Chris Burden : The performance artist that blended violence and purity (1970s)
The performance artist that blended violence and purity (1970s)
In an era where the “Cinnamon Challenge” was likely the closest example of any of us participating in self-inflicted pain for art or entertainment, the legend of the late Chris Burden will be incredulous to many. The infamous American artist pushed the envelope in performance art many times over in the 70s, being purposely shot through the arm, nailed to the hood of a car and crawling across a bed of glass naked, to name a few memorable instances.
The setting of Chris Burden’s art is important to consider in order to fully grasp the brilliance of his madness. Early 1970’s America was a grim and tumultuous scene, with the Vietnam war and media outlets desensitizing many to everyday violence. This was the very theme that Burden looked to exploit in his 1971 performance 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘚𝘩𝘰𝘰𝘵, where he strategically stood 5 metres away from a .22 rifle and was shot through the arm by a friend while onlookers watched in disgust. He would again endanger himself in a similar ostentatious fashion in 1973, laying on a street in Los Angeles covered with glass shards, as he crawled across street face-down in only a speed. This horrific display would be known as 𝘛𝘩𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘕𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘚𝘰𝘧𝘵𝘭𝘺 a rather poetic title for such a gory display. A year later in 1974, Burden would mock violence as commonplace in society again through a globally-recognized symbol. In the piece known as 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘴-𝘍𝘪𝘹𝘦𝘥, Chris was propped up on a Volkswagen and nailed to the car through the palm of his hands, à la Christ’s Crucifixion.
Burden’s acts were as appalling to watch as they were invigorating; you simply couldn’t look away. His approach towards translating real pain in art has influenced various modern performance artists of today.