Chris Burden: 1946-****...United States
"No piece is ever repeated. No piece
is ever rehearsed."
Called the "Evel Knievel of Art" by some, it would be fair to say that the
art of Chris Burden is largely misunderstood. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, Burden studied physics, architecture,
and visual arts at Pomona College in California before obtaining his MFA at the University of California. In the early 1970
he became known for his controversial performance artworks. His style became known as Actionism; art that centers on his body
as the object and subject of the art. Here is where most get all messed up: what he does is not about violence! The art is
about the mental experience that he has, as well as the mental experience of the audience. To make the experience more meaningful,
he limits the number of viewers to make a greater impact. Those few then report their experience to the larger public. Here
is example of his logic: Lets say you had tickets to see The Dave Mathew’s Band at Red Rocks in Colorado. That would
be an awesome show that you shared with some 10,000 other people. But It might be a better story and experience if you saw
them play in some tiny venue that only had a hundred people there and they played some songs they never play to get a reaction
from those hundred people. Two great experiences, but one may be more personal and unique than the other.
Burden did several unique performances including: spending five days locked
in a locker that was 2' x 2' x 3', laid on a sheet of glass until he was disturbed (forty-five hours later), he was nailed
(crucifixion style) to the back of a Volkswagen Beetle roaring at full throttle, laid in a bed for twenty-two days (“In the beginning it was real boring. It was very painful and hard to do, but
I found that toward the end I actually got to enjoy it there.”), arced live electric
wires across his body, disappeared for three days, divorced a wife, tried to breathe water, and many other scenarios.
His most known, and there for the performance that made the general public
misunderstand his work, was Shoot. In that performance, Burden was shot in his left arm
by an assistant that was standing fifteen feet away. The bullet entered his bicep and blew out his tricep. Thinking he was
mentally unstable after that event, he was forced into psychiatric evaluations.
Beyond being a known artist, Burden also spent
some time as a teacher. He began teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute in California in 1978, but soon moved on to the
University of California. He resigned after twenty-six years, in 2005. Allegedly a student of his had a performance that echoed
one of Burden’s and may have involved a loaded gun. The school punished the student unfairly, so he quit. His later
works focus on ideas around technologies and engineering. An example of this is his work: When Robots
Rule. In this work, Burden built a conveyor-belt machine built and launched small rubber band powered airplanes
with virtually no human involvement.