Chris Burden

By
Photography Robbie Fimmano

Published December 15, 2010

Chris Burden, Mixed-media Artist, Sculptor, Performance-art Icon– The violent, provoking, groundbreaking performance and duration works by Chris Burden in the 1970s didn’t simply redefine the direction of art (although it did just that by questioning the role of the artist, where art was held, how dangerous it could get, and if viewers were really innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire). Burden’s loaded performances arguably predicted cultural issues— and the viewer response to them—that ranged from escalating gun violence (Burden famously had a bullet shot into his arm in a performance in 1971) to consumer car worship (he also crucified himself on a Volkswagen). Today, residing with his wife, artist Nancy Rubins, in Topanga Canyon, Burden seems less interested in his role as an L.A. art icon to a young generation increasingly returning to performance art than he is in the raw, hyper-masculine, large-scale sculptures that have been consuming his practice for the past two decades. Currently, his warehouse studio, which sits on eight acres of rugged land, is overtaken by his latest ode to car culture: Called Metropolis No. II, the piece is a bigger, faster, and more epically labyrinthine version of a sculpture he created in 2004. This second rendition is a fully motorized boy fantasyland where roughly 1,200 specially produced Matchbox-style cars circulate around undulating tracks every 40 seconds: That means about 100,000 cars an hour fly through this Burden maze at such a velocity that it is impossible to follow a single car. “It’s like freeway noise in miniature,” Burden explains. “The sound adds another level of anxiety. And there are also trains for additional motion, although those are slower than the cars.” The result is like a roaring mechanical waterfall for commuters in a J.G. Ballard dystopia. Burden, whose wilderness of vintage streetlamps permanently adorns the plaza of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, hasn’t stopped working on his other architectural monuments: two stainless-steel Erector set towers stand guard in front of his studio. He’s also currently devising the engineering details for the construction of a miniature zeppelin air balloon.

Chris Burden with his 4th Plinth Towers, 2010, at his studio in Topanga Canyon, October 2010. All clothing: Burden’s own.

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