Chris Burden – Deluxe Photo Book 1971–73
During the short but intensive period from 1971 to 1973, Chris Burden created some 20 actions, which came to play an important role in his continued work in the fields such as performance, collage, sculpture and installation. Out of these actions, 23 are documented in his Deluxe Photo Book 1971–73, which he self-published in 1974. Burden regarded the book as both an independent work of art in its own right, as well as an archive of his early performative practice.
Chris Burden’s actions and performance works most closely resemble empirical explorations of the body’s reaction to external and internal stresses. Through actually performing the works, Burden acquired knowledge – both bodily and sensory – about what is involved in undergoing various self-set trials and how that influenced him and the context in which he was operating. The works seldom referred to anything other than themselves – they were free from symbolism and historical, literary or art historical references. The individual experience – primarily Burden’s own but also that of the attending audience – was at the core of the works. Simultaneously they addressed universal concepts and fears, such as being shut in (Five Day Locker Piece, 1971), shot (Shoot, 1971), electrified (Prelude to 220 or 110, 1972), or burned (Icarus, 1973).
The investigations were introspective but even developed into explorations of broader social and political issues. From concentrating on the limitations of an individual body, Burden’s work came to focus on the role of the institution and the concept of deficiency. His critical view of fine arts colleges appears in Five Day Locker Piece, 1971, while his interest in the mass media’s role in society formed the background to TV Hijack, 1972 and TV Ad, 1973.
Many of the ephemeral works were performed in front of a small (or no) audience, and their subsequent existence was completely dependent on documentation in the form of images, the artist’s own notes, and subsequent descriptions. Their physically and mentally challenging nature also led them to be portrayed in the media mainly as spectacular events. Burden, who felt that the critics misinterpreted and trivialized his actions, saw the need to give the works a context. He compiled archival material with the main aim of recreating how the actions had occurred, free of interpretations, explanations or sensational descriptions. Burden’s archival work was a conscious initiative to ensure the survival of the ephemeral works, and it became the foundation of Deluxe Photo Book 1971–73, which is included in the Magasin III collection. Originally published in book form, for this exhibition the material is presented framed and hung on the wall. In order to stay as close to Burden’s original concept as possible, the works appear in chronological order, following that of the book. We are also showing the film Documentation of Selected Works 1971–74, which provides additional insight into Burden’s own thoughts about his early performative practice.