Monochrome photograph of Linda Montano and Tehching Hsieh. They both stand in front of a dark wall approximately two meters apart. They are connected by a rope which has been tied around each of their waists. Montano has a tape recorder slung over her shoulder. Both Montano and Hsieh look directly into the camera.

Performance Art Highlights in the M+ Collections

To follow up on our previous post giving a brief overview of what performance art is and its history in Hong Kong and Asia, we give some more specific examples of performance art from the M+ Collections below. We’re proud to have really seminal pieces of performance art in the M+ Collections, from both Asia and around the world.

Tehching Hsieh

Monochrome photograph of a man sitting in a jail cell-like room with bars. Inside the room is a sink and a small bed. The man sits on the bed with his hands in his lap and leans back against the wall with a pillow behind his back.

Tehching Hsieh / 謝德慶 (American, born Taiwan, 1950), One Year Performance 1978–1979, 1978–1979/printed 2000, paper poster, paper statement, black and white photographs, and cotton uniform. M+, Hong Kong. © Tehching Hsieh

One groundbreaking performance artist is Tehching Hsieh, originally from Taiwan. His intense one-year performances, all five of which are represented in the M+ Collections, pushed his body to its limits, and required strictly regimented structures. In the first piece of the series, One Year Performance 1978–1979 (Cage Piece), the artist spent a year confined inside a small wooden cage he built for himself. He made no contact with the outside world, except for a friend who delivered food and clothing and removed his waste. A lawyer notarised the entire process to make sure he didn’t leave his cage.

A room with grey walls with hundreds of small photographs set up in rows on each wall. There are two glass vitrines in the centre of the room and a small video projection against one wall, depicting Tehching Hsieh standing against a blue wall.

Tehching Hsieh / 謝德慶 (American, born Taiwan, 1950), One Year Performance 1980–1981, 1980–1981, paper poster, paper statements, paper punch cards, witness statements, film strips, photographs, time clock machine, 16mm camera, 16mm film (colour, silent), and cotton uniform. M+, Hong Kong. © Tehching Hsieh

In his next year-long work, One Year Performance 1980–1981 (Time Clock Piece), he punched a time clock every hour on the hour, and took a photo of himself each time he did so. In another work, Art / Life: One Year Performance 1983-1984 (Rope Piece), Hsieh and American performance artist Linda Montano spent a year tied to each other with a rope. Wherever they went, they had to stay together in the same room and were not allowed to touch each other.

For Tehching Hsieh, his works are about the idea that ‘life is passing time’—conveying the notion of consuming time, day by day, until a certain endpoint.

Marina Abramović

Two square photographs side by side. Both photographs show aerial shots of a long, thick, sand-coloured wall snaking its way through a hilly landscape. A person in red is seen walking on the path on top of the wall in each photo. Underneath each photo is a white space with pen ink drawings. The pen ink drawing under the left photo depicts a person under an object casting a stream of something on to the person. The pen ink drawing under the right photo depicts a person with their tongue out. A long snake is joined to the tongue through a line.

Marina Abramović (American, born Serbia, 1946), The Lovers (1 and 2 of 5), 1988/1996, colour photographs and ink. M+, Hong Kong. © Marina Abramović

Tehching Hsieh has been called ‘the master of performance art’ by one of the best-known performance artists today: Marina Abramović. The Serbian-born artist was very much inspired by Hsieh. Abramović’s work also often explores the limits of the body, and the relationship between performer and audience.

The work by Abramović in the M+ Collections is one that connects her to China: The Lovers from 1988, in which she walked the Great Wall of China. She planned it with her longtime work and life partner at the time, German artist Ulay, with both of them starting at opposite ends and meeting in the middle. However, while it was initially planned that they would meet in the middle and get married, by the time they had gotten permission to do the work, their relationship had deteriorated. Instead, their meeting in the middle of the wall became their breakup and farewell to each other.

Two square photographs side by side. The photograph on the left shows the shadow of a person walking along a rocky surface cast against a sand-coloured cliff wall. The photograph on the right shows a person standing on the surface of a low cliff in the middle of a vast, sparsely green landscape. Underneath each photograph is a white space with pen ink drawings. The pen ink drawing under the left photograph depicts two five-point stars with small circles around them and a red scribble in between them. Illegible words are written in a row across them. The pen ink drawing under the right photograph depicts a person-like figure with black lines sprouting from their breasts, head, and genitals.

Marina Abramović (American, born Serbia, 1946), The Lovers (3 and 4 of 5), 1988/1996, colour photographs and ink. M+, Hong Kong. © Marina Abramović

The walk to the middle of the Great Wall took thirty days, and the work revolves not just around Abramović’s relationship to Ulay, but also her experience of the wall itself, and the centuries of history that it represents. There are five photographs documenting the performance in the M+ Collections, and under each photograph, she has created small drawings that interpret her emotions in that moment.

Rirkrit Tiravanija

Installation in which numerous large steel plates lie on the floor of a large room. On top of the steel plates are numerous small white bowls. A number of propane cookers, metal plates, wooden cutting boards, and cutlery are spread out amongst the bowls.

