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"Isolation, being solitary, is very important to me": An Interview with Tehching Hsieh


The Believer magazine has an interview with performance artist Tehching Hsieh, who is know for works that involve extreme endurance and self-control. For Rope Piece (1983-84), for example (pictured above), he was tied to fellow artist Linda Montano for a year. Hsieh immigrated to New York from Taiwan in 1974 and spent years toiling in restaurants as he tried to make a name for himself in the art world. He finally earned widespread recognition in the 2000s, going on to represent Taiwan at the Venice Biennale in 2017. In the interview, Hsieh discusses his long path to art world recognition, his love of solitude, and the literary influences on his performance work. Here’s an excerpt:

BLVR: In the past you’ve said your work is influenced by Dostoevsky, Kafka, and other artists. But you’ve also listed your mother. What was the influence she had on you as an artist?

TH: I was influenced by her dedication and sacrifice. My mother is Christian; she has her own faith in God. Because I am an atheist, I put my dedication and sacrifice into the art rather than God. Even though I wasn’t a filial son in childhood, I always acknowledged what I inherited from her. A priest may say things that sound good, but they may not be close to God, not like the pure worshipper. My mother has a pure, close-to-God way of believing and doing things, including how she deals with family and other people. And she has a strong will. In art, I use her way of doing things. It is not a public way. The priest is public. Art is public.

Maybe the examples I use instead are Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky knows human darkness. But he uses darkness to access the pure. Tolstoy is more about light and optimism. Dostoevsky to me feels more contemporary. He has a contemporary view of human existence. To me, my mother is more Tolstoy. But I’m more Dostoevsky. I do the dirty work.

But my dirty work is also pure. I’m pure in art, but I know dirtiness and I know evil. To show your art and to survive in the world, you must know a little bit about the dark side.

Image: Tehching Hsieh, Rope Piece, 1983-84. Tehching Hsieh and Linda Montano. Via Artsy.