Chris Burden, Trans-Fixed, took place April 23, 1974 at Speedway Avenue in Venice, California
Is it art?
In 1974, performance artist Chris Burden was nailed to the back of a Volkswagen Beetle, which was pushed out of a garage, the engine revved for two minutes, and then pushed back into the garage. Certainly the piece is suggestive of Christ’s crucifixion and even the title — Trans-Fixed— recalls the concept of transubstantiation, the process whereby the bread and wine of the Eucharist (communion/Lord’s Supper) become the body and blood of Christ. But why do such a thing? Perhaps to get attention and to shock people. Burden apparently considered the Volkswagen Beetle “the car of the people,” thus his crucifixion liberated everyone not just himself. I think Josh Baer’s analysis best hits the nail on the head (pun intended):
In experiencing this type of pain and vulnerability firsthand, Burden is able to make it more familiar and, in turn, he demystifies the horror of such acts by making them knowable, both for himself and for the audience. As a result, the collective fears that society uses to keep people in order are exposed and the idea that the human body is governed by law is rendered impotent. — Josh Baer
Thirty-four years later, Burden created one of the most captivating, curious, if mundane works of sculpture for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Urban Light. What a trajectory, from painful performance pieces to luminous light groupings. Be sure to check out the Modern Art Notes Podcast interview with Burden, a truly insightful listen!
Chris Burden, Urban Light, 2008. Image via Flickr user Chris Connolly.
Thanks to Sarah (@chapeaudefee) for recommending the post!