I have found that a handful of critiques and artistic connoisseurs will identify different types of art into two categories, performing and nonperforming. I think that while this is an accurate interpretation and helpful indicator on identifying art, I think that performance pieces and performance artists are a prominent example of an artform that doesn’t adhere to that principle. While most people would automatically put performance pieces into the performing category, I think that they have just as important of an influence on the nonperforming artistic community as well.
Some who are reading this might be wondering what a performance piece even means, and at the expense of sounding like I’m giving a bad valedictorian speech I will give you a definition. Webster’s dictionary defines performance pieces as an art piece, exhibition, or installation that is created directly by the artist, collection of artists, or others. Performance art is often seen as what’s done when other more traditional art forms are not enough to get the artist’s point across. And while there are a number of prominent names in the world of artistic performance one of the most notable is Tehching Hsieh.
Hsieh was born on December 31st, 1956, in the southern region of Taiwan. He was the first of 15, growing up he said that while he thoroughly enjoyed learning as well as researching things that piqued his interest, such as philosophy and classical art, he never made very high marks in school. After graduating he served a mandatory three-year term in the Taiwanese military. It was only after his time served that he unveiled his first work titled “Jump Piece.” In this work Hseich recorded himself jumping a two-story building in Taiwan, twisting both of his ankles in the process. This would be his first and final piece that he performed in Taiwan, because in the early 1970’s he immigrated to New York City in a very unconditional manner. Hseich trained to become a sailor in 1974, eventually being granted a spot on a Taiwanese oil rig that was on route to the United States. However, Hsiech did not complete the trip, abandoning ship just miles out from Philadelphia he swam to shore and backpacked to New York.
Hsieh or (Sam) spent over four years in New York before beginning any art. He spent time as a dishwasher, cleaner, as well as waiter. Hsieh reported in The Guardian years later “When I got to New York, it took two years to find Soho. I’m illegal and I’m afraid of taking the subway. I only know Washington Square and I only know people doing portraits in the street, I don’t know this art scene.” It was only in 1978, over four years later, that Hsieh began the first of a series of five year-long pieces. This performance piece was titled “The Cage Piece.” Hseih created a homemade wooden cage which he encased himself in, he did not allow himself to speak, read, write, or consume any piece of media. The only interaction that he was permitted was once a day his colleague entered the room to empty his waste, give him food, and take a photograph of him to commemorate the process, his colleague was not allowed to give Hsieh any materials or speak a word to him.
This was his first and one of his most significant pieces, followed by other works such as The Time Clock Piece, during which he clocked into a time clock every hour for a year.
The Outdoor Piece, a performance piece in which Sam did not go inside for the full duration of a year. He lived on the streets, never going inside buildings, shops, or any form of public transportation (cars, buses, subways), the only exception was when he was arrested, but was let off soon after. ￼
Rope Piece-in this piece he bound himself to a woman for a year, unable to leave her side, however what put this piece apart was that they were not able to touch either.
Looking back on all this I think that Hsieh is a true representation of artistic dedication. Whether it is through the harm that his body experienced or the extreme mental anguish that he experienced from a year without sleep I think that there are many people who should aspire to one day reach this level of commitment, of obsession. Because at the end of the day the true meaning of these pieces surrounds the passage of time, and how you shouldn’t waste it.