Oh Shoot...

While reading in preparation for one of my seminars this week, I came across an article about one of the artists referenced. These are just some of my random, preliminary thoughts that pinged off the back of the piece.

A Google image search for the name 'Chris Burden' produces this as the very first picture. Despite Burden working prolifically after the event (I think 'Shoot' was maybe his second action?) this is still how he is defined.
Image Source: openculture.com

Shoot, a performance art work by Chris Burden, is not something that particularly appeals to me. I don't think it is art, nor is it artistic. In defining this, I would suggest that 'artistic' implies some sort of skill, and, while facing a sharp-shooter takes 'something', I don't think it is skill, per se. However, art can be in intention, and, I suppose, to trouble my own understanding, Burden 'intended' to stand in front of a loaded gun.

However, he also 'intended' for the bullet to graze him, yet it pierced through his skin. Because the artists' intention was never achieved, how does this fit into the idea of art being what the artist says it is? Because this piece didn't do what the artist had wanted...  Also, the work was actually dictated by the shooter, the one with the gun was the one who determined the outcome, and thus did something that the artist didn't intend. So surely this unnamed man is the true executor (allusion intended) of the work of art?

Quote from referenced article

This action-art still interests me though. The article states that Burden created 'a double bind for viewers between the citizenly injunction to intervene in crises and the institutional taboo against touching art works.' (1) Many of his other actions also highlight this space of intervention and appreciation, raising an interesting dichotomy between the idea of private and public spheres of agency, where a private reaction does not necessarily inform a public action.

Art is reified and restricted, signs at public art galleries warn attendants not to touch the art works, therefore when the artist is also the art, this heightens the sense of inviolability: touch between unfamiliar bodies is a social taboo. But, bodies touch, it is one of our most personal senses. Artist as art creates a forbidden tactility, positioned in the intermediate between object and objectified.

Image Source: pinterest.com

The article goes on to discuss a moment, later in Burden's life, where he protested against an act of what appeared to be Russian Roulette by a student at a university. Burden 'insisted on a cardinal difference between an act performed in an art space for an audience that had been warned and one sprung on students in a classroom'(2).

This idea of the 'space' of art is one that has interested me before - I even used it as the basis for one of my essays last semester (we've not had the results back for these yet, so I don't know quite how it's gone down!). Previously, Burden had defined art as a 'free spot in society'(3), yet who defines this 'free spot'? Burden seems to be suggesting that the freedom is only permissible in a previously defined space: the space defines the act as art. If he had just been shot on a street, would it have been an artistic act? (Though I still quetion whether it even was, regardless of positionality.) Because the student didn't warn those in proximity that an artistic act was about to take place, does that mean it can't be called so after the fact? Surely Burden's earlier work, such as Trans-Fixed (which I also enjoy for its troubled representation of ideas about what art is), negates the importance of prior warning since it was the shock, the unexpected encounter, which made the work, well, work?

Who gets to define the space of art? Who gets to define what is, or isn't, art? What status do we afford acts of art?
And maybe this was the point of Shoot? And many other works of action as art - to raise and renegotiate these sorts of questions.

(1) Peter Schjeldhal, 'Performance: Chris Burden and the limits of art', The New Yorker, (May 14, 2007), <https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/05/14/performance-2> [accessed 5 February, 2018].
(2) Schejeldhal, 'Performance'.
(3) Schejeldhal, 'Performance'.


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