The Confrontational Body - Hsieh Tehching
Text: Guo Jau-Lan

On March 3, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum will at last retrospectively honor the overseas-Taiwanese artist Hsieh Tehching for his work since the 1970s in performance art that was a response to contemporary art in Taiwan -- with the “2012 Pilot Program: Hsieh Tehching’s Performance Art”, and the publication of the Taiwan edition of “Out of Now”.
In actually, Hsieh has only undertaken six public performance art works from the time he first arrived on the shores of the United States as a stowaway and illegal immigrant in 1974, until his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2009. His current work at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum ought to be considered the beginning of Taiwanese re-reading of Hsieh’s performance art. Only, how should Taiwan approach this reading of Hsieh’s performance art?


Listing Hsieh’s complete body of work since 1974 is a simple task. Not only are they few in number, they are also uncomplicated as a rule. The first of these works began in 1978, four years after Hsieh first arrived in the U.S., where Hsieh sequestered himself in a wooden cage in his workshop for a year. During that period he spoke to no one, read nothing, did not write, listen to the radio, nor watch television. Friends were permitted to pass food into the cage for him. For his subsequent performance work in 1980, Hsieh punched a worker’s time clock every hour, on the hour, 24 hours a day for a year. His third work began the following year, where Hsieh lived outdoors for an entire year. During that period he did not enter any indoor spaces, trains, cars, planes, boats, caves or tents. In 1983, Hsieh and artist Linda Montano were tied at the waist to the two ends of an 8 foot long rope 24 hours a day for a year, without any contact with each other during that time. Hsieh meticulously documented each of these works with photographs; and lawyers were on hand to witness the process and recording of the work.
All four of these works address the subject of time, tacitly pointing to the way modern society utilizes globalized time: factory works punching in; enforced schedules and curfews in schools and the military, etc. The body has become temporal and spatial. In these four works, Hsieh explores, in depth, issues of time and space on the modern body through astounding timed-experiences on an ascetic corporeal body. If we might also consider Hsieh’s action of stowing away on a ship, Hsieh’s artistic career touches upon the nationalization and legalization of the corporeal body. As an artist, Hsieh Tehching was compelled to emancipate his nationalized body from the lack of freedom in Taiwan under Martial Law; which is to say, only as an undocumented immigrant was Hsieh able to undertake his artistic dialogue vis-a-vis the freedom that New York’s Museum of Modern Art represented.
In actuality, Taiwan was beginning to fully embrace modernization when Hsieh left in the 1970s. There was an exodus from farming villages into factories, where biological bodies punched into worker’s clocks en mass. Hsieh used the act of sacrificing the freedoms of his individual body to point out the ironies of the temporalized and spatialized body. Now it seems that his work not only addressed a highly capitalistic American society, but also served as to portend the future of the Taiwan he left behind – a homeland gradually submerged in a fog of modernization.
(This article was first published in the April issue of “Art Plus” magazine.)






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