Exploring artist Chris Burden’s early work as a pioneer of both multi-media engagements with technology, and their interlocking investigations of performance and the presence of the body within the media network, Gagosian is currently presenting Cross Communication, an exhibition of relics, films, and video works by the artist, plus other materials that document his early performances.
In his performances and audio/video works of the 1970s and ’80s, Burden challenged his own mental and physical limitations while exploring the construction of agency and intent. Fascinated by the mediation of visual language in television advertisements, and by the formulas for fame they seemed to represent, he sought to reflect the emergent violence and complexity of American society. Employing unconventional guerrilla tactics to question the broad acceptance of consumer culture, Burden confronted audiences with their own moral culpability. And over the course of his career, he moved from performances in which his own body functioned as the medium to spectacular large-scale sculptures and installations, a number of which use toy parts or actual vehicles.
Many of Burden’s early performances find the artist placing himself in dangerous or uncomfortable situations that he invested with both visceral impact and metaphorical bite. In Super-8 footage of the notorious Shoot (1971), he is shown being shot in the left arm by a friend with a rifle, while in 220 (1971), he and three others perched on ladders in a flooded gallery, then dropped a 220-volt electric line into the water beneath. In Back to You (1974), a volunteer sticks pins into the artist’s stomach and foot as he lies on the floor of an elevator, while Through the Night Softly (1973) finds him crawling through broken glass on Main Street.
Other films reveal Burden tangling with elemental forces, testing his powers of endurance, or simply pushing his luck. In Fire Roll (1973), he extinguishes a burning pair of pants with his body and in Icarus (1973), he rises from beneath two flaming sheets of glass. In Velvet Water (1974), he makes repeated attempts to breathe liquid in place of air, while B.C. Mexico (1973) sees him survive eleven solitary days on a remote beach. Bed Piece (1972) shows Burden lying in a single bed, where he remained for some twenty-two days; in Deadman (1972), he is secreted beneath a tarpaulin in the altogether riskier location of Los Angeles’s busy La Cienega Boulevard.
On through June 24th, Cross Communication is a striking engagement with Burden’s early work, showcasing an interest in power, force, and the body as deployed in the modern media landscape.
– D. Creahan
Chris Burden: Cross Communication [Gagosian]