Punch In, Punch Out


Tehching Hsieh is an Taiwanese-born American performance artist whose work I recently discovered. I’m not typically a fan of performance art, but I found his latest exhibit at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin to be fascinating.

"One Year Performance 1980-1981 (Time Clock Piece)” is the result of his second durational performance piece. Starting in 1981, Hsieh clocked in on a punch clock and photographed himself every hour on the hour for one year. He wears the same uniform in every photograph: a grey factory shirt with his name and identifying number - a look that suggests something between work and prison. He began the series with a shaved head and let his hair naturally grow over the course of the year to show the obvious passage of time.

The small exhibition room has low ceilings and grey walls. Each day is represented by a vertical row of 24 photographs, beginning with the daily time card. Some days are missing photographs due to Hsieh’s inability to punch in due to mental deterioration and sleep deprivation. All of the photographs are compressed into a film that flickers on the wall, summarizing an entire year into 6 minutes. 

Through Hsieh’s discipline of pushing himself to the extremes of tedium, we feel the monotony of life, the sameness of each hour, the showing up day in and day out. Sometimes it really does feel like we're punching in and punching out.

"Life is a life sentence; life is passing time; life is free thinking.” - Tehching Hsieh

Photos from the exhibit:


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