Magazine article Tate Etc.

Tehching Hsieh and Marina Abramovic

Magazine article Tate Etc.

Tehching Hsieh and Marina Abramovic

Article excerpt

MARINA ABRAMOVIC Why was it so important to make five long-durational pieces of one year each?

TEHCHING HSIEH The idea for each came one at a time. While doing one piece, I would think of what to do next. When I was doing the Cage Piece, I was doing time. I thought I would continue this idea by using a time clock to record doing time. My performance works show different perspectives of thinking about life. But the perspectives are all based on the same preconditions: life is a life sentence; life is passing time; life is freethinking. One year is a basic unit for human beings to calculate life, and it is also the time the earth takes to circle the sun. I like to use real time; this allows me to live in art time, and to think freely.

In your work, Marina, sometimes the duration is governed by the limits of your body. But sometimes it's a set time. How do you decide the duration of a performance?

ma There are several factors to take into consideration. Mostly, it has to do with the institution itself - the museum or the gallery gives you a specific amount of time. I call this 'given time'. Then I have to deal with that restriction in order to create the work. Sometimes I have the freedom to decide the duration. Then I have to deal with my own body's limits to understand how long I can push myself.

What made you decide that it needed to be one year rather than any other amount of time?

th One year is a complete cycle of calculating life. If the time were longer than one year, the performance would have become about endurance. When it's shorter than one year, it doesn't complete the cycle. To me, life is linear: it goes in one direction. You cannot say yesterday is tomorrow. You cannot go back. In life there is always something new. But at the same time there is much repetition: nothing new. So a cycle. That's what I want to say: it is about living. Just living.

ma During the period the work was executed, your body needed to go through extreme discipline. How did you train yourself to be able to generate that kind of stamina and willpower?

th I had to test each one-year performance for one week. If I knew from the test I couldn't make it through, even if it was a good idea, I wouldn't do it. To me it doesn't matter whether you have negative energy or positive energy. You just do it. I did not develop my technique. I was not like 'Grasshopper' in the Kung Fu TV series, using his memory of the wisdom of his master to know how to move. Of course, you need to use life experience and practice to help you face the difficulties in the work. There is a lot of thinking to do, day by day. But that kind of willpower comes from the oneness of life and art. It comes naturally.

Maybe this is a difference between our philosophies? Your idea of training to do duration is more a spiritual practice?

ma Yes, I think there is a difference and a similarity at the same time. Even if you maybe don't accept that your durational work is spiritual, I think it is, and mine is as well. It is about a state of mind and being in the present, about simplicity, about performing and living at the same time.

What kind of changes did your mind undergo during the process of a work?

th I was not trying to feel different from normal. I needed to feel strong. Not changing was more important to me. I was not thinking much about my mind. Of course my thinking in the 'art time' of the performance was different: I dealt less with reality. In some pieces I had plenty of time for thinking. …

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