My Favorite Artists You’ve Never Heard Of (Chris Burden, Part 2)

September 5, 2011

Whenever I get really immersed in studying Chris Burden’s career it begins to mess with my head a little. My husband could tell you that my fascination sometimes hits fever quality, and I’ll spend days reading every word I can find, speculating, changing my mind, refining my picture of the staggering body of work produced by the man. This has been one of those weeks.

This afternoon I came across a film that I had heard existed, but did not know was posted on the internet. It is a 35 minute video, narrated by Burden himself and featuring footage of several of his own performances between 1971 and 1974. I watched it. It was magnetic and repelling at the same time.

I had to pop open wordpress and write before the magic faded. Two parts of the video held me spellbound, the very beginning and the very end.

The video opens with a somewhat painful explanation by Burden of what you are about to see and why these clips exist. I have been reading articles on Chris Burden for eight years. Almost every one describes him as “shy”. I never believed it. I mean, come on — this is Chris Burden, the reckless, the bold! He can’t possibly be shy. He has everyone hoodwinked! Maybe he does, but if it’s part of the persona, it was so convincing I almost couldn’t watch it. I found myself wanting to skip ahead, yet forcing myself to continue.

At the end of the video was the footage of “Velvet Water”. In this piece, Burden placed himself in the same room as his audience, but concealed behind a wall of lockers. The audience watched the performance on closed circuit monitors, while listening to the actual sounds coming from Burden only a few feet away. Again, something I’ve read about almost ad nauseum. I wasn’t prepared for the energy. I watched Burden plunge his head into a sink full of water and repeatedly attempt to breathe it. I know that it only lasted about five minutes. I know he survived. I know the outcome. I could barely watch it. I found my self covering my face and watching through my fingers, gasping every time he came up for air, and feeling intense guilt about breathing myself. I only persisted to the end out of a desire to experience the whole thing, all the way through. I can’t imagine what it was like to experience it in the same room, but I loved and hated it and even on film, I kept wishing someone would stop him.

I don’t know why I share all this but to say, maybe one of these days I’ll figure out why I’m mesmerized by Chris Burden. Maybe one of these days I’ll begin to make art that creates that kind of energy. Maybe I won’t. But I know you need to go google him too. That kind of energy should be passed on.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: