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In his first year long, life art piece Sam Hsieh voluntarily confines himself to isolation in a cell for a year.  He did this as a way to struggle with the confines of both space and time. As a life artist, his material was his life. What separate his art from the other artists of this genera was that he believed that, you have to make art stronger than life so that other people could feel it. Ms. Munroe, his partner in a latter life art piece in which she was tied to him for a year, says “ he was killing art so he could transcend it” Transcending what is art, what is time, what is humanity, is attempted by locking himself into a cell, in complete isolation, for his defined measure of time and his idea of space, and his concept of interaction with the world. Like myself, at the time he made this piece he was an outsider to America, in the constant battle of immigration. In part, his artwork was a way of overriding the system by physically becoming the process of not officially fitting in, and the absurdity of time and space in the governments view of sanctioned humanity. If we look at Kant’s model of time, it is neither an event nor a thing and cannot be measured...  a perfect metaphor for the immigration system in a leading country like the United States of America. How can humanity be measured or turned into a thing or permission like a green card? 

 

In this, I have always loved the integrity of this piece of art. When I walked in to experience it at the MOMA, I was struck by how little genuine authority the piece maintained in its new time and place. Instead, something new was happening, audience interacting with the piece was not isolated, space was public, and the event occurred in the mind. The audience imagines itself in the cell in the place of the artist. The audience projects their humanity to the piece regardless of time, space or even presence of the artist.  In this, the piece succeeds, even in its new manifestation as documentation. The viewer confronts the problem of how humanity is measured how space can affect them through their imagined judgment of themselves in the same situation. The fact that they are doing this through the experiences of an illegal immigrant brings the ridiculous of the American system of qualification to the forefront.  By taking photographs of the Moma visitors experiencing the piece I am capturing this sophisticated exchange. The reflections which capture both “caged” participants of today and the past, one physical and one mental, like Kant’s model show that time is not a measured linear thing. My piece complements his and has the net effect of visually indicating the humanity of the different times and places while distinguishing the lack of isolation we all have in our similarities of experience. Ultimately it is these similarities which make the process of immigration questionable.

WD

© 2019 by Wendy DesChene

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