'An efficient test of where you stand on contemporary art is whether you are persuaded, or persuadable, that Chris Burden is a good artist. I think he’s pretty great. Burden is the guy who, on November 19, 1971, in Santa Ana, California, produced a classic, or an atrocity (both, to my mind), of conceptual art by getting shot. “Shoot” survives in desultory black-and-white photographs with this description: “At 7:45 P.M. I was shot in the left arm by a friend. The bullet was a copper jacket .22 long rifle. My friend was standing about fifteen feet from me.” Why do such things? “I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist,” Burden explained, when I visited him recently at his studio in a brushy glen of Topanga Canyon, where he lives with his wife, the sculptor Nancy Rubins.
'“Shoot” was one of a number of perfectly repellent performance pieces of the early nineteen-seventies in which Burden subjected himself to danger, thereby creating a double bind, for viewers, between the citizenly injunction to intervene in crises and the institutional taboo against touching art works. (Such, at any rate, was my analysis of the distinctive nausea that I felt in thinking of those things, which I avoided witnessing in person.) He spent five days in a small locker, with a bottle of water above and a bottle for urine below; slithered, nearly naked and with his hands held behind him, across fifty feet of broken glass in a parking lot; had his hands nailed to the roof of a Volkswagen; was kicked down a flight of stairs; and, on different occasions, incurred apparent risks of burning, drowning, and electrocution.
'Usually performed for small audiences, these events became word-of-mouth sensations on a radically minded grapevine in art schools, new contemporary museums, and grant-funded alternative spaces—an emerging academy of the far out. Anti-commercial sentiments held sway in those circles, although not altogether heroically, given the concurrent slump in the art market and the flow of patronage from such sources as the National Endowment for the Arts. (Between 1974 and 1983, Burden received four N.E.A. grants.) Earthworks, executed in remote locations, were the conceptual art that came closest to being popular. They had in common with Burden’s performances the fact that almost nobody saw them, except by way of documentation. The avant-gardism of the time wasn’t only reliant on publicity; it was effectively about the mediums of information—specialized magazines, insider gossip—through which it became known. Burden strummed the network like a lyre.
'He was immediately taken very seriously, as the most extreme and enigmatic of provocateurs in a subculture that, in highly educated ways, reflected the political disarray of the nation during the seemingly eternal Vietnam War, and prefigured the swing-barrelled rage of punk. By 1977, he had created performance pieces in two dozen American and European cities. They constituted a theatre of passive-aggressive cruelty. For one, in 1972, in Newport Beach, he sat immobile in a chair, wearing dark glasses, facing two cushions and an inviting box of marijuana cigarettes. Visitors naturally assumed that he was watching them, but the insides of his glasses were painted black, and he refused to speak. He reported, in his record of the work, “Many people tried to talk to me, one assaulted me and one left sobbing hysterically.” Plainly, Burden was not in sympathy with his supposed community.
'Since the late seventies, Burden has specialized in one-off wonders like “A Tale of Two Cities” (whose details yield a wealth of technological and social history) and insouciant engineering feats like “Hell Gate,” as well as technological stunts involving self-designed cars, boats, and laboratory equipment. (He reconstructed a primitive early television and a nineteenth-century apparatus for measuring the speed of light.) Some works have had political content, such as a chilling response to Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial: three million Vietnamese names, symbolizing the native dead of that war, engraved on hinged copper panels. (Made in 1991, it belongs to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.) Others have been hoots: a rubber-band-powered model plane launched in the aisle of a Concorde in flight, to attain a ground speed of Mach 2.05 plus ten miles per hour. (Burden sells relics of such actions; in this instance, the little plane mounted in a glass case.) In his studio, he showed me a work in progress: parts of what will be a huge model city crisscrossed by roller-coasters of hundreds of track-racing toy cars. The cars will run continuously, until they wear out, at the equivalent, for their size, of well over a hundred miles an hour. (A smaller version, shown in 2004 in Kanazawa, Japan, provoked acute anxiety in its viewers, Burden remarked happily.) There is an inevitable slackness, conceptually, to these works, which colonize the “free spot” that Burden’s daring carved out. The history of the avant-garde comes down to this: a boyish gimcracker diverting us by diverting himself. Worse things have happened.' -- The New Yorker
'At 7:45 p.m. I was shot in the left arm by a friend'. -- Chris Burden
Match Piece, 1972
'Chris Burden’s performance took place in the large room on the right side of the gallery. Most of the floor was covered by white butcher paper, with a space near the entrance left for the audience to occupy. The whiteness of the paper, reflecting the whites of the walls and ceiling, created an all-white space. The performance began a little after eight o’clock and the activity of the piece got under way before the audience was allowed to enter. At that moment Burden was kneeling directly on the floor, with his right side facing the audience, toward the back of the space. He was wearing a white T-shirt, off-white Levi’s, no belt and bare feet. He stared intently at two tiny black, transistorized black-and-white TV sets that sat side by side in front of him. At least one TV was on throughout the whole performance, with sound. Burden periodically switched from one to the other, or had both going at once. The sound was quite loud. About ten or fifteen feet away, between him