The Right to Remain Silent


On September 30th 1978, New York artist Tehching Hsieh voluntarily locked himself into a prison cell he built inside his apartment. For one full year, he lived in this cage with nothing but a bed, blanket, and sink. He did not have access to a TV, radio, or phone to help pass the time. There was no reading material, and nothing to write with. A friend stopped by briefly each day to empty the bucket he used for a toilet.


The cell is now on display at the Museum of Modern Art. I stood and gazed at the structure for a long time and thought about what it symbolized to me. It was not an attempt to figure out or determine what Hsieh's motives were, but rather an exploration of my own reaction in response to this unique project.

The rigid bars made me think about the people in this world who live in silent desperation yearning to pursue their dreams, but feel imprisoned by their own lives or circumstances. I was saddened to think about those who have been forced to hide their true beliefs for fear of persecution. I also thought about the artists who have kept their talents hidden from the world for fear that it was not good enough. I questioned how many people would sacrifice this much for their art. I wondered if I had the discipline required to work on anything for a full year without losing focus. I listened to the silence in the room and visualized life without iPhones and gadgets. I asked myself if I was actually paying monthly phone and internet bills to be voluntarily imprisoned by technology. The longer I stood there, the more questions I had. It seemed it could go on forever if I allowed it to. Suddenly, I felt a bit envious that Hsieh was able to dedicate a full year to do nothing but think. When people walked by the exhibit and whispered "why would he do that?", I wanted to share my thoughts, but I kept them locked away, until now.