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Tehching Hsieh‘s visit to UW-Madison was a powerful and inspiring experience! On Tuesday, May 5, we screened and discussed Hsieh’s work in anticipation of his visit. On Wednesday, May 6, Tehching arrived in Madison and spent the afternoon visiting graduate and undergraduate students’ art studios and having lunch with local artists and graduate students from English and Curriculum & Instruction, and then dinner with local artists and faculty from African-American Studies, Art, and Design Studies. On Thursday, May 7, Tehching presented a lively and engaging workshop with 15 participants — graduate students, undergraduate students, and faculty from Art, Arts Institute, Asian American Studies, Curriculum & Instruction, and English, as well as local artists and community members — and then had lunch with graduate students from English and Art and local artists. Thursday evening, Art Professor Doug Rosenberg introduced Hsieh’s public lecture with a moving account of the impact of Hsieh’s work on Rosenberg’s own work, and then Hsieh presented a thoughtful and provocative public lecture discussing each of his six lifeworks as well as his plans for a retrospective show and his philosophy of life and art.  Following the lecture, Tehching had dinner with faculty and students from Art, Art History, Arts Institute, and Theatre.  On Friday afternoon, May 8, Tehching had more art studio visits with graduate students, and then lunch with undergraduate and graduate students from Art, English, Political Science, and Spanish & Portuguese. Throughout his visit, many UW-Madison undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty, as well as local Madison artists, were able to have meaningful one-on-one or small group conversations with Tehching, a rare experience to spend time with a legendary artist. Tehching often speaks of the importance of free-thinking, and his work will continue to provoke our thinking – about time, existence, art, and life. We are so inspired by his work, and by his life, and we’re very grateful that he was with us here in Madison.

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Tehching Hsieh is a foundational performance artist, conceptual artist, visual artist, and philosopher-artist. He enacted a series of durational works that bracketed everyday life as performance, testing the limits of blurring art and life. During Hsieh’s first three One Year Performances, One Year Performance 1978-1979: Cage Piece, One Year Performance 1980-1981: Time Clock Piece, and One Year Performance 1981-1982: Outdoor Piece, he confined himself spatially and temporally throughout the year-long duration of each piece, living in a cage in his gallery with very little human contact, requiring himself to clock in to a time clock in his gallery every hour on the hour, and living outdoors. Each of these pieces radically changed Hsieh’s everyday life, as the demanding rules of each piece supplanted his ability to perform regular, everyday activities. Departing from the form of his first three year-long performances mapped onto the time-space of life, Hsieh’s fourth piece, Art/Life One Year Performance 1983-1984: Rope Piece with Linda Montano, embedded the year-long performance into life. Throughout the duration of the piece, Hsieh and Montano, a fellow performance artist researching life/art practice, were tied together with a rope of eight feet, literalizing the process through which subjects constrain and enable each other’s subjectivities. His fifth One Year Performance was a rejection of art-making, and this was followed by a thirteen year performance during which he would make art but not show it publicly. Formally disrupting the separation between art and life, Hsieh’s work imbues the temporal processes of daily life with aesthetic awareness and ethical attention to others.

Hsieh’s work has been so influential to us, in thinking about performance art and performance in everyday life, durational work and conceptual work, visual culture, photography, and documentation, and where the time-space of art and the time-space of life overlap and separate. The conceptual framework for each of his performances, the way he uses text in the statement for each work, the design of the posters, and the visual display of the photographs and other documentation is already an incredibly rich body of work. But to Tehching this is the secondary art – the primary art was the actual time-space of doing the work, and this primary part of the artwork ultimately eludes us, the audience. We can see the photographs, but we can’t see what Tehching was thinking during the performance. In spite of the meticulous documentation, Tehching’s work ultimately escapes visibility and exceeds interpretative frameworks.

This series of events, “The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh,” was presented by the Art + Scholarship A.W. Mellon Workshop and Visual Cultures Student Focus Group with generous support from Center for the Humanities and Associated Students of Madison, and co-sponsored by the Art Department, the Art History Department, the Arts Institute, the Asian American Studies Program, the English Department, the Communication Arts Department, and the Center for Visual Cultures.

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