Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Emese Benczúr - Should I live to be a hundred

On December 16, 1997, Emese Benczúr started to embroider the caption "I THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE" on pre-produced textile strips, which came from the factory with the simple text woven into them: "DAY BY DAY". Every day she embroiders one caption, thus the number of embroidered ribbons grows by one day after day and the number of pre-produced ones diminishes by one day after day. She had exactly enough ribbons made to last until her 100th birthday.

The artwork has been exhibited several times, first in 1998 during the Manifesta at Luxemburg, when its growth could be seen over the course of three months. The rolls of pre-fabricated material placed on the shelf held the days the artist has given herself - the future. While hung on the walls, arranged in a row were the captions, increasing in number - the past. As "future" was running out, there were more and more to see on the walls. The artist was sending the embroidered strips continuously.

One may wonder why on earth any artist would want to embroider the same words on a ribbon day after day. Even if we left out of our speculations the most obvious one, there could be several reasons and purposes that could lead to such monotonous repetitions. In general, people who are in danger for an extended period of time, or who live under chaotic circumstances would behave similarly. Here we suspect perhaps something different. The time spent on embroidering creates for Benczúr the peace, which she needs for self-reflection, for creating order in the turmoil of everyday life. It bridges personal time and external time, so that she can control what happens to her, and can attempt to catch up with the inevitable.

In other words, what occupies Benczúr's mind is not leaving a mark, not the past, but the present. At the same time, her method is fundamentally different from Roman Opalka's, who conquers time by withdrawing from it while he spends hours on end with writing numbers. Benczúr on the other hand creates the time for herself. With a strange dichotomy, she creates a piece of work, which – at least virtually – fools death. Because, even if she cannot think that she can avoid the end (because time runs out no matter what), at least she devours the time measured out for herself consciously and systematically.

István Bodóc

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tehching Hsieh, Allan Kaprow, and 'lifelike art'

Between 1978 and 1985 the Taiwanese-born artist Tehching Hsieh completed five performance pieces in the United States, each of which lasted for precisely one year. Immediately, they were followed by a sixth, spanning thirteen years.

One Year Performance 1978-1979
Sealing himself in solitary confinement in a wooden cage for twelve months, and being wholly reliant on a friend for his food, clothing and refuse.

One Year Performance 1980-1981
Punching a time clock in his studio every hour, on the hour, twenty-four times a day, for 365 days, without a break.

One Year Performance 1981-1982
Living outdoors through all seasons, without ever entering a building or a vehicle.

Art/Life One Year Performance 1983-1984
A collaboration with the performance artist Linda Montano. For a year they remained tied together around the waist with an eight foot rope, and, while the rope obliged them to do everything together, they avoided all intentional bodily contact.

One Year Performance 1985-1986
Living for a year as though art did not exist, neither as a topic of conversation, nor as a subject to read about, nor as a gallery to visit.

Tehching Hsieh 1986-1999
Following these five works, Hsieh commenced a sixth, which would last thirteen years, from 31 December 1986 to 31 December 1999. During this timeframe, Hsieh stated that he would make art, but not show it publicly.

Further details, including additional illustrations, are available at his website,

These durational works are different from other projects discussed in these pages. Hsieh's programmes are not intended to last for a lifetime: he always stipulates in advance when they will terminate. Nonetheless, Hsieh's art is related to other long-term projects we have been exploring. Like Kawara, his projects rely on unwavering adherence to self-imposed rules. And like Opalka's statement of 1972, Hsieh also issues declarations of intent, carefully laying out his plan. But most importantly, Hsieh's 'lifeworks', as he calls them, explore the relation between art and living, and this is a theme that the work of Absalon, Opalka, and Reinhardt also raises.

In an essay called 'The Meaning of Life' from 1990, Allan Kaprow poses the question 'Is playing at life, life?'

'Life in birds, bees, and volcanoes just is', Kaprow writes. 'But when I think about life it becomes "life". Life is an idea. Whatever that idea might be - playing or suffering or whatnot - it floats, outside of time, in my thoughts. But actually playing at life in any form happens in real time, moment by moment, and is distinctly physical. ...If I think about life under those conditions, it begins to resemble a hair, a crumb, a dead fly. And that's another idea.'

'So lifelike art plays somewhere in and between attention to physical process and attention to interpretation. It is experience, yet it is ungraspable. It requires quotation marks ("lifelike") but sheds them as the un-artist sheds art.'

Kaprow's account of 'lifelike art' as being dual-focused is a helpful way to approach Hsieh's last two projects. Between 1985 and 1986, Hsieh gets on with life, or, as he puts it, 'I just go in life'. But afterwards, this lack of art productivity is presented by the artist as 'art'. In a recent exchange with Adrian Heathfield, he explained that this work was based on one rule, whose purpose was 'distinguishing art and life'. Just 'going in life', just letting time pass: this is the idea. Already it is an interpretation of experience, and so stands outside real time, as a thought, ready and waiting to be called art.

