One Year Research and Development Project: A Silent Opera on the Life and Art of Tehching Hsieh

12 September 2017 – 12 September 2018.

“Life is a life sentence;
life is passing time;
life is freethinking.” Tehching Hsieh

Li-E Chen conducts a series of experiments to begin her process of developing a ‘silent opera’ based on the life and art of American-Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh. Li-E aims to bring the concepts behind Tehching Hsieh’s six life durational performances – five One Year Performances: 1978 – 1986 (the “Cage Piece,” “Time Clock Piece”, “Outdoor Piece,” “Rope Piece,” “No Art Piece”) and Tehching Hsieh: 1986 – 1999 (“Thirteen Year Plan”) – to a silent opera.

Tehching Hsieh has inspired her to push the boundaries of art and performance by aiming to go beyond the need for narrative, contexts, materials or representational meaning. He has been an important influence on Li-E’s work since she discovered him in 2009 during her Whisper artist residency at the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester.

Tehching Hsieh’s concepts of bringing his “thinking process” into becoming a lifetime art work explores different orientations towards thinking – what Li-E Chen calls “thinking postures,” a term she uses for the disposition of mind and body that affects one’s ways of living, thinking, and artistic making. Li-E’s silent opera will response to Hsieh’s work by developing different assemblages of her “thinking process” using a series of Participatory Conversation/Experiments in reflection to his division of time into life time and art time; this division operates outside of language and ordinary conceptions of time.

This research blog documents Li-E’s Research and Development process of the project 2017 – 2018. Her project is being supported by Arts Council England, Southbank Centre, Live Art Development Agency, Tête-à-Tête International Opera Festival, and Royal Holloway, University of London. She would like to offer special thanks to all her supporters, and for the additional support by Tehching Hsieh, and provided by The Robert Wilson Archives at the Byrd Hoffman Watermill Foundation in New York, Improbable’s Devoted and Disgruntled in the UK. All these organisations, as well as her team, advisers, participants and contributors have made possible her artistic development and the research for this silent opera.




A Conversation with Tehching Hsieh

Tuesday, 2 October 2018 at 7PM

Live Art Development Agency, The Garrett Centre, 117A Mansford Street, London E2 6LX

As marking the end of my One Year Research and Development: A Silent Opera on the Life and Art of Tehching Hsieh (12 September 2017 – 12 September 2018), I would like to invite you to join me for a conversation with Tehching Hsieh on 2 October 2018.

Tehching Hsieh‘s first work, Exposure, created in 1973 when he was 22 years old, provided the earliest foundation for his six life durational performances undertaken between 1978 and 1999. These six ‘lifeworks’ shared the common concept that “life is a life sentence, life is passing time, life is freethinking”. Today, Hsieh’s aesthetic is expressed as his life, which has become the work: “I am just doing life.”

After Tehching Hsieh’s recent visit to London, I learned that considering my approaches to his work as an artist was the key. Having Hsieh’s support during my R&D opera project and working with him were a once in a lifetime experience that I never forget.

My reflection of #AConversationWithTehchingHsieh has been posted today.

Blog post (8 of 8, 10 September & 19 November 2018) |


I will be starting my residency at Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival next week. During my residency, I will begin my first proposition of thinking and action by being a witness and attending performances throughout the festival. During this time of witnessing, I will not make any comments on what the future of opera is. On the last three days of the festival, I will collaborate with Music Director and Conductor, Orlando Cela at The Place, where we will explore ways to get a closer understanding of Tehching Hsieh’s unique artistic approaches and to move beyond avant-garde experimental performance collaboration.

“The invisible museum is opened to you when you have opened yourself to discovery. It is a state of being.” 8 Session-Experiments

My ‘Silent Opera’ will present the six perspective on life and art offered by Tehching Hsieh’s six durational lifeworks (performed between 1978 to 1999) through a series of propositions for thinking and action. These propositions were written based on my reflections on and responses to Hsieh’s aesthetic of life and art. They contain no narrative or representational meanings.

Completion of week 1 residency on 1 August: 

It is not performance, it is not avant-garde, it is not improvisation, it is not experimental, it is not conceptual art, it is not durational, it is not new opera, it is not new work, it is not creativity, it is not production. I started by being a witness and gather a first sound of the ‘Silent Opera’.

