In the vibrant downtown Manhattan art scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Taiwanese-American artist Tehching Hsieh made a series of extraordinary performance art works. Between September 1978 and July 1986, Hsieh realized five separate one-year-long performance pieces in which he conformed to simple but highly restrictive rules throughout each entire year. Through the course of these lifeworks, Hsieh moved from a year of solitary confinement in a sealed cell to a year in which he punched a worker's time clock in his studio every hour on the hour to a year spent living without shelter in Manhattan to a year in which he was tied by an eight-foot rope to the artist Linda Montano and finally to a year of total abstention from all art activities and influences. These works were unparalleled in terms of their use of physical difficulty over extreme durations and in their absolute conception and enactment of art and life as simultaneous processes. In 1986 Hsieh announced that he would spend the next thirteen years making art but not showing it publicly.
When this "final" lifework--an immense act of self-affirmation and self-erasure--came to a close at the turn of the Millennium, he tersely and enigmatically said that during this time he had simply kept himself alive. For many contemporary artists Hsieh is something of a cult figure. After years of near-invisibility, Hsieh has now collaborated with the British writer and curator Adrian Heathfield to create this meticulous and visually arresting documentary record of a contemporary artist's work- -- in this case, the complete body of Tehching Hsieh's performance projects from 1978 to 2000. Not only is this the first extensive critical account of these unusual works, it is also the first to discuss their significance for art history, visual and cultural studies, and the practice of performance.
Adrian Heathfield is Professor of Performance and Visual Culture at Roehampton University, London. He is the editor of Live: Art and Performance, Small Acts, and Shattered Anatomies. Tehching Hsieh is an artist based in New York City.