They say art is like the law: both have to be seen to be done. Hsieh's later thirteen year plan, lasting from 1986 to 1999, might have involved the artist making work, but, if he did, it went unseen. It had no witnesses. What we do know is that at a ceremony on New Year's Day 2000 Tehching Hsieh revealed a poster stating that he had kept himself alive.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"I sense no stylistic or structural development of any significance within my proposal"

Dan Flavin, the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Robert Rosenblum)

"I know now that I can reiterate any part of my fluorescent light system as adequate. Elements of parts of that system simply alter in situation installation. They lack the look of a history. I sense no stylistic or structural development of any significance within my proposal - only shifts in partitive emphasis - modifying and addable without intrinsic change. All my diagrams, even the oldest, seem applicable again and continually. It is as though my system synonymizes its past, present and future states without incurring a loss of relevance. It is curious to feel self-denied of a progressing development."

Dan Flavin, "some remarks ... exerpts from a spleenish journal", Artforum 5, no. 4 (December 1966), p. 27.

Dan Flavin, the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"I've been painting this same size painting for over two years"

Ad Reinhardt, letter to Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
13 December 1962
Archives of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Reproduced from the exhibition catalogue, 'Imageless: The Scientific Study and Experimental Treatment of an Ad Reinhardt Black Painting', Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008

Cecilia Vissers

Part of the purpose of this site is to draw attention to the wide number of artists who share a commitment to remaining consistent to a single idea. Perhaps it was Ad Reinhardt, Roman Opalka and On Kawara who provided the historical precedent for this. Thanks to their reputation and their career success, they contributed to a general recognition within art circles that continuity over time was a valuable position. In turn, it has become permissible for many other artists, from a wide range of artistic backgrounds, to celebrate the regularity and predictability of their art, as opposed to its (inevitable) variety.

The sculptor Cecilia Vissers is one such example. She has been exhibiting since 1994. Gradually over time the focus of her art narrowed, until, by 2006, she decided only to work in anodised aluminium and steel. Inspired by the directness and plainness of minimalism, she regards the materials she uses and her approach towards them as the consistent factor for all her work. The alterations she makes between each piece and the next are negligible, and consist, essentially, of modifications to the shape of a rectangle or a square. But she stresses these differences are slight by comparison to the emphasis she places on the continuity of her work.

Cecilia Vissers, Installation view, Masters & Pellavin Gallery, New York, 2012

Cecilia Vissers, Gaoth, 2010

Cecilia Vissers, blacksod bay, 2010

Friday, February 1, 2013

Absalon's Six Cellules

"I can see my life from now on, living in these conditions. I think that this year I will live in at least three of them, the one in Paris, the one in Zurich and very possibly the one in Frankfurt. And once I am living in these constructions it will be like a new starting point for me...."

Cellule No. 1 (Prototype) 1992, Paris

"The object is a constraint and, because of this constraint it exists in my life, a bit like in religions, it's like having a whole series of constraints which in fact allow us to go elsewhere, that is to say to attain something stronger, more intense. All the houses are made with the desire to impose physical constraints which will mean that this house will be very real to me, and at the same time my presence within it grows in strength, because the house is very orderly, almost anonymous, and because of this anonymous aspect that it exudes, I have a double existence, because of this orderliness."

Cellule No. 2 (Prototype) 1992, Zurich

"First, it isn't a ghetto, it's a journey that I envisage for myself in that life, because I would be moving from one house to another and my nomadic life would be a lot stronger than my life today. It would be very clearly emphasised, the fact that everything fits into a single suitcase, that with that suitcase I can move about according to my needs. Each house will evoke a different atmosphere, in which I will live, and this is the life I dream of, that I long for, it's not a bad thing, it's a good thing, a thing of joy for me."

Cellule No. 3 (Prototype) 1992, New York

"How long is the project going to last?
How long? I dream of it lasting forever. I think that my life will be short, like all our lives. That's fine. For a life-time, that's fine."

Cellule No. 4 (Prototype) 1992, Tel Aviv

"The great difference between a modernist and me is that a modernist thinks about the world, how to make it better, how to sort it out. Whereas I am not thinking about changing the world, like the avant-garde might have done. I am thinking about changing my life."

Cellule No. 5 (Prototype), 1992, Frankfurt-am-Main

"What is the difference between a guy in Tokyo who lives in a tiny tunnel with a tiny television and myself? I mean it's the fact that he dreams of living in a big house with a swimming pool and I have chosen to live in a little tunnel with a television in front of me. And for me choice is a wonderful thing. That's what I'm suggesting to others, choosing, not just blindly obeying, their personal and private inner logic that has been suggested to us."

Cellule No. 6 (Prototype), 1992, Tokyo

All quotations are from a lecture Absalon gave at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 4 May 1993. A transcription is included in the exhibition catalogue accompanying his retrospective in 2010-11 at KW Institute for Comtemporary Art, Berlin, pp. 256-71.