One of Southern California’s most provocative artists, Chris Burden (1946–2015) first exploded into the mainstream consciousness with his performance Shoot (1971). Burden was studying for his MFA at UC Irvine under Robert Irwin, when he invited a friend to shoot him with a .22 rifle from a distance of just 15 feet. In Trans-Fixed (1974), a similarly dramatic performance, Burden was crucified against a Volkswagen Beetle on Speedway Avenue in Venice, California. Such absolute commitment characterized Burden’s practice and he continued to make radical, often controversial, performances, sculptures, and installations throughout his five–decade career.

These four gelatin silver print photographs: 747, Bed Piece, and Prelude to 220 or 110 (4) date from 1971–1973, a notable phase in Burden’s career when he created some of his most seminal work. Bed Piece documents a memorable performance in which the artist lay in a bed in an otherwise empty gallery for 22 days. Initially experienced as a tortuous confinement, Burden came to enjoy the performance after a few days. For visitors, the palpable tension created by the still body, on the verge of an ecstasy seemingly akin to death, had an enormously powerful psychological effect.

In 747, the artist can be seen shooting at an aircraft in the midst of takeoff, while in Prelude to 220 or 110, he lay bolted to a gallery floor with copper bonds whilst buckets of water containing 110 volt lines were arranged around him. The slightest disturbance by a viewer could have led to fatal injury. These performances share an interest in the psychological power of imminent danger, a principle driving much of Burden’s dramatic work, which remains as compelling today as when it was first created.

Cottom, Daniel. Unhuman Culture. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2006. 1. Print.
Schröder, Johannes Luther. “Science, Heat and Time.” Chris Burden: Beyond the Limits. Ed. Peter Noever. Ostfildern: Österreichisches Museum Für Angewandte Kunst, 1996. 193-209. Print.
Carr, Craig. On Edge: Performance at the End of the Twentieth Century. Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 1993. 16. Print.