and the audience, a naked girl lay on her back with her eyes closed and hands at her side. As he watched the TVs the artist was wrapping aluminum foil around the heads of matches and heating them until they lit. The jet pressure caused by igniting the match heads shot them into the air, and he used a makeshift launcher made from two bent paperclips to fire these little missiles in the direction of the girl. The direction and distance the matches flew varied greatly and did not seem very accurately controllable by Burden. In all probability fewer than fifteen matches hit the girl. When hit by the hot matches she usually flinched, and when one landed directly on her she swept it off. The average range of the cardboard matches was about the distance to the girl while the wooden ones were more powerful and more difficult to control. Many of them misfired, but a few flew forcefully into the audience space. Because Burden prepared and fired each match separately the overall pace was very slow, about one match per minute. The artist at no time showed any interest in the audience or the girl. His face had the sort of unself-conscious and disinterested expression one might expect from someone who was alone. He looked calm and absorbed in what he was doing.' -- East of Borneo
'At about 8 am at a beach house near the Los Angeles International Airport, I fired several shots with a pistol at a Boeing 747'. -- Chris Burden
Through The Night Softly, 1973
'By buying ten seconds of television advertisement time on a local Los Angeles channel and using it to show, without any comment, an excerpt from Through the Night Softly, 1973, in which Burden, nearly naked, crawled through fifty feet of broken glass, the artist brilliantly subverted commercial television.' -- Middelheim Museum
'At 6 p.m. three invited spectators came to my studio. The room was fifteen feet by twenty-five feet and well lit by natural light. Wearing no clothes, I entered the space from a small room at the back. Two assistants lifted onto each shoulder one end of six foot sheets of plate glass. The sheets sloped onto the floor at right angles from my body. The assistants poured gasoline down the sheets of glass. Stepping back, they threw matches to ignite the gasoline. After a few seconds I jumped up, sending the burning glass crashing to the floor. I walked into the back room.' -- Chris Burden
'In 1974, performance artist Chris Burden was nailed to the back of a Volkswagen Beetle, which was pushed out of a garage, the engine revved for two minutes, and then pushed back into the garage.' -- wtfarthistory
Velvet Water, 1974
'In Velvet Water Chris Burden repeatedly inhaled water and broadcast his self-torture to a remote audience.' -- artsy.net
'In this work, Chris Burden recreated and demonstrated John L. Baird's original apparatus - the first television. Burden says, "I believe that, as a technological invention, television is of extreme significance as it is a most successful solution to man's historic desire to 'see beyond' his immediate surroundings, and it has made instant visual communication possible. As technology becomes more and more complex, fewer and fewer people have any understanding of how anything really works. By reduplicating and demonstrating television in its original mechanical and relatively simple form, I hope to enable people to understand the principle behind today's electronic television."' -- Ronald Feldman Gallery
The Big Wheel, (1979)
Three-ton, eight-foot diameter, cast-iron flywheel powered by a 1968 Benelli 250cc motorcycle, 112 × 175 × 143 inches.
The Reason for the Neutron Bomb, 1979,
50,000 nickels and 50,000 matchsticks, 30 ft. 8 in x 17 ft. 6 in.
A Tale of Two Cities, 1981
'Burden's A Tale of Two Cities is an installation of 5,000 toys set up on a sand and coral landscape, showing two cities at war. Since it was conceived in 1981, however, it has fallen into ruin, so much so that Burden wanted to just get rid of the thing once and for all and blow the motherf**ker up. According to Burden, such an act would just change the state of the work: “That was more metaphoric—I was trying to illustrate the fluid nature of the work. The work of art would still exist, but it would be rubble.” Conservators at the Orange County Museum of Art in California, the institution that purchased A Tale of Two Cities in 1987, were able to convince Burden to let them fix the decaying piece.' -- Complex
The Flying Kayak, 1982
'It consists of a fabric-covered frame in the shape of a little one-person boat. it hangs suspended about four feet above the gallery floor on three thin but sturdy steel cables. The kayak is unusual because it possesses a tail assembly reminiscent of a glider plane. Its vertical member can be moved with a foot pedal inside the kayak. Wing-like horizontals are controlled by handy hand levers. Several large fans are set in motion behind and one soars into a tame blue yonder consisting of a film-loop of sky projected on the wall ahead.' -- William Wilson
'A museum installation consisting of a 100-ton jack connected to a gear box and a turnstile. The 100-ton jack pushes two large timbers against the bearing walls of the museum. Each visitor to the museum must pass through the turnstile in order to see the exhibition. Each input on the turnstile ever so slightly expands the jack, and ultimately if enough people visit the exhibition, SAMSON could theoretically destroy the building. Like a glacier, its powerful movement is imperceptible to the naked eye. This sculptural installation subverts the notion of the sanctity of the Museum (the shed that houses the art).' -- Zwirner & Wurth
Exposing the Foundation of the Museum, 1986
' Chris Burden dug three large trenches in one corner of the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, exposing the dirt and rock underneath the modern museum floor. Underneath the posturing and pretense of the art world, underneath our amazing ability to create art, these trenches looked like beautiful altars where one could contemplate spirituality, sensuality, art or dirt! Video after the jump.' -- Sam Phillips
Medusa's Head, 1990
Plywood, steel, cement, rock, model railroad trains and tracks, 14′ (426.7 cm) in diameter.
