Natasha Lushetich

Tehching Hsieh, Cage Piece, 1978-79.

In Franz Kafka’s 1915 story ‘Before the Law’, the proverbial ‘man from the country’ finds himself before the door of the Law, which, as he learns later, has been erected especially for him. Neither the door, nor the doorkeeper prevents the man from passing through the door of the Law and entering the state of lawful existence. The door is open but open onto nothing. There is no guidance, no suggestion, and no direction; the existential disorientation is given to ‘the man from the country’ in person.

Such a paradoxical, yet structuring relation between the universal and the particular is the hallmark of the Kafka-influenced artist Tehching Hsieh’s work; in particular, his four one-year pieces performed between 1978 and 1984: Cage Piece, Time Clock Piece, Outdoor Piece, and Rope Piece (with Linda Montano). Bringing material, temporal, and ecological notions of normativity, aberration, and exception to bear on such issues as incarceration, chronarchy, animality, and relationality, this paper ponders the difference between the Agambian ‘bare life’ as anchored in western normative ideas about existence, individuation, community, and citizenship, and Asian ecological-philosophical theories of embedded-ness and paradox that bypass the bare-sovereign, excluded-included polarity (Nagatomo; Nishida).

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