This Summer Session we’re thinking about celebrity, which necessarily includes the ways in which celebrity is most easily produced and consumed—that is, we’re also thinking about television. Today we bring you an excerpt from an article published on East of Borneo by Nick Stillman, regarding Chris Burden’s television performances of the 1970s, which used the medium of television to challenge the consumerist ethos it perpetuated, unlike its complicit emulation seen in the Pop Art movement. This article was originally published October 10, 2010.
It’s generally known that Chris Burden made a few commercials for television in the 1970s. But any pursuit of why, expanding meaningfully beyond the descriptive synopses Burden himself provides for most of his individual works, has been curiously rare. Burden—then living in Venice Beach—was concurrently making live performance work that deployed television monitors as critical signifiers of voyeurism. This link between his use of the television set as an object or prop in performances like Do You Believe in Television or Velvet Water and his works that actually took place on television is crucial to parsing why arguably the foremost performance artist of his generation began to resituate a live performance practice to a medium that seems antithetical to live art. Television as both communicative and manipulative vessel is a major focus in Burden’s work from 1971 to 1977. Burden usually downplays the political connotations or intentions of his art, but this body of television work seems like an examination of militaristic training, specifically, how authority results in belief.