Founder and artistic director

Tim Etchells is the co-founder and artistic director of Forced Entertainment, a British ensemble known for durational performances lasting from six to twenty-four hours. Yet in his article on Taiwanese-American artist Tehching Hsieh, Etchells is self-effacing: “six hours might seem quite silly when compared to Tehching’s yearlong pieces (laughable almost) but nonetheless, there’s something about duration, its energy and its inherent undertow of decay, that has always agitated and vitalised the space of performance for me.”

Tehching Hsieh became legendary for a series of yearlong performances created in the 1970s and ‘80s, during which he lived according to self-imposed “contracts” that placed him under rigorous constraints. From 1978-1979, Hsieh lived in solitary confinement. From 1980-1981, he punched a time clock every hour upon the hour.

 

From 1981 to 1982, Hsieh lived outside, not setting foot inside a “building, subway, train, car, airplane, ship, cave, or tent.” From 1983-1984, he lived attached by an eight-foot rope to artist Linda Montano—their proximity made more severe by the stipulation that they not touch. From 1985-1986, Hsieh lived without art. And then for thirteen years, Hsieh disappeared himself from the art world.

It makes sense that Etchells should feel an affinity for Hsieh’s work. Like Hsieh’s performances, Forced Entertainment’s “durationals” are improvised within sets of rules and constraints. Quizoola! involves performers continually asking and answering questions, competing among themselves for the audience’s laughter and attention; in Speak Bitterness, they perpetually confess. The durationals are, in Etchell’s words, “rule structures inside which the performers are free to operate, making real decisions about what they do next in reaction to what the others are doing, what the audience is doing, and what they feel like.”

Duration represents, for each, a way of making the work more felt. Hsieh has said that he tried to “make art stronger than life so people [could] feel it.” Indeed, his works stand as lived metaphors for varieties of imprisonment often unseen: incarceration, labor, homelessness, marriage, a life without art, a life lived invisibly. Through duration, the extraordinary constraints Hsieh imposes upon himself transcend the merely metaphorical. Art, endured for so long, is revealed as Life, and its “real” consequences must be recognized.