L.A.P.D. Uniforms, 1993.
Wool serge, metal, leather, wood, plastic, Berretta handguns, ...
Nomadic Folly, 2001
Wood Platform, 4 Cloth and Metal Umbrellas, Woven Carpets, Braided Ropes and Pillows, Silken Fabrics, Glass and Metal Lamps, and CD Player & Speakers, 11 1/2 × 20 × 20 in, 29.2 × 50.8 × 50.8 cm
Gold Bullets , 2003
10 gold bullets and 2 wood Plexiglas vitrines, 6 1/4 × 10 1/4 × 5 3/4 in
Ghost Ship, 2005
'On 20th June 2005, Ghost Ship, a crewless self-navigating sailing ship set sail from Fair Isle in remote north-eastern Scotland on an eight-day voyage to Newcastle upon Tyne. Audiences were able to track the boats progress via a live, daily updated website.' -- collaged
The Flying Steamroller, 2006
'A steamroller was connected to a large, counterbalanced pivot arm. When driven at speed the streamroller left the ground, centrifugally flying.' -- MoMA
What My Dad Gave Me, 2008
Appx. 1,000 stainless steel reproduction Mysty Type I Erector parts, nuts and bolts
65' x 11' 2" x 11' 3" (19.8 x 3.4 x 3.4 m)
Beam Drop, 2008
'Part-installation and part-performance, "Beam Drop," involves hoisting steel I-beams high up in the air with a crane and then dropping them climactically into a pit of wet concrete. Burden does not know exactly where his I-beams will fall, so "Beam Drop" forms by chance. Burden relies on a crane to randomly place the I-beams.' -- Complex
Metropolis II, 2011
'Chris Burden's Metropolis II is an intense kinetic sculpture, modeled after a fast paced, frenetic modern city. Steel beams form an eclectic grid interwoven with an elaborate system of 18 roadways, including one six lane freeway, and HO scale train tracks. Miniature cars speed through the city at 240 scale miles per hour; every hour, the equivalent of approximately 100,000 cars circulate through the dense network of buildings. According to Burden, "The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars produce in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st century city."' -- LACMA
p.s. Hey. You know .... no, never mind. ** gucciCODYprada, Hey, Cody! So awesome that you're loving India so much, and the crazy of it is what I'm also imagining. Cool. Shit, about your computer, but writing by hand is highly recommended. It's like swimming versus sailing or something. Check in whenever you can and feel like it please. Big love, me ** David Ehrenstein, Thanks for riffing on my thing. ** Sypha, I forget what NecronomiCon is, but I'm going to look it up because I like the name. 'Kraken', okay. Maybe I'll make that the crack of my determined foray someday into Mieville? ** Steevee, I've only heard the obvious stuff by Common, and it didn't insinuate itself into me. I'll try something from the new one, though. The source material is an appeal. The Robin Williams stuff I saw on my FB wall yesterday was fairly respectful of who it was spinning itself off from, but today, very predictably, it has become mostly an excuse to squabble and conspiracy-theorize, and I'm staying away. ** _Black_Acrylic, Thank you, Ben. I really appreciate that. The magical ingredient is decode-able, but not easily. Superb about the palpable Art 101 buzz, and it's really nice to read/ hear/ feel your excitement! October or any time in any fashion that you like, maestro. It will be this place's honor, for sure. ** Kyler, Thank you muchly, sir. ** Misanthrope, I'll ask a French person today what the sweet thing is that people eat at French weddings, and if I get a clear answer, I'll let you know. You just made me want wedding cake so bad. I only think about how old I am when someone asks me how old I am, and then I usually can't remember exactly. It's a future date re: your mom's mashed potatoes. Now you've made me want mashed potatoes so bad. They eat those here in France. No, it's not consciously connected to my novel except in the sense that everything I'm thinking and making and doing somehow probably is connected without my thinking deliberately about it. ** Bill, Falling, landing or not landing, the speed of the fall, the visual organization of the body as it falls or lands, the cause or lack of cause for the fall and for the landing, what happens upon landing if there is a landing, what will seemingly happen or not when there isn't a landing, the rhythm of the gif, the color, the image gradation, illustrative vs. photographic, etc., etc. Lauren Bacall had such a weird career or acting trajectory or something. ** Okay. The p.s. always goes so fast on days when people mostly don't bother. I guess that's their plus? See if you find Chris Burden's gallery show more comments-worthy. I'll be at Paris Disneyland. See you tomorrow.