Courtesy of the Chris Burden Studio and Gagosian Gallery
Chris Burden’s innovative performances of the 1970s continue to influence younger and older artists alike with their conceptual clarity and courage. At the outset of his career, Burden’s investigations focused on his own personal limits subjected to both established law and unspoken societal rules. His most famous performance, Shoot, 1971, occurred when Burden was shot in the arm by an assistant in front of an audience of peers and friends at the F-Space gallery in Santa Ana, California. Burden described his work as examining and testing “the origin of power both physical and bureaucratic and how this power ultimately shapes the world in which we exist.”
In the late 1970s and early 80s, Burden began to explore technology and the mechanics of construction as parameters to be tampered with and tested, laying the groundwork for most of his work of the last decades, including Bateau de Guerre, 2001. Between 1981 and 1984, Burden made seven ships with found objects and toys, four of which were suspended from the ceiling with cables. The works continued Burden’s analysis of power and experience as well as tapped into his childhood interest in building. Bateau de Guerre portrays shipbuilding and technology as conveyers of ideas, often evil. Made of foam-filled gas cans, steel Erector-set girders, foam gift shop cannons, and toy rockets and castles, the work connects the joy and play of childhood games with the more destructive games of adulthood. The installation is an eerie reminder of the ever-present human potential for war and violence—the ship tilted forward, ready to strike, halogen lamps beaming, vigilant.