:: Monday, January 10, 2005 ::
ORIGINAL POST: Saturday, January 08, 2005
BY: Eduardo Navas
Review of MTAA's 1 Year Performance Video (samHsieHupdate)
Duchamp is often cited as the predecessor to conceptual art, mainly because of his famous urinal, which questions the autonomy and materiality of the work of art. However, a direct and even open attack on the materiality, autonomy and (later added) marketability of the art object did not happen until the emergence of Conceptual Art in the 1970s. Much of the work at this time relied on critiquing the object's relation to the white cube (the gallery), or the institutions that supported the supposed autonomy of the art object. Michael Asher and Hans Haacke are textbook examples of this practice.
After this period artists began to comment on other artists more specifically. Janine Antoni's work is one of the many examples of this allegorization, as well as Sherrie Levine's which relies on appropriation as a way to critique works by famous male artists, including Duchamp. Since then there have been a great number of other artists who have used such a strategy to comment on the multi-layered contentions of the object art. And this short but well-established practice has been extended to the web with works like MTAA's 1 Year Performance Video (samHsieHupdate).
In this web-piece, the artists update the work of Tehching Hsieh, in particular his "One Year Performance 1978-1979," where Hsieh spent a whole year in a cell. He did not leave the space. A person brought him food and took away his refuse. The piece was notarized by a lawyer to give it authenticity.
T. Whid and M. River, who collaborate under the name of MTAA (M.River & T.Whid Art Associates) have extended Hsieh's concept of committing to an activity for one year on to the web by presenting themselves in a room apparently spending time alone in 1 Year Performance Video (samHsieHupdate). At first glance this mimics Hsieh's activities in the cell, as the artists appear juxtaposed in two video feeds, doing simple things that always correspond with the time of day when the internet user is accessing the website. In reality the artists prerecorded their activities and created computer files which now can be accessed according to the internet user's computer clock.
In this piece the visitors are encouraged to watch the video files for the period of one year, and to sign up for an online account in order to keep track of their time. The visitors do not have to be logged on for the whole time at once, and can leave and comeback according to their personal schedules.
While the online piece may allegorize Hsieh's performance, it does so in a very unexpected way. Particularly, it exposes the drastic changes in art production since Hsieh developed his one-year performances (He did a few of them). At the time that Hsieh was performing, the object of art was in question, and like conceptual art, performance art was a way to negotiate meaning as a cultural product (these movements obviously overlap).
While Hsieh's art practice is often considered in relation to art's role in culture, one thing that is not discussed about him is his particular position as an artist, dare I say a privileged one at that. Meaning that while he always did intensive performative pieces for one year, he had to be able to not work for that time in order to spend it making art. This position is of course at play if the artist's work in the studio is not considered work by the rest of culture, which is true in the United States. It is safe to say that Hsieh was interested in making the futile labor of art more obvious by creating pieces that led to no particular ends in themselves, but that instead ended up exposing the banality of the everyday, as well as the incidentally of art making in contemporary culture. Hence, his position not to hold a "real" job is important to note here.
This commitment and most importantly cultural position are passed on to the online user in MTAA's update. Here, the user quickly realizes that one year is a serious commitment that the average person is most likely unable to perform; thus Hsieh's particular role as an artist is exposed and questioned not passively but actively, because the users are given the option to put in their own time at anytime. The users then need to decide why they would commit to an online activity, especially when this activity will in the end validate the artists who were commissioned the project in the first place. This inversion, this transparency that is pivotal to the online project exposes the role of the audience in any work of art. In Hsieh's projects this is not so obvious because he is doing all the work, and all the viewer needs to do is acknowledge the final product through documentation.
1 Year Performance Video (samHsieHupdate), however, demands that the users acknowledge the work of art by completing it themselves, by actually putting in the time while watching pre-recorded files, the strain of the performance is on the viewer now, not the artist; but this strain is a virtual one, one that is no longer concerned with the body but with the dematerialization of such into a new type of action--a meta-action-- in art making, and art viewing. In a way, this not only updates the passive demand that a work of art has always had on the viewer: that it be completed by the viewer's gaze, but it also makes obvious the interactive demand of any art object since minimal art emerged. Michael Fried's opposition to the demand by the minimal object to have its meaning completed by the interaction of the viewer inside the gallery as a sort of theater is exposed in MTAA's update as a fascist imposition by a certain privileged culture, which can only be possible today with new technologies. Furthermore, the imposition is efficient and liberal because the users do not need to strain themselves on performing for one year at once. They can do it whenever is convenient for them, by logging on as they so desire. And they do not need to be present as they can leave their computers running, logging time while they do other things around the house. The performance update, then, becomes background noise, like Television in the average home.
An air of helplessness overpowering disinterestedness may be sensed at this point--one that involves those who sense it as well as those who have allegorically produced it.