New York

Tehching Hsieh And Linda Montano

While we stand open mouthed at performance spectacles by such artists as Laurie Anderson and Philip Glass, a continuing artwork in Lower Manhattan makes most contemporary art ideas look small indeed. With very little fanfare and no endowments, two artists have tied themselves together for a year. The statement that defines the piece reads: “We, LINDA MONTANO and TEHCHING HSIEH, plan to do a one year performance. We will stay together for one year and never be alone. We will be in the same room at the same time when we are inside. We will be tied together at the waist with an 8 foot rope. We will never touch each other during the year. The performance will begin on July 4,1983, at 6 p.m. and continue until July 4,1984, at 6 p.m.”

The piece proceeds beautifully from the individual works of the two artists. In 1980–81 Hsieh caged himself in his studio, neither reading nor speaking to anyone, for a year; in 1981–82 he punched a time clock every hour for a year; in 1982–83 he remained outdoors for a year. He sees these pieces as part of a larger work—all the years of his life. Montano, in a similar manner, has designated her entire life as art, and large parts of it have been given over to the performance of a single gesture, phrase, or attitude. Her documentations of her performances always relate them to her everyday life. In 1973, for instance, she handcuffed herself to conceptual artist Tom Marioni for three days; the documentation noted that her marriage was breaking up at the time and she needed not only a psychological break, but a physical manifestation of a different kind of commitment.

Montano and Hsieh live together in Hsieh’s TriBeCa loft, sleeping in twin beds with the white rope hanging between them like a bridge, working back to back during the day at matching desks. Perhaps the most startling thing about the stated intention of the piece is the promise the artists make not to touch each other, even though touch seems unavoidable in the conditions they have established. Their attachment will be physically visible, but their relationship will be spiritual, a salute to art by infusing it into every moment of the artists’ lives.

If it is time for a regeneration of conceptual art, this performance brings it back to us in style. Montano’s and Hsieh’s concept resonates on a deeply personal level, and should have a far-reaching and inspirational effect upon the art world. To a greater degree than ever before, the name of art is smeared with materialism; artists are astonished and appalled at the speed with which the art and media establishments can elevate their protégés to fame and wealth. The climate is the same as that which fostered art designed to be unsalable twenty years ago. Both Hsieh and Montano have always responded to that impulse, and their joint effort here is commendable. It is satisfying to behold an artwork dedicated to a grand idea instead of to a grand spectacle.

Linda Burnham