The Work-in-Progress Performance will display the Posters and Statements from Tehching Hsieh’s five One Year Performances and one Thirteen Year Plan, which he performed between 1978 and 1999. Drawing on Hsieh’s concepts of Life is a life sentence, life is passing time, life is freethinking, I will further develop my aesthetic of silence by questioning what it means to think, love, fail, sense and become, and by “keeping absence remain” in my silent opera.

This follows on from my recent May-June “8 Session-Experiments” with 23 international Contributors from a diverse backgrounds of artists, composers, conductors, writers, curators, singers, dramaturges, choreographers and philosophers. View Contributors’ thoughts – Video Podcast, 1:18 minutes | published 13 July 2018


26 July – 18 August 2018 Li-E Chen Residency at Tête-à-Tête the Opera Festival

Li-E Chen: Proposition for a Silent Opera at an Invisible Museum – I am a museum
Thursday 16th, Friday 17th, Saturday 18th August
7.30PM – 8.30PM
Lecture Room, The Place, 17 Duke’s Rd, London, WC1H 9PY


Blog post (7 of 8) July 2018 |


“Looking through the eyes of the artist to see life. ”

“Expanding the possibilities.”

“I want to spend more work (time) on things.”

“Becoming is an event, movement is passing in time and space. Becoming is not movement.”



“The invisible museum is opened to you when you have opened yourself to discovery. It is a state of being.”

“Art should make up for what’s not working in life. Shouldn’t be boring – we are enough bored already.”
– from Contributors


I have just finished conducting the ‘8 Session-Experiments‘ as part of my R&D. Each session explored a different element: music, voice, movement, text, action and visual in a non-narrative and non-representational form.

Contributors were invited to engage in my process of the project to be part of my development which aims to further develop my aesthetic of silence and for further new collaboration.

Find out more:

Video Podcast (duration: 1:18) published 13 July 2018

1 MAY – 30 JUNE 2018

Blog post (6 of 8) JULY, 2018 |




Li-E Chen, Research, New York | 12 – 22 December 2017

On two artists who both work with Silence: Robert Wilson and Tehching Hsieh

  • Four Days to Robert Wilson’s archives in NYC
  • Two Visits to Tehching Hsieh’s studio in NYC
  • One Day to The Watermill Center and Robert Wilson’s Collections in Long Island, outside NY
  • Two Days to The Columbia University Libraries Rare Books and Collections on Robert Wilson’s Papers 1969 – 1995 in NY

Photo by Li-E Chen, Research on The Robert Wilson Archives at the Byrd Hoffman Watermill Foundation – Robert Wilson: HAMLET: a monologue


Reflections on my research visits December 2017:

  • How do I begin?
  • What do I want to write?
  • … before language from Hsieh’s action and Wilson’s opera
  • dictionary: action
  • dictionary: opera

I do think the lifework of Hsieh’s posters and statements have already have given me a great appreciation of the artist’s work. To me, the documentations were his witnesses and evidence, each has a life of its own in each duration. The duration of life itself whether it is seen or unseen, it is less important. But his labour of passing time and wasting time show in his posters and statements that says a lot to me for my imagination and breath into the artist’s work.

‘The word opera means work if you go back to the Latin. It was the beginning.’
– Robert Wilson

It is also the plural form of ‘opus’ which is Latin for work, labour, a work. I am exploring Tehching Hsieh’s work of ‘no-work’ for further development of the project. I am not responding to his biography, nor am I focusing on selected records of his conceptual documentations.

I do hope to develop my own way of considering a precise relationship with time the way that Robert Wilson’s has with his aesthetic of seeing and hearing, and Tehching Hsieh’s has with his aesthetic of living and thinking.


I returned to London 1-1-2018 | Happy New Year 2018

Very excited to see Hsieh’s first Chinese video interview being published with English translation. Published by 藝術很有事 Inside the Arts 12-1: Tehching Hsieh’s Doing Time on Jan 1, 2018.

‘Everything I did, or anything I didn’t do, are in fact a part of my life’s work, … My documentation is only beginning for others to follow and a trigger for their thoughts, to feel and to imagine the things I did.’

– Tehching Hsieh

This is a very fascinating interview of Tehching Hsieh’s Doing Time. It was my first time that I heard the artist speaking about his work in Chinese to the public.


Blog post (4 of 8) JAN, 2018 |