Rirkrit Tiravanija (Thai, born Argentina,1961), Untitled 2001 (the magnificent seven, spaghetti western), 2001, steel floor plates, propane cookers, cast steel pots, Arcopal bowls, metal forks, trays, wooden cutting boards, and 1 tom yam gai recipe. M+, Hong Kong. © 2014 Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija is one of the most well-known practitioners in the field of relational art, in which artists construct social environments for visitors who help to ‘create’ the work through their relationships and social activities. His works, then, consist of spaces or structures for socialising and fostering human connections and relationships. One of his works in the M+ Collections is Untitled 2001 (the magnificent seven, spaghetti western), in which he cooks a Thai curry for the visitors. The work is about sharing of space, time, and experience; three foundational aspects of performance art. The actual physical materials of the work consist of propane cookers, steel pots, plates, forks, trays, cutting boards, and a Thai soup recipe.

The Beijing East Village performances

Photograph of a group of naked men and women lying in a heap atop a mountain. With their faces obscured by dark hair, they lie with their bodies in the same direction, facing the dry, grassy ground.

Zhang Huan (Chinese, born 1965), To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain, 1995, chromogenic colour print. M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong. By donation. © Zhang Huan

In the early 1990s, in the village of Dashanzhuang in the eastern fringe of Beijing, a small group of avant-garde artists collaborated on a series of challenging performances that were documented with photos and videos. The performances were marked by extreme uses of the body, and were highly radical at the time. They responded to the tidal wave of cultural and economic changes in the period after 1989 by expressing individual experiences to confront the idea of collective social identity.

There is documentation of several of the Beijing East Village performances in the M+ Collections. One example is a performance by a group of 10 artists from Beijing’s East Village including Duan Yingmei and Zhang Huan: a 1995 work called To Add a Meter to an Anonymous Mountain. The artists stacked their naked bodies on the top of Miaofeng Mountain on the outskirts of Beijing, aiming to add an additional metre to the mountain’s height.

Monochrome photograph of a person taking a photo of another person standing in front of a table with a cooking pot and other utensils. The person has long, shoulder-length dark hair, and is naked with their penis exposed, wearing makeup and earrings.

Rong Rong / 榮榮 (Chinese, born 1968), East Village, Beijing, 1994, No.46, 1994–1996, gelatin silver print. M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong. By donation. © Rong Rong

Another example is the above photo by East Village artist Rong Rong, which documents artist Ma Liuming’s performance piece Fen-Ma Liuming’s Lunch II. In the performance, Ma Liuming, wearing makeup and earrings in the role of his androgynous alter ego Fen-Ma Liuming, silently cooked fish while naked in front of an audience and served it to them. He then put a laundry tube onto his penis and sucked and blew on the other end. This performance turned out to be so controversial that it caused him to be arrested, and forced many other members of the artist community to go into hiding and eventually settle in other parts of the city.

Hi Red Centre

Monochrome photograph of a group of men in white coats on a sidewalk. They are scrubbing and cleaning the ground. A sign saying ‘Be Clean!’ stands next to them.

Hirata Minoru (Japanese, born 1930), Hi Red Center’s Cleaning Event (officially known as Be Clean! and Campaign to Promote Cleanliness and Order in the Metropolitan Area), 1964, gelatin silver print. M+, Hong Kong. © Minoru Hirata

Hi Red Center was a short-lived but highly influential art collective active between 1963 and 1964. Founded in Tokyo by artists Akasegawa Genpei, Nakanishi Natsuyuki, and Takamatsu Jiro. Their anti-establishment actions and events often took place in the street and in urban environments, such as their ‘Cleaning Event’, captured by Hirata Minoru above. In it, the artists and their associates scrubbed one little area of a street in Ginza, a busy shopping and business district in Tokyo around the time of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. It was a reaction against the government’s demands that the city be spotless in preparation for the Olympics, thereby presenting a certain image to the rest of the world. The work spoke to the conditions of post-World War II Japanese society, investigating the role of the individual and authority.

Tino Sehgal

There are many different ways of documenting performance art, and the way it’s documented depends on the artist. Tino Sehgal’s work is unique in that it is pure performance: there are no remnants, no photos, no videos. His work Guards Kissing is in the M+ Collections, but there is no documentation for it—only the idea of the work, and verbal instructions from the artist.

Sehgal believes in the purity of the moment in which you’re spending time with his work, and that anything else simply takes away from that moment. There’s no medium other than two bodies—something that makes his work so unique.

Guards Kissing is a work meant to be displayed in a museum setting, during the museum’s opening hours. More than that, we won’t reveal at this point, but we look forward to displaying it in our future museum building!

From 1–3 June 2018, M+ presents M+ Live Art: Audience as Performer, the inaugural edition of a new exhibition series showcasing live art, also known as performance art. The first exhibition will focus on the theme of audience as performer, and will feature works by five performance artists: two new commissioned pieces from Hong Kong artists wen yau and Isaac Chong Wai, and works from Indonesian artist Tisna Sanjaya, Chinese artist Duan Yingmei, and Taiwanese artist River Lin.


Image at top of post: Tehching Hsieh / 謝德慶 (American, born Taiwan, 1950), Art/Life One Year Performance 1983–1984, 1983–1984/printed 2000, paper posters, paper statements, witness statements, life photographs, and cassette tapes. M+, Hong Kong. © Tehching Hsieh and Linda Monsanto

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