Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Real Art

I had a brief break in my schedule today and made it down to the Museum of Modern Art.

There was one exhibit in particular that made my visit worthwhile; a temporary exhibition of 'One Year Performance: 1978-1979' by Tehching Hsieh. Hsieh spent a year locked in a cage, voluntarily living in a space similar to a prison cell, which he constructed in his Manhattan apartment. He had nobody to talk to. Nothing to read or listen to. Nothing to do except think and wait for time to pass. His meals were delivered and his excrement was taken out in a bucket. He had occasional (once or twice a month) scheduled days were the public could come and view the performance.

The purpose of the performance is not elaborated upon. Maybe it's about freedom, or isolation, or excess, or simplicity, or the passage of time, or something else. I think it makes the piece better, because its relevance and meaning are a function of perspective. The experience of the slow passage of time and absolute isolation may seem to starkly contrast the experience of regular life, but I see the cage as a metaphor for personal boundaries and self imposed misery.

Hsieh did four other One Year Performances. One was to punch a card in a time clock, every hour on the hour twenty-four hours a day for one year. He made a sixteen-millimeter film of this by releasing one frame every time he punched the clock. The result is to see a year passing in six minutes.

In another, he spent a year outside in New York City without ever entering a building, subway, train, car, airplane, ship, cave or tent. Not even to buy food or use the restroom. He had a backpack with clothes, a camera and other necessities and a sleeping bag. His homeless lifestyle culminated in his being arrested for trespassing and charged with possession of a weapon; the nunchucks that he carried for self-protection.

His fourth one-year piece was to be tied by a length of rope to fellow artist for one year. In his words,
'We will stay together for one year and never be alone. We will be in the same room at the same time, when we are inside. We will be tied together at the waist with an eight-foot rope. We will never touch each other during the year.'


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