How Being Tied To Another Person For One Year Taught This Artist About Freedom And Humanity

Would you be capable of remaining tied to someone else an entire year?

Could you imagine yourself physically tied to another person for an entire year? Imagine doing your everyday life chores alongside someone, sleeping, eating, going to the bathroom. It sounds overwhelming, right? In fact, it sounds like a pretty tough challenge for many of us. Nevertheless, there was an artist who took a bold step and actually went all the way, remaining tied up to another person for a whole year. Why? For the sake of performance art.

Tehching Hsieh is a Taiwanese-American artist who became highly popular for pioneering in durational performance arts (also known as endurance art). This is a form of expression that entails some kind of “adversity” such as continuous pain or isolation for considerable periods of time. Throughout his life, Hsieh has delivered five different performances that have lasted a whole year each one. With these performances, he claimed to turn his own life into a work of art, making himself part of the message he spreads in his works. Naturally, this long lasting art works noticeably caught the public’s attention. For now I will focus on his fourth performance called Rope Piece, which basically entailed two people being tied up with a rope for 365 days straight.

In July, 1983 Tehching Hsieh and Linda Montano began the enduring performance with an eight-foot (two meters) rope around their waist. The two rules to achieve the performance properly were: they couldn’t break free until next year, and they weren’t allowed to touch each other. Linda and Tehching lived together for a year, following each other around and sharing their everyday lives in a very personal way.

After the performance concluded, media was all over Hsieh, wondering if he would share some insight on this unusual experience. During an interview for Ghost Magazine, he explained:

I think Linda is the most honest person I’ve known in my life and I feel very comfortable to talk—to share my personality with her. That’s enough. I feel that’s pretty good. We had a lot of fights and I don’t feel that is negative. Anybody who was tied this way, even if they were a nice couple, I’m sure they would fight, too. This piece is about being like an animal, naked. We cannot hide our negative sides. We cannot be shy. It’s more than just honesty—we show our weakness.

The exploration and meaning of freedom through endurance is probably one of the biggest lessons to be learned from this performance. He was, in a way, allowed to do whatever he wanted, because the only thing he was forbidden to do involved touching Linda. But everything he wanted to do, had to be done alongside Linda, so freedom became a very complicated term for both, and I think that’s why there were so many fights, because they had to agree on everything they did. They would probably disagree a lot when it came to decide where to go, what to eat, when to return back home. Nevertheless, they didn’t break the rules. In this artwork, honesty and vulnerability play a huge part. It is hard to lie to someone that would still be next to you at the end of the day. I guess that with this level of constant closeness, they both came to a point where neither of them could keep up with pretending and just let themselves be. They were committed to sacrifice their freedom for a year in exchange of virtually nothing, and that’s where the strongest and most implicit endurance could be found.

In my opinion, the true value of this performance lies in the way it conveys a message of perseverance, freedom, and vulnerability. This work doesn't try to evoke human emotions but live them through the artist's experience. It shows what happens when you decide to live art in your own flesh. I know not everyone would engage in such a demanding activity, but those who dare to do so, get to develop a deeper insight on art and life itself.


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