Downtown Manhattan, 30th September 1978. Tehching Hsieh, a young Taiwanese artist, begins to make an exceptional series of artworks. Working outside the art world’s sanctioned spaces, Hsieh embarks on five consecutive yearlong performances. He starts each work by releasing a statement: a strict set of rules that will govern his behaviour for the entire year. These performances will be unprecedented in their use of physical difficulty over extreme durations; they will also be unyielding in their conviction that art is a living process.
Doing Time exhibits two of Hsieh’s One Year Performances together for the first time, assembling his accumulated documents and artefacts into detailed installations. In One Year Performance 1980-81, Hsieh subjected himself to the dizzying discipline of clocking on to a worker’s time clock on the hour, every hour, for a whole year. In One Year Performance 1981-82, Hsieh inhabited a further sustained deprivation: he remained outside for a year without taking any shelter. Each work convenes different methods of documentation, challenging what it might mean to archive a life. Together these monumental performances of subjection mount an intense and affective discourse on human existence, its relation to systems of control, to time and to nature. Hsieh’s fugitive presence – traced throughout – speaks both of the abject conditions and ingenuity of survival for those who have nothing. During the course of his One Year Performances Hsieh was an illegal immigrant.
The final room of Doing Time takes us back to three of Hsieh’s previously unseen works: short performances and photographs, all made in Taipei in 1973, before his emigration. At the close of the exhibition a documentary, Outside Again, returns Hsieh at the age of sixty-five to the original sites of his performances in Taipei and New York, making a meditation on the resonances of these far-sighted works.