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Carlos Figueroa

Ways of Knowing
May 19, 2015
Reading Journal 12
Chris Burden
Chris Burdens performance art pieces are unusual and often times violently disturbing.
When watching his performances or even reading his description of these pieces it made me rethink how I define art and whether or not Chris Burdens pieces fit in my definition of art.
Although accepting the definition of art to be an event or piece which invokes emotion, then of
course Chris Burdens pieces are art. In fact, Chris Burdens performance pieces are specific in
invoking certain emotions about violence specifically. At first I thought Chris Burden was simply
out of his mind (which he is) but then I realized what his pieces were pointing to or reevaluating.
To me it was extremely interesting the role which the audience was playing in his pieces,
in fact, many of his pieces required audience interaction and the emotions he was invoking were
through this interaction. For example, the pushpin piece where Burden was lying down in an
elevator with a sign which instructed the volunteer audience member to stick pushpins in his
body, the fact that the interaction was voluntary by the audience member changes how the piece
works. It is a stranger sticking pushpins into his body rather than someone else who is a part of
the piece or a close friend of his which makes the audience think about inflicting pain on this
stranger level. The serene expression on Burdens face implies near painlessness, yet the
volunteer seemed or the audience in general was skeptical or uncomfortable with this experience,
this shifts a sort of feeling of pain from Burden himself, experiencing the pain to the person

inflicting the pain. I wonder why though Burden chose to lie down instead of standing up and
how his position affects the inner workings of the piece. My guess is that the calmness on
Burdens face while lying down resembles the dead and the simplicity of sticking pushpins in his
body seems much easier as he seems to experience virtually no pain.
Another piece which was extremely compelling was the piece in which Burden is
crawling through glass with his hands tied behind his back. The blending of this piece with the
advertisement is extremely interesting because of how it down plays the extreme pain and
violence experienced during the piece. Its placement seems so casual and its short duration adds
to this effect of diluting how we would experience it if we were witnessing a man in the night
crawling through glass in the Los Angeles streets. Which turns my focus back to the role of the
audience, how does the pieces invocation of emotion shift from the video/ad format versus
someone witnessing the piece live. I can imagine the violence and pain is more powerful and
makes you cringe more. Also the fact that he decided to perform this piece during the night adds
to the dark and violent theme of the piece. Also, in the day he would have had a much larger
The last piece which grabbed my attention was the piece in which Burden was shot. His
reaction to being shot was almost nonchalant, which made me think about what its like to be
shot differently, less painful. Also, I think the room in which he was shot plays a large role in the
piece, the fact that its empty or plain, makes this act of shooting someone seem less about
hurting someone or less inhumane. Burdens calmness almost shifts the anxiety back to the
shooter himself and how intense it must feel the moment before you shoot someone. Which leads
me to think about whether this piece is about being shot or shooting someone and how this

moment is perceived by people. This piece emphasizes just how easy it is to shoot someone
physically, yet how difficult it might be to actually pull that trigger psychologically.
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