The influential Taiwanese artist will represent his country at the 57th edition of the Biennale.

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) announced on 28 July 2016 that Tehching Hsieh will be representing Taiwan with an exhibition to be curated by Adrian Heathfield at the 57th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale 2017.

Tehching Hsieh, 'One Year Performance 1981-1982'. © Tehching Hsieh. Image courtesy the artist, Gilbert & Lisa Silverman, and Sean Kelly Gallery.

Tehching Hsieh, ‘One Year Performance 1981-1982’. © Tehching Hsieh. Image courtesy the artist, Gilbert & Lisa Silverman, and Sean Kelly Gallery.

The recent announcement consolidates Taiwan’s decade-long involvement in the most influential international biennial art event. Taiwan’s representation at the Venice Biennale began in 1995 and has been a collateral event since 2003, taking place at the Palazzo delle Prigioni right off Piazza San Marco.

In 2017, Taiwan will return with the presentation of one of the country’s most influential contemporary artists – pioneer of durational performances Tehching Hsieh. The solo exhibition will be curated by British writer, curator and Professor of Performance and Visual Culture at London’s Roehampton University Adrian Heathfield, the author of Out of Now (2015) ­– a monograph on Tehching Hsieh. Quoted in the press release, the curator states:

It will be a great joy to make the most extensive and in depth exhibition of Tehching Hsieh‟s work to date, spanning distinct decades, continents and artistic propositions. The historic halls of the Palazzo delle Prigioni Venice, the former prison of the Palazzo Ducale, are an ideal setting for the work of an artist who understands more than most, the meaning and cost of “doing time”, and the nature of lives lived at the edges of what we call society.

Ping Lin, Director of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) TFAM, is also quoted as saying about Hsieh’s work:

With high anticipation, Taiwan’s nominating committee recommend Hsieh’s vital and richly metaphorical performance art projects. Hsieh’s work not only bears witness to a visionary perspective, but also sheds light on universal human conditions through his critical enactment of a biopolitics of existence.

Adrian Heathfield (left) and Tehching Hsieh (right). © Hugo Glendinning

Adrian Heathfield (left) and Tehching Hsieh (right). © Hugo Glendinning.

Tehching Hsieh: performing life

Tehching Hsieh (b. 1950) has been critically acclaimed across the globe for his innovative performances in which he adopted time as “his creative medium to advance his ontological exploration of human existence”. Fellow New York-based performance artist Marina Abramovic has called him the ‘master’ of performance art. In 1974, he moved from Taiwan to the United States as an illegal alien and in 1978 he started a series of “One Year Performances” using his body and a series of ‘endurance’ and repetitive tasks to explore self-discipline, physical and psychological confinement, notions of freedom and exposure, and the limits of human behaviour and relations.

His first performance entitled Jump, took place in 1973 when Hsieh was still in Taiwan. The artist jumped from the second floor of a building in Taipei and broke both his ankles. The work was received with shock by local audiences and was a precursor to his subsequent series, which required as his first ever performance an incredible amount of physical and mental endurance.

His series of “One Year Performances” started with the Cage Piece (1978 – 1979), presented at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2009, in which the artist lived as a recluse in a cage. The first work was followed by the “Time Clock Piece” (1980 – 1981), featured at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum also in 2009, in which Hsieh punched in a time clock every hour of the day, for a year.

In Outdoor Piece (1981-1982), the artist lived outdoors in the streets of New York for a year, entering no sheltered space. Rope Piece (1983-1984) saw him live together with fellow artist Linda Montano for a year, tied around the waist to her with a two-metre rope. With the No Art Piece (1985-1986) Hsieh imposed a contradictory restriction on himself: although this was an artwork, he was forbidden to experience art in any way. Lastly, in his Thirteen Year Plan from 1986 to 1999, he vowed to withdraw from the art scene, by declaring: “Will make Art during this time. Will not show it publicly.”

He resurfaced into the art world after 13 years ‘underground’, presenting his work in a series of major exhibitions, such as the ones held in New York institutions in 2009, and most recently the 2014 presentation at Carriageworks, Australia. Hsieh lives in New York City and is represented by Sean Kelly Gallery.

Click here to watch a video on Tehching Hsieh by Carriageworks on YouTube

In an interview (PDF download) with The Guardian in 2014, Hsieh explained that although he exhibits worldwide, he is not a practicing artist any longer: “I don’t do art anymore. I no longer feel creative. I don’t want to do what the art world expects me to do. This is my exit. This is my freedom.”

TFAM writes in the press release about Hsieh’s work and his influential approach to art and performance:

Through an interruption of the status quo, Hsieh has attempted to rebel against the existing socio-political hegemony and strip bare the mechanisms of subjugation. […] From an estranged position, Hsieh not only embodies a life force and resilience emerging from his early days in Taiwan, but also a persistence in adversity common to many, conveyed through frugal yet extreme artistic practices. His actions evoke collective cultural anxieties and explore the many existential dilemmas found within the modern human condition.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related Topics: Taiwanese artists, biennals, biennales, performance, events in Venice

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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