2016 Winner: Tehching Hsieh’s Outdoor Piece: The Invisibility of Hegemonic Poaching in the Public Sphere

Project Information
Tehching Hsieh’s Outdoor Piece: The Invisibility of Hegemonic Poaching in the Public Sphere
In 1981, Taiwanese endurance artist Tehching Hsieh ventured out into the streets of New York City and proceeded to live outdoors for a full year, ending the piece (aptly titled Outdoor Piece) in 1982. In this yearlong derive of sorts, Hsieh essentially takes on the identity of a homeless individual—although “houseless” would be a more apt description of his type of purposeful displacement—calling into question tensions between public and private spaces and their impact on our everyday lives, as well as the way in which public spaces are navigated on a daily basis. Throughout the late-1970s to mid-1980s, Hsieh embarked on a number of other yearlong endurance performances that included living in a cage (One Year Performance 1978-79 (Cage Piece)—Fig. 1), punching a time clock every hour (One Year Performance 1980-81 (Time Clock Piece)—Fig. 6), being tied to fellow artist Linda Montano with a rope (Art/Life: One Year Performance 1983-84 (Rope Piece)—Fig. 2), and living without “art” (One Year Performance 1985-86 (No Art Piece)—Fig. 3). He then concluded this series of works with a final performance entitled Tehching Hsieh 1986-1999 (Thirteen Year Plan) (Fig. 14), during which Hsieh created art, but would not show it publicly.

While the subject matter and corresponding themes that Hsieh grapples with in these works varies greatly, from conceptions of solitude to time, human relations to art, he remains consistent in his deft use of visibility and invisibility in order to question hegemonic structures within society—despite his assertion that he is not a political artist. Subsequently, he uses varying levels of meticulous documentation in each piece in order to enhance visibility or erase it. Cage Piece brought visibility to isolation, the basest of human experiences; Time Clock Piece, visibility to oft-unnoticed structures of time; Rope Piece, visibility to human interactions and relationships; and No Art Piece and Thirteen Year Plan, invisibility to the hyper-visibility of the art world, especially for an artist. But Outdoor Piece falls short by this standard, as it maintains invisibility for the already invisible experience of homelessness. With this, I argue that Hsieh’s Outdoor Piece, while in line with the institutional questioning in which his other works partake, missteps in its use of de Certeau-like poaching in the public sphere. His life simply takes on a different form, still invisible to others, thus failing as an interventionist platform for bringing visibility to and discussion of public spaces and their human effects.
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  • Saeli Claire Lucia Miller Eshelman (Stevenson)