Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance 1980-1981 (1980-1981)

A man enters a room and punches a clock every hour on the hour for 365 days. It is like something from the Guinness Book of Records. The achievement is so athletic it transcends art.

But there is nothing quirky or sporty about the current exhibition of Tehching Hsieh’s performance. More than 8,000 documentational photographs reveal an expression of unvarying seriousness. He wears a uniform. He does not cut his hair for a year.

Owing to sleep and other factors, Hsieh misses just 1.52 clock-ins per day on average. The New York artist set out to achieve something both mad and surely maddening.

By punching the clock with insane frequency he is raising the stakes in the system of labour relations. His performance is a frenzy. It threatens to break the machine, or at least you hope it will.

No one can look at these timecards and these photos and not wish for some relief for the artist, and a bit of freedom for all those who work long or difficult hours.

After one year, this record of suffering is all there is to show. But it can still be used, and, unlike our time, it cannot be taken away.

There is an exhibition about One Year Performance 1980-1981 at FACT, Liverpool, until 28 November 2010. For more details see the gallery website. The show is part of Liverpool Biennial 2010.

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