Intro to Chris Burden

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Chris Burden, and artist of intrigue and confusion, was born in Massachusetts, in 1946. He studied Visual Arts, Physics and Architecture at Yale and the University of California from 1969-1971.
Many are accustom to hearing the name Chris Burden, and associating him with his work in 1971 called “Shoot.” This performance was held after hours at a gallery in California; the audience was by invitation only. Information regarding this performance spread by word of mouth. The performance consisted of Chris Burden Standing against the far wall of the gallery. Fifteen feet away stood his friend, with a twenty two caliber long rifle. The objective was simple: Chris Burden was to be grazed by the bullet shot from this gun. However, Burden was more than grazed; the copper head bullet penetrated his left arm. What was the message? Some say Burden was speaking out against the Vietnam War; others have commented that Burden was interested in shock factor elements regarding violence. Neither of these ideas are close to what Burden was hoping to achieve. Burden was interested in achieving a higher form of knowledge that goes beyond basic comprehension that humanity has come to depend on. We no longer look/view and comprehend, or gain intelligence. We hear, or read and gain our primary knowledge this way. We are more comfortable emailing then speaking to each other. Visual information can be daunting. There is an un easiness to the ephemeral quality of the visual.
Burden is quoted stating:
“How do you know what it is like to be shot, if you don’t get shot?”
Burden’ statement is clear; Burden is interested in achieving a level of knowledge that is not possible through learning as we know it. You can read a book on being shot, and gain on some intellectual level regarding being shot. However, According to Burden, to truly comprehend, you must go through it yourself. It was also important to Burden that there be no relic of the work, besides the photographs taken there. This photo does not capture the event for the viewer and allow them to re-live it; it is evidence that “Shoot” happened. The photography that is available for us to view, does not serve any functionality to anyone who views it. The objective of the artist was met in 1971. the Scare that Burden has is the only viable relic of this performance, and this too, belongs to Burden, and Burden alone. The knowledge that was acquired by Burden was experienced, not explained.
Evidence of this can be found in his 1974 performance called “Doomed” performed in the Chicago Museum of Art. Very little has been found regarding this work; what is know is Burden walked into the gallery space at midnight, set a clock on the wall, and laid underneath a piece of glass. The Glass ran the length of his entire body. Burden laid there for forty five hours and ten minutes underneath this sheet of glass. He defecated, urinated and whatever other bodily functions where necessary. People would walk by and observe Burden in this state. He was observed, but not interacted with. This was the case until a museum worker placed a pitcher of water with in the grasp of Burden. Burden Proceeded to get up, take a hammer and smash the clock, then leave. Next to no information (other than random art enthusiast’s blog sites) can be found on this performance. The clock and the hammer where taken by Burden. When Burden is asked about his performances, he lacks in giving a thorough answer, this is not an accident.
Burden does not wish to have anyone debunk his work; he has provided the source of knowledge for himself and himself alone. According to his statement regarding “Shoot” for someone to achieve knowledge through the experience, then he would have to shoot everyone who was a witness in the gallery. This is not what happened, it is evident Burden was not seeking to “over explain” or reason his actions. The fact he did not explain his action to anyone upon questioning his motives, is further proof.
Burden begins to move into the realm of visual knowledge in his later works. (By using the term visual knowledge I am referring to a different way of comprehending or understanding. Instead of reading numbers, or text, you are forced to see it, and comprehend the information visually.)
Burden’s work at the Dallas museum of Art “All the Submarines of the USA” from 1987 consists of six hundred twenty five cardboard models of submarines hanging by vinyl thread. This work depicts the entirety of the United states navy from the 1890’s till 1987. Burden’s other work “Match Stick Tanks” depicts fifty thousand tanks the Soviet Union owned in 1971. Each tank is meticulously formed from one match stick, then glued on to a nickel (there was no specifications found that stated if a specific side of the coin was used.)
The nickel was then glued to the floor, this was done fifty thousand times. Burden states during an interview that he is fascinated by the idea of visual knowledge. He goes on to comment on the number (in Arabic form): 50,000; “what does it mean to take away or add a few zero’s?”
Does it really impact the way in which we comprehend the number? Burden’s answer is no. Burden’s objective was to communicate visual information, by doing this he brings the audience into the conversation, allowing them to have the knowledge gained from his work, this approach differs from his work “Shoot.” “Shoot” implicates the audience because they were in the room, and did nothing to the stop the shooting. However, this did not convey to the audience the experience of being shot. “Matchstick Tanks” has taken the approach of knowledge, but transcended the knowledge into a visual perspective, which has allowed it to exist in tangible form. Therefore, the information is no longer theoretical, or belonging only to Burden.
Chris Burden began his career with the goal of achieving a higher form of knowledge. A knowledge that he could receive only through the experience of the act himself. He moved from working only with his body, and himself being the sole receptor of knowledge, to creating a visual knowledge that was not ephemeral, but ascertainable. An ascertainable intelligence that was no longer conjectural.


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