Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Experiment Requires That You Continue

Very interesting post by Greyhoos at Our God is Speed on Chris Burden. I'd heard of Shoot and seen some of Through the Night Softly, but he has a really interesting CV. Of notable interest is Doomed (curious about whether this was the titled before or after the event), in which the artist held himself under a plate of glass with a clock above it for 45 hours. Burden had filled out an envelope with instructions to the museum staff to end the exhibition at any point they saw fit, but did not actually give the envelope to the staff. Thus, it was up to them to sense if Burden was putting himself in any true danger and stop the project themselves.

"And as it turned out, Burden hadn't thought that it would take them so long to act. At most, he expected Doomed would wind up last a few hours. In an interview given some years later, Burden said that as the hours ticked by and the work began to stretch towards its third day, he realized his miscalculation and began to wonder if the attendees were going to continue to stand back and leave him to die."

Greyhoos rightly points to Kafka as a precedent for this piece, but it also got me thinking of Milgram's Obedience to Authority experiments wherein participants willfully shocked what they understood to be a man with a heart condition, seemingly to death, because a research scientist instructed them to. In Doomed, art too was acting as an authority. The passivity of the spectator allows him or her to mitigate actions framed by their own set of reality principles. In a sense, Burden's piece exposed the religiosity of the artistic performance. Burden created an environment that screamed for intervention, but discouraged it by the faith of the spectators in the totality of the act. In a system abiding by this kind of logical detachment, belief and authority in and of themselves are arbitrary.

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