Tehching Hsieh: One Year Performance 1980-1981

Questions of time, life and being are the basis of Taiwanese-American artist Tehching Hsieh’s durational performances as he looks to explore the struggle between conceptual purity and physical extremities. ‘One Year Performance 1980-1981’ (commonly referred to as the ‘Time Clock Piece’) at Sydney’s Carriageworks is the first major solo project by Hsieh to be shown in Australia.

The work records Hsieh clocking into his studio – as though clocking into a factory – every hour on the hour, twenty-four hours a day for an entire year. Every time he clocks in, a portrait photograph is taken. These photographs create documentary evidence and are the basis of the work: 366 punch cards, 366 film strips, showing an increasingly long-haired and blurry-eyed Hsieh, the plain grey uniform he wore, a 16mm movie he made, witness statements attesting to his strict routine and the time clock.

The installation is an observation of time passing, comprised of documents the artist produced in a persistent methodical manner: a poster and artist’s statement, a witness’ testimony, the artist’s uniform, the time clock, 366 film strips comprised of the 8621 times he photographed himself punching the time clock, and a 16mm film which condenses the gruelling year-long experience into 6 minutes.

The extraordinary ordeal of sleep deprivation Hsieh suffered in his relentless search to investigate the nature of time and methodically observe time’s passing by living life in 59-minute intervals are captured in these hourly ‘selfies’. With interrupted sleep and daily routine, this project tests the physical and mental exertion of man.

Shaving his head at the outset, and photographing himself each time he punched the clock, he missed only a handful of ‘clock-ins’, mostly due to over-sleeping. The photographs almost look like mug-shots – Hsieh incarcerated by time and place.

The single frames he shot with a movie camera later became the film, in which each day is compressed into one second. The film, which is shown in the gallery, shortens the entire project into just six minutes. It seems cruel to watch the film in such short a time; almost as if we are mocking the duration Hsieh committed to the work.

The work is not only about time but about persistence, endurance and commitment. True, there were some days he may have over-slept resulting in one or two less frames on that particular day but Hsieh emphasises the importance of time itself; the amount we need and don’t need, the effects we can and cannot avoid.

The determination and dedication Hsieh brings to his works can be seen in a series of durational performances he undertook in New York in the 1980s, which comment on the psychology and physicality of both automated time and existential being. In total, five separate one-year long performances that were remarkable both for the extremity of their physical demands and their insistence on the inextricable relationship between art and life. In these performances Hsieh moved from a year of solitary confinement without any communication, to a year spent punching a time clock hourly in his apartment, to a year spent living without any shelter on the streets of New York, to a year in which he was tied closely to the artist Linda Montano without ever touching, and finally to a year of total abstention from art activities and influences.

Until 6 July, 2014

One Year Performance 1980-1981, installation views, Carriageworks, Sydney

Courtesy the artist and Carriageworks, Sydney. Photography by Zan Wimberley