A conversation with Tehching Hsieh

Please join us for a conversation between artist and LADA Patron Tehching Hsieh and artist Li-E Chen.

Tehching Hsieh's first work, Exposure, created in 1973 when he was 22 years old, provided the earliest foundation for his six unprecedented durational performances undertaken between 1978 and 1999. These six ‘lifeworks’ shared the common concept that life is a life sentence, life is passing time, life is freethinking”. Today, Hsieh’s aesthetic is expressed as his life, which has become the work: “I am just doing life.”

Li-E Chen is an artist and researcher who, in 2009 and inspired by Tehching Hsieh’s posters and statements of his lifeworks, began her series of open space experiments leading to the one-year research and development project, A Silent Opera on the Life and Art of Tehching Hsieh (2017/18).

This event marks the end of Li-E’s R&D and is an opportunity for her to have a dialogue with Hsieh on the ‘aesthetics of the unseen’ and his thinking from his early work until now, and to gain a closer understanding of Hsieh’s ‘art without form’, ‘work become life’ and ‘freethinking become art.’ 

Tehching Hsieh (b. 1950, Taiwan) went to New York from Taiwan in 1974. Hsieh dropped out from high school in 1967 and took up painting. After finishing his army service (1970-73), Hsieh had his first solo show at the gallery of the American News Bureau in Taiwan. Shortly after this solo show, Hsieh stopped painting. He made a performance action, Jump, in which he broke both of his ankles. He trained as a seaman, which he then used as a means to enter the United States. In July of 1974, Hsieh finally arrived at a small port near Philadelphia. He was an illegal immigrant in the States for fourteen years until he was granted amnesty in 1988. Starting in the late 1970s, Hsieh made five One Year Performances and a ‘Thirteen Year Plan’, inside and outside his studio in New York City. Using long durations, making art and life simultaneous, his long durational performances created one of the most radical approaches in contemporary art. The first four One Year Performances made Hsieh a regular name in the art scene in New York; the last two pieces, intentionally retreating from the art world, set a tone of sustained invisibility. Since the Millennium, released from the restriction of not showing his works during the thirteen-year period, Hsieh’s work has been exhibited in North and South America, Asia and Europe. His recent exhibitions Doing Time was presented by Taiwan Pavilion at 57th Venice Art Biennale 2017, and One Year Performance, 1980-1981 was exhibited at Tate Modern, London in 2017-2018. He lives in Brooklyn, NY and is represented by Sean Kelly Gallery.

Li-E Chen (b. in China) an interdisciplinary artist, came to London from Hong Kong in 1997. In 2009, she discovered Tehching Hsieh’s posters and statements of his lifeworks, since then she began her extensive independent research and open space experiments. These include: A Performance of 0, 0, 0, n+1, n+1, n+1, etc. (2009) at Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, One Day at a Time (2010), Nothing Political (2011), I am your anti-matter (2011/12), Cloud Clock Love – a durational laboratory on ‘Nothing’ (2012), 24 Hours in Dreams (2012), 1 Year Lab on Nothing (2012/13), n-1 (2015/17). Her one-year research and development project, A Silent Opera on the Life and Art of Tehching Hsieh (2017/18) is one of her most ambitious project to bring together Hsieh’s six lifeworks to a ‘Silent Opera’ and to develop her own aesthetic of silence. Her process draws on broader forms of art and performance, also on contemporary philosophy and mathematics found in Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘rhizomatic thinking’, Godel’s uncertainty and incompleteness theorems, and Wittgenstein’s propositional form.

A Silent Opera on the Life and Art of Tehching Hsieh is supported by Arts Council England, Southbank Centre, Live Art Development Agency, Tête-à-Tête: The Opera Festival, and Contemporary Political Theory Research Group at Royal Holloway, University of London. With additional support by Tehching Hsieh, and by The Robert Wilson Archives at the Byrd Hoffman Watermill Foundation in New York, and Improbable’s Devoted and Disgruntled in the UK.

Li-E Chen would like to thank Tehching Hsieh for his time and support throughout the project and all of her supporters, funders, contributors, and participants, and her team of assistants, facilitators and advisers.

Banner image credit:

Tehching Hsieh (Left, Photo by Jürgen Frank. Copyright Jürgen Frank); Li-e Chen (Right, Photo by Maria-Teresa Ortoleva. Copyright Li-E Chen)

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