A few years ago I was groovy enough to see Time Clock Piece (One Year Performance 1980-1981) by Tehching Hsieh at the Tate Modern. I went to see it a couple of times. It fascinated me. Then I returned for the hattrick, but it had gone, and the Tate has never been the same – and hey, it would now seriously suck if it wasn’t for The Snail by Matisse.
Anyway, fellow pilgrim, for this one year performance, Tehching shaved his head and then punched a time card every hour – morning, noon and night – for a year. Each time he punched in, he took a picture of himself beside the clock, and the end result was over 8,600 photos of his hair growing and his expression looking increasingly defeated. The Tate had the time clock, the time cards, the photos stacked up, day after day, on the walls around the room – the height of the stacks showed where hours had been missed, but hey, that only served to make it even more beautiful – and a projector showing the montage of photo after photo – shaved to long-haired, earnest to defeated, shot after shot, bang, bang, bang, bang. Imagine how gruelling it must have been, imagine the day in, day out determination to complete the piece – it blew my mind.
It pounded the word ‘earnestness’ into my head – a word that took me back to reading the interpreted words of the late, great Indian non-dual guru Nisargadatta Maharaj. The word kept coming up in Nisargadatta’s work, like here: ‘You need both clarity and earnestness for self-knowledge. You need maturity of heart and mind, which comes through earnest application in daily life of whatever little you have understood.’
Tehching exhibited an ‘earnest application’ of what he’d intended to do. Here’s the artist’s statement:
I. SAM HSIEH, plan to do a one year performance piece.
I shall punch a Time Clock in my studio every hour on the hour for one year.
I shall immediately leave my Time Clock room, each time after I punch the Time Clock.
The performance shall begin on April 11, 1980 at 7 P.M. and continue until April 11, 1981 at 6 P.M.
Earnestness is key to the non-dual path to what is. What if you penned a statement with ‘whatever little you have understood’ – maybe to abide in being again and again and again throughout the day, every day – and had the earnestness to stick by it, but without so much of the ‘gruelling’ and a whole lot more of the effortless loving to be?