When we think of performance art, we often imagine grandiose shows with dramatic costumes and intricate sets. But what happens when we strip away all the bells and whistles, and focus solely on the concept of time? Enter Tehching Hsieh, a Taiwanese artist known for his innovative and groundbreaking performance pieces, particularly his one-year performances and time clock piece.
The One-Year Performances
Starting in the late 1970s, Hsieh began a series of one-year performance pieces that would come to define his oeuvre. These pieces involved Hsieh committing to a single task or action for a full year, with every moment of that year being recorded and documented. The first of these pieces was titled “Cage Piece,” in which Hsieh locked himself in a cage-like structure for a full year, only leaving to use the bathroom or bathe.
Following “Cage Piece,” Hsieh went on to perform “Time Clock Piece,” in which he punched a time clock every hour on the hour for a full year, documenting every punch on a time card. In “Outdoor Piece,” Hsieh stayed outside for a year without taking shelter or going indoors, even during inclement weather. “No Art Piece” saw Hsieh abstain from making, viewing, or discussing art for a year.
The one-year performances were a reflection of Hsieh’s interest in the passing of time, and the idea of devoting oneself completely to a singular task. By committing to these year-long performances, Hsieh was able to evoke a sense of discipline, endurance, and dedication that bordered on the spiritual.
Time Clock Piece
Of all the one-year performances, “Time Clock Piece” is perhaps the most well-known and revered. The piece, which took place from April 11, 1980, to April 12, 1981, involved Hsieh punching a time clock every hour on the hour, 24 hours a day, for a full year. Each time he punched the clock, he took a photo of his hand, which was later compiled into a series of grids that documented his entire year of labor.
What makes “Time Clock Piece” so remarkable is not just the sheer length of time Hsieh devoted to it, but the rigorous discipline he maintained throughout. Hsieh never missed a single punch, even during power outages or when he was traveling overseas. The performance was intensely physical, and Hsieh reportedly suffered from hand injuries and sleep deprivation as a result.
The resulting documentation of Hsieh’s year-long performance is a testament to the power of commitment and routine, and the fascinating ways in which the passing of time affects our lives. It is perhaps the quintessential example of Hsieh’s ethos, and a powerful reminder of the value of putting one’s all into a single task.
The Legacy of Tehching Hsieh
Through his one-year performances and other works, Tehching Hsieh has proven to be one of the most influential and respected artists of our time. His pieces have been exhibited at major museums and galleries around the world, and he has inspired countless artists to push the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of performance art.
But beyond his artistic achievements, Hsieh’s legacy is one of discipline, dedication, and endurance. His one-year performances are a testament to the power of routine and the ability of the human spirit to endure even the most challenging circumstances. In a world that often feels chaotic and uncertain, Hsieh’s work is a reminder of the value of committing oneself to a single task, and seeing it through to the end.
Tehching Hsieh’s one-year performances and time clock piece are some of the most innovative and groundbreaking works of performance art in modern history. Through his dedication and discipline, Hsieh has inspired countless artists and audiences to rethink the way we approach daily life and the passage of time. His legacy is a testament to the power of commitment, routine, and endurance, and a reminder that even the most seemingly mundane tasks can hold incredible power and meaning. As we move forward in an ever-changing world, the lessons of Hsieh’s work will continue to resonate and inspire.