Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Chris Burden

“Chris Burden has, in the name of his art, been shot, nailed to the top of a Volkswagen Beetle and set on fire. He has crawled naked across broken glass, starved for 11 days on a desert island and stuffed himself into a student locker for an entire workweek. Burden, 62, originally trained as a sculptor at the University of California, Irvine, but the realities of his life in the Seventies forced him to exploit the most accessible raw material—himself.

From the beginning of his career, Burden’s work has been about looking at limits,” she explains. “How tall can I make a tower with Erector set parts? What are the limits of my endurance? His curiousity is about how far you can take things—politically, socially, physically —and his studio is almost like a laboratory where experiments take place.”

Over the course of the next decade, Burden created numerous other performance pieces. Most were poorly documented, although an eight-second film clip of Shoot can now be found on the Internet—an early harbinger of downloadable spectacles of violence. Other works were equally ahead of their times. B-Car (1975) was an ultra-lightweight automobile designed to run 100 miles on one gallon of gas, while Chris Burden Promo (1976) was a guerrilla advertisement that aired on local late-night television. The names da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, van Gogh and Picasso flashed against a blue screen, followed by a sixth: Chris Burden. “If I was a billionaire’s son and I played that commercial for five years, then guess what?” Burden says. “For the man on the street, my name would be right up there with Michelangelo.”

Burden admits that such ephemeral works were financially “suicidal,” and through much of the Eighties and Nineties, he relied on NEA fellowships and his professor’s salary to supplement his income. He’s frank about the downside of teaching—“I got tired of raising other people’s children”—and why he and Rubins, also on the UCLA faculty, retired abruptly after a student brought a very convincing replica of a gun into a performance-art class. Burden’s objections have led some to brand him a hypocrite, but he fires back that Shoot took place in a private gallery, not in a public classroom. “Students do all kinds of crazy things,” Burden explains. “That’s to be expected, right? But there’s a whole level of decorum that applies to everybody. So when the university chose not to take any action, I couldn’t be a part of that institution anymore.”

Chris Burden's "Public Offering" by Kevin West, W Magazine (May 2008)

Chris Burden, Transfixed, 23 April 1974, Speedway Avenue, Venice, California
Artforum magazine, Volume XIV No. 9 (May 1976). pgs. 24-31.
© Copyright 1976 by California Artforum Inc.

"Burden was born in Boston in 1946, to an engineer father and a mother who had a master’s degree in biology, and he grew up in France and Italy. At the age of twelve, on the island of Elba, he was badly hurt in a motor-scooter accident, and underwent an emergency operation on his left foot, without anesthesia. It was a formative experience, he said, as was a passion for photography, which he acquired during his long recuperation. He completed high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At Pomona College, in Claremont, California, he declared an architecture major and studied physics, but gravitated toward art, with a special interest in Dadaism. Burden’s master’s thesis, at the University of California, Irvine, in 1971—where his teachers included the doyen of space-and-light installations, Robert Irwin—was the five-day locker stint." "Chris Burdens and the Limits of Art" by Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker (May 14, 2007)


jusdeananas said...

Thanks for posting this ! - My brain-food for the day.

plaintheweb said...

cool post