by Candice Weber
On December 31st 1986, Tehching Hsieh announced the beginning of a thirteen year-long art project, then stopped making art. On January 1st 2000, he issued a single statement: "I kept myself alive. I passed the December 31st, 1999, Earth."
Hsieh's work tests the limits of what many people are willing to call "art." Leading up to Thirteen Year Plan, Hsieh executed a series of five year-long performances of extreme endurance. He lived in a single cell for one year in Cage Piece; he punched a time clock every hour on the hour for one year in Time Clock Piece. No Art Piece had him disassociating himself from everything art related for one year - a sort of dry run for a deliberate thirteen-year absence from art making. His declaration of "I kept myself alive" presented the passing of his life from day to day, the simple phenomenon of existing, as a work of art.
The bewildering blur between philosophy, spirituality, extreme devotion, the metaphysical, and the essence of art practice keep Hsieh's performances - almost thirty years later - at the center of fundamental questions about what art is or can be. Each of the artists in "I Just Go," a one-night-only evening of performances at the Elastic Arts Foundation, tugged on the strings of this massive package of intellectual discourse as an homage to Hsieh's legacy.
Some of the allusions to Hsieh were more obvious than others. Sam Goodman's and Aurora Tabar's spontaneous eruptions into a Nicaraguan revolutionary song were combined with simplistic ying-yang type interactions. The two tied their arms to each other and, back to back, slowly marched up and down and around the space while singing their trudging, slightly sad ballad of revolution. Hsieh's 1983 Rope Piece, in which he spent one year tethered to the artist Linda Montano by an 8-foot length of rope, is an iconic investigation of the intimate complications inherent in a relationship between two artists, something quietly echoed in Goodman's and Tabar's performance.
The performer most dedicated to Hsieh's influence was Peter Reese. He spent the two-and-a-half hour long event standing on a 4-inch by 4-inch cube with the appearance of focused meditation - an occasional tensing of the stomach muscles, an extension of the arms for a brief second to regain balance, a tiny sway backwards and then forwards were his only movements. Reese's work has been about endurance and documentation of daily life for several years and shows an intense desire to test the boundaries of his body through simple repetitive acts. His performance for "I Just Go" was tucked in a corner of the space and in stark contrast to the raucous, circus-like atmosphere that ebbed and flowed throughout the night.
Michelle Tupko's two videos, Passenger Between Heaven and Earth, explored her own cages with slow pans of a dimly lit apartment interior and the simple cadence of its occupants filling every-day spans of down time. Andy Braddock filled his own down time of driving between Chicago and his hometown in Ohio by inviting the audience (via wall text, a map of his route, and a cellphone) to call him up in real time as he made the drive and mark his current location on the map. The call would set in motion a chain of further actions unseen by the audience: he'd take a photograph the moment you called, call his mother and have her take a photograph, and pledge to give her a big hug as soon as he arrived safely. Other performances included spontaneous awkward renditions of "Wild Thing" by Jesse Carston on solo guitar (always met with a smattering of applause and shouted "Ow ow!"'s) and Hannah Manfredi's simple humming and sing-song, childlike voice: she stood with her arms hanging limply at her sides, slowly looking around at the audience - "Hmm...ahh...," she sang, as if trying to coax the right words to come through.
Towards the end of the evening I sat listening to Ira Murfin tell me a colorful story picked from his Menu of Conversations. He described a spiritual encounter with some intense mushrooms at the last Bread & Puppet Theater circus that ended with a hearty plate of mashed potatoes. The feed of information flowing from storyteller to listener began to build up in the empty space between he and I, colored by his expressions and hand movements and my own imaginings of the scenarios he was describing. What began as a fleeting set of sensory experiences one evening in Vermont was now - like Reese's two hours of balance and focus, and the frenzied rhythms and singing of tapper Annie Rudnick and her Bad Heart Bull impromptu dance troupe - a performance as beautiful and compelling as any painting, any photograph, or any other conventional art form I'd ever seen. "I Just Go" didn't give any once-and-for-all answers to the debate on the separation of art and everyday life, but it did crack open my mind a little more to the possibilities presented by performance art.