A year ago (whilst I was working at Hoop) I was commissioned by the Live Art Development Agency to design a monograph written by my friend Adrian Heathfield about the Taiwanese/US performance artist Tehching Hsieh. At the time I knew little about Tehching or his work but from the off the project seemed unusual and intriguing. During the 70s, living as an illegal immigrant in New York, Tehching undertook an extraordinary and gruelling series of time-based performances that redefined the concepts of endurance in performance and the idea of 'life as art'. Over a period of five consecutive years Tehching subjected himself to unbelievable forms of deprivation and hardship, and meticulously catalogued and recorded the entire process. Year 1: (78-79) Locked in a cage, solitary confinement. No conversation, nothing to read, nothing to watch. Every day recorded with a photo and a mark etched on the wall. Year 2: (80-81) Installed in his studio, Tehching punches into a time clock that takes his photo every hour for a year, day and night. Year 3: (81-82) Tehching spends a year living and sleeping rough in Manhattan. No shelter. He endures a sub-zero winter outdoors and records his experience in a sequence of powerful black and white photos taken with a tripod and timer. Year 4: (83-84) Rope Piece. Tehching spends a year tethered to artist Linda Montana by a 7 foot rope. They are not allowed to touch. Their daily conversations are recorded on cassette and then sealed. Relations between the two were strained to say the least by the end of the year. Year 5: (85-86) In an act of creative self-negation, Tehching denies art, and refuses to make it or view it in any way for a year. For the next thirteen years, Tehching drops out of view, stops making art and starts cataloguing his lifeworks.
Tehching has been overlooked and marginalised by the art establishment, not only for racial reasons, but also because his work was too difficult to either quantify or consume. However, his status amongst the performance art world borders on the legendary, and the publication this week of his lifeworks in the book OUT OF NOW, coinciding with an installation of his work at MoMA suggest his impact on the art world is ripe for reappraisal. This self-effacing and charming visionary seems to be finally getting the attention his work deserves.
Read Tim Etchells beautiful toast to Tehching from last Monday's launch event here.
Read the recent article on Tehching in the New York Times.