Before joining in this training program, the Venice Biennale seems to be far off my horizon—not only because it is remote for me geographically, but also for the fact that I just have a superficial knowledge about contemporary art. Being neither art major nor art worker in my previous working experiences mostly irrelevant to contemporary art, I’m merely one of the regular exhibition goers visiting with interest. However, this background possibly enables me to better present the art of Tehching Hsieh to the general public. I feel more like sharing with visitors how I get to know and understand Hsieh’s works while I lead a guided tour: apart from providing information, it involves more discussions and mutual learning.
I well remember that time after finishing the TFAM workshop and before arriving Palazzo delle Prigioni. Even after reading numerous documents, meeting with the curator Adrian Heathfield and the artist, and getting informed of the overall contents of the exhibition, I felt quite tense: the prepared contents ready to be used in my guided tours remained pages and pages of words floating in the air, beyond my grasp. It was until I actually arrive at Prigioni, participated in various activities in the week of thePreview, and sneaked in to hear the presentation of Adrian several times, that I had a better sense of my own presentation. During the Previw- period, I met curators, artists, scholars and media coming from every part of the world, filling out press forms eagerly, wishing us every success for the exhibition, or interacting fervently with the artist. All these positive responses greatly excited and motivated me about being “inside the show.”
But the real challenge only began after the week of the Preview-. In the following two months, I learned to interact with different audiences and realized that a good guided tour was not about repeating what was on my agenda; rather, it was about better coping with different situations as was needed. I observed people coming and going, reflecting on how we came across one another during this brief moment and what these encounters meant to us. I was “doing time” on a daily basis at the exhibition halls: opened up, guided tours, conducted surveys, distributed brochures, kept records and closed door. These daily routines looked the same yet were so different: even though I always introduced the same works, I wouldn’t have exactly the same audience in any of the two sessions. The content of my presentation grew and transformed itself like a living organism—today someone asked me a new question and the next day I inserted my newly discovered answer into my presentation. At intervals, I perused through every image and every card in the “Time Clock Piece”, went through every photo and every map in the “Outdoor Piece”, made new discoveries, and added them into my guided tour content, which was further trimmed and came into shape. In this way, I passed every hour in Prigioni, in an attempt to get close to how Tehching Hsieh had felt as he passed time in New York.
During these two months, there are so many people, events and things worth mentioning: a loving couple laughed and told me, that they originally thought it a boring art project. They didn’t realize it was so great until they followed the guided tour. A lady with a sorrowful look declined my offer to guide her through: she came by herself to be alone for some time with the works, for Tehching Hsieh was already so significant to her. A father would ask me questions as he explained to his young boy and sat with him to watch video from “Time Clock Piece” in reticence. A lady from Brazil burst into tears, saying her English was not good enough to express why she was so touched. I embraced her and told her, “It’s alright, you don’t need to say anything.” Many Taiwanese people were exulted for their accidental encounter with Hsieh’s artworks, and some artists from other countries told me what an important role Hsieh played in their life. I felt extremely lucky to meet them in this place where numerous visitors were forever passing through.
Of course, not everyone well understood or tried to understand the works of Tehching Hsieh. Often they would say, “What is this?” “Why?” “I don’t get it.” Sometimes they gave their interpretation, such as “this guy is demented” or “he’s crazy.” These reactions were so real and straightforward, full of subjective thoughts. They also showed the power inside Hsieh’s works—those unexplainable encounters that could happen to any situation or individual. Anyone might get a chance to understand Hsieh’s art, and anyone might understand nothing of his art. I also met someone who told me that at nearly one month after first getting into contact with Hsieh’s works, he became stunned and greatly moved when getting over the initial disregard. This perhaps explains for the organic function of time—after some years have passed by, some people amid the crowd may suddenly remember, that they once saw Tehching Hsieh the artist, at a corner of Venice. Furthermore, on what basis should we define some acts as “crazy” and some as “artistic”?
Through the accounts of the Italian staff and numerous feedbacks from different fields, the Taiwan Pavilion of this year’s Biennale received more visitors than in the past. It was also lauded as the most successful one, and the guided tour training program that TFAM launched for the first time was also received quite positively. I feel so lucky to be part of it, and even luckier that I had signed up in the program, so that I could get a chance to know Tehching Hsieh’s works better. Working as docent for two months, I actually gave less and gained more: conversing with people, I obtained some valuable life experience. I also made friends and got to know different visages of contemporary art better. I wish to express my utmost gratitude for TFAM to give me this opportunity, and I sincerely hope this program could last, so as to sustain the ongoing conversation of Taiwan Pavilion with the public in Venice.
Hsiao-chu Lin | B.A, Foreign Language and Literature, National Taiwan University