I once went to the US, telling friends that I was on research trip. I told them I had heard of this thing, even read about it in books, but wanted to find out about it for myself. It's called ‘vacation’ — you know, that activity that does NOT involve being permanently attached to your blackberry or rushing to meet already passed deadlines. Anyhow, my point here is not so much to admonish workaholics in the art world; rather, it's to come up with a small selection of books that might be suitable for reading while on vacation. Well maybe not ‘vacation’ per se — yes, the year-end holidays are indeed upon us as I write this — but I'm talking about the stuff you might WANT to read, not just NEED to read for professional reasons; books that are as entertaining as they are edifying, volumes of inspiration, which renew your optimism in this business that too often turns its members into cynics; stuff you would take along, not begrudgingly, but enthusiastically, on an actual vacation, if you could ever steal the time for one.
I can't praise this book highly enough. Hsieh's lifeworks, as Adrian Heathfield calls them, constitute one of the most remarkable oeuvres of any artist. Hsieh did a series of ‘One Year Performances’ in the late 1970s and early 1980s in New York, and a ‘Thirteen Year Plan’ that lasted until the end of 1999. In one such performance Hsieh punched a time clock every hour, on the hour, twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year. Each time he punched in, a single frame of a film was taken, thus compressing a whole day — at twenty-four frames per second — into a single second of film, and a whole year into roughly six minutes. Although he had contact with a number of fellow artists, writers, and art professionals, all his work took place outside the system of galleries and art world institutions and, until 1988, he lived as an illegal immigrant in the US. Heathfield, a professor of performance and visual culture, and Hsieh have collaborated on this wonderful book which comprises an essay by Heathfield; comprehensive photo documentation of Hsieh’s oeuvre; an interview of the artist by Heathfield; a letters section that includes contributions by theorists Peggy Phelan and Carol Becker, artists Marina Abramovic and Tim Etchells, and others; and a thorough bibliography. If there's one art book from this year that I would recommend looking at above all else, it's this one.
I've been a fan of Shieh's work since I first saw it at the 3rd Asia Pacific Triennial in 1999. This is a catalogue of his solo exhibition at Grotto Fine Art in 2007. The Hong Kong-based artist is a master of wit as well as the fine brush gongbi painting technique, and his subjects in this show range from secondary school girl warriors, who've decapitated all the males in school, to the Queen of England, to ladies dressed in costumes of iconic Hong Kong buildings.
In his introduction, Michael Lee observes "Hobbies appeal only to converts. Hearing people talk about their hobbies, however, can be curiously enlightening". And so he and Cornelia Erdmann have collected an anthology of artists’ obsessions. You're not given much information about the artists themselves, or their work, just their quirks. The book is laid out with a page of text on the left and a picture of something on the right. I'm not so sure what to make of the whole thing — of course, one enjoys some entries more than others. Most are light-hearted, a few are serious. Several made me smile. It may all seem rather random — why these artists, why these preoccupations? But, isn't that the point? As Michael says, it can be curiously enlightening. Indeed.
Lee Weng Choy is an art critic, formerly artistic co-director of The Substation arts centre, and currently teaching at the Sotheby's Institute of Art, Singapore.
- Collection Spotlight
- Mon, 1 Feb 2010