. We are all pulled by the same gravitational force but (and this may be related to the Platonic ideal) we attach our own meanings to time. Time is the ticking of a clock or the movement of the sun; it is the weight of the past affecting our choices in the present; the rumble from hunger or the closing of eyes; it is a measurement of distance.

 

Works Cited

“NYC-Based Artist Tehching Hsieh: When Life Becomes A Performance.” The Culture Trip. The Culture Trip Ltd, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. 
TEHCHING HSIEH. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.
Thiong’o, Ngugi Wa. “Enactments of Power: The Politics of Performance Space.” TDR 1988-) 41.3 (1997): 11.Web.

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