Saturday, August 6, 2011

Artist Chris Burden

Christopher "Chris" Burden (born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1946) is an American artist working in performance, sculpture, and installation art.

Life and career


Burden studied for his B.A. in visual arts, physics and architecture at Pomona College and received his MFA at the University of California, Irvine from 1969 to 1971.[1]

Early performance art

Burden began to work in performance art in the early 1970s, he made a series of controversial performances in which the idea of personal danger as artistic expression was central. His most well-known act from that time is perhaps the 1971 performance piece Shoot, in which he was shot in his left arm by an assistant from a distance of about five meters.[1][2] Other performances from the 1970s were Five Day Locker Piece (1971), Deadman (1972), B.C. Mexico (1973), Fire Roll (1973), TV Hijack (1972), Doomed (1975) and Honest Labor (1979).

One of Burden’s most reproduced and cited pieces, Trans-Fixed took place in 1974 at Speedway Avenue in Venice, California. For this performance, Burden lay face up on a Volkswagen Beetle and had nails hammered into both of his hands, as if he were being crucified on the car.The car was pushed out of the garage and the engine revved for two minutes before being pushed back into the garage.[3]

Later that year, Burden performed his piece White Light/White Heat at the Ronald Feldman gallery in New York. For this work of experiment performance and self-inflicting danger, Burden spent twenty-two days lying on a triangular platform in the corner of the gallery. He was out of sight from all viewers and he could not see them either. According to Burden, he did not eat, talk, or come down the entire time.[4]

Several of Burden's other performance pieces were considered somewhat controversial at the time: another "danger piece" was Doomed, in which Burden lay motionless in a museum gallery under a slanted sheet of glass, with a clock running nearby. Unbeknownst to the museum owners, Chris had planned to remain in that position until someone interfered in some way with the piece. Forty-five hours later, a museum guard placed a pitcher of water in reaching distance to Burden. Burden then smashed the glass, and took a hammer to the clock, thus ending the piece.[5]

In 1975, he created the fully operational B-Car, a lightweight four-wheeled vehicle that he described as being "able to travel 100 miles per hour and achieve 100 miles per gallon".[6] Some of his other works from that period are DIECIMILA (1977), a facsimile of an Italian 10,000 Lira note, possibly the first fine art print that (like paper money) is printed on both sides of the paper; The Speed of Light Machine (1983), in which he reconstructed a scientific experiment with which to "see" the speed of light; and the installation C.B.T.V. (1977), a reconstruction of the first ever made Mechanical television.

In 1978, he became a professor at University of California, Los Angeles, a position from which he resigned in 2005 due to a controversy over the university's alleged mishandling of a student's classroom performance piece that echoed one of Burden's own performance pieces.[2] Burden cited the performance in his letter of resignation, saying that the student should have been suspended during the investigation into whether school safety rules had been violated. The performance allegedly involved a loaded gun, but authorities were unable to substantiate this.[7]

Later life

In 1996, Burden exhibited his Fist of Light at the Whitney Biennial exhibition in New York. It consisted of a kitchen-sized metal box with hundreds of halogen lamps burning inside. It required more than a dozen industrial air conditioners to cool the room.

In 1999, Burden's sculpture When Robots Rule: The Two Minute Airplane Factory was shown at the Tate Gallery in London. It was a "factory-like assembly line which manufactures rubber-band-powered model aeroplanes from tissue paper, plastic and balsa wood". Each plane had a propellor powered by a rubber band, and when each was completed, at a rate of one every 2 minutes,[8] the machine launched it to fly up and circle around the gallery.[9] Unfortunately, the machine was non-functional for at least two months of the installation, leading World Sculpture News to question the intent of the piece and remark that "the work illustrated that robots, in fact, don’t rule everything, and for the time being, are still subjected to individual and groups shortcomings."[10]

In 2005, Burden released Ghost Ship, his crewless, self-navigating yacht which docked at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 28 July after a 330-mile 5-day trip from Fair Isle, near Shetland. The project was commissioned by Locus+ at a cost of £150,000, and was funded with a significant grant from Arts Council England,[11] being designed and constructed with the help of the Marine Engineering Department of the University of Southampton.[12] It is said to be controlled via onboard computers and a GPS system; however, in case of emergency the ship is 'shadowed' by an accompanying support boat.

Personal life

Chris Burden is married to multi-media artist Nancy Rubins.[2] He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

Burden was referenced in David Bowie's 1977 song "Joe the Lion", Laurie Anderson's 1977 song "It's Not the Bullet that Kills You - It's the Hole (for Chris Burden)" on the double LP "Airwaves," and in the diary of Nathan Adler from the David Bowie album "1. OUTSIDE". He was also mentioned in the Jeff Lindsay book "Dexter by Design," and in Norman Mailer's book "The Faith of Graffiti."


1.^ Gagosian Gallery website. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
2.^ Kastner, Jeffrey (January 1, 2005). "Gun Shy". Artforum. Retrieved 2007-02-17.
3.^ Chris Burden
4.^ White Light/White Heat February 8 – March 1, 1975
5.^ "Chris Burden and the limits of art," by Peter Schjeldahl. The New Yorker, May 14, 2007.
6.^ 1996 review of Burden's MAK retrospective
7.^ 2 Artists Quit UCLA Over Gun Incident
8.^ "Chris Burden, When Robots Rule: The Two-Minute Airplane Factory, exhibition catalogue". Store. Art Metropole. Retrieved 24 November 2010.
9.^ "Chris Burden". Retrieved 24 November 2010.
10.^ R.J. Preece (15 September 2009). "Chris Burden at the Tate Gallery". World Sculpture News. Retrieved 24 November 2010.
11.^ "Ghost Ship" at
12.^ "Ghost Ship - a new commissioned work by Chris Burden", Locus+, University of Southampton news release, 13 July 2005

No comments: