Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Body Arts: OCD's Perceptual Challenges and Tehching Hsieh's "Time Clock Piece"

Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Body Arts: OCD's Perceptual Challenges and Tehching Hsieh's "Time Clock Piece"

Article excerpt

Disability scholarship has tended to focus on embodied disability rather than psychiatric impairments. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which some scholars classify as an invisible disability, is one such psychiatric impairment that wants for scholarly attention. The article extends the conversation on OCD by exploring the correspondences between obsessive ritualizing and durational performance art, sometimes called "body art" or "time-based performance art." Performance art can helpfully serve as a kind of periscope-a device enabling a viewer to see something else held at a remove-to examine OCD without placing the burden of representation onto individuals who self-identify as obsessivecompulsive. Reading disability into a performance piece not explicitly about disability enables us to trouble OCD's status as strictly invisible. Studies of OCD's representational challenges can enrich disability theory by offering a way to conceive of disability as embodied but not visible, or, alternately, as invisible but existing in the body.

Introduction

Performance artist Tehching Hsieh's work One Year Performance 1980-1981 offers a depiction of ritualized movements that might seem familiar to those who self-identify as obsessive-compulsive. In the work, subtitled "Time Clock Piece," Hsieh abided by strict rules he crafted for himself for an entire year. He planned to punch a timecard into a clock punch machine once an hour, every hour, for 365 days. Though Hsieh has not indicated that he intended the performance as a representation of OCD, his habitual clock punching mirrors the repetitive, compulsive gestures that individuals with OCD use to reduce their anxiety. Hsieh's work participates in a genre of performance art variously referred to as durational performance art, "body art," or "timed-based performance art" (Carr xv; Cvetkovich 112), and such performances can resemble the rituals and compulsions that sometimes accompany Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. As an experimental performance practice, body art flourished in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s and 80s, and artists who participated in the trend demonstrated that "ordinary activities" could "take on aesthetic significance through repetition and intentional framing" (Cvetkovich 112).

By taking seriously the correspondences between Hsieh's body art and the compulsive behavior that OCD generates, this article employs his artistic practice as a unique lens through which to examine this particular mental health diagnosis and to illuminate dimensions of OCD not previously remarked on by disability scholars. The difficult, repetitive gestures in Hsieh's work highlight emotional and physical pain, and many with OCD could claim to understand the relationship between ritual and pain through first-hand experience. The strategy of using "Time Clock Piece" as a kind of periscope, a lens that allows a viewer to better see an object that might otherwise be obscured, brings pain close to audiences, and the performance uniquely lends itself to a discussion of the difficulty of representing pain. Examining OCD through the lens of body art mitigates the burden of representation for those living with a diagnosis. By scrutinizing Hsieh's compulsive activity instead of an individual who self-identifies as Obsessive-Compulsive, the latter is not forced to speak for an entire category of disability, which can be difficult and exhausting.

In order to discuss Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and those who live with a 300.3 diagnosis, this article uses the terms mental illness, mental difference, and mental health service user. I employ the phrases mental illness and mental difference interchangeably. Many who participate in OCD social networks- whether they be informal support groups, online chat forums, blogs, or medical treatment programs and facilities-frequently refer to OCD as a type of neuro-atypical thinking (a mental difference) that, although not an entirely negative experience, produces suffering (illness) that they hope to treat or cure. …

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