I already disliked Chris Burden. His more recent concept art is the same as everything else you’ll find in Chelsea these days, and I’ve always been kind of disgusted in how he implicated his live audiences in the violence he organized against himself (inviting a volunteer to participate in a performance and then informing them that they are to push pins into his flesh in a mid-70s work comes to mind), but given the “stunt” he played the first time he appeared on television, I have no idea why anyone gives this creep the time of day (jk, it’s super obvious).
What follows is the description Burden composed for his ‘72 performance T.V. Hijack:
On January 14 I was asked to do a piece on a local television station by Phyllis Lutjeans. After several proposals were censored by the station or by Phyllis, I agreed to an interview situation. I arrived at the station with my own video crew so that could have my own tape. While the taping was in progress, I requested that the show be transmitted live. Since the station was not broadcasting at the time, they complied. In the course of the interview, Phyllis asked me to talk about some of the pieces I had thought of doing. I demonstrated a T.V. Hijack. Holding a knife at her throat, I threatened her life if the station stopped live transmission. I told her that I had planned to make her perform obscene acts. At the end of the recording, I asked for the tape of the show. I unwound the reel and destroyed the show by dousing the tape with acetone. The station manager was irate, and I offered him my tape which included the show and its destruction, but he refused.
– (Chris Burden, Beyond the Limits, ed. by Peter Noever, MAK, Ostfildern: Cantz 1996, p. 132)
A later comment by Lutjeans confirms that T.V. Hijack was not staged, and that she was terrified for her life. Perhaps because a handful of images are all that remain of T.V. Hijack it has been easy for the art world to forget what constituted the work (the New Museum certainly makes no mention of it in their current retrospective), and to even praise it as part of his genre-breaking oeuvre. Arts writer Nick Stillman comments:
TV Hijack is a declaration of agency. Burden got to do a performance live on TV after all, and he didn’t adjust it to fit a homogenizing TV frame. The medium was borrowed but the message was his.
– Stillman, east of borneo
And he’s right. And art receiving publics have loved such declarations from male artists for centuries. Caravaggio breaking from the well-lit compositions of his contemporaries, David breaking from the academy, Delacroix from David, and ad infinitum. And there’s more than a little precedence for doing it through images of women with embedded threats of violence and rape (Picasso and Gauguin immediately come to mind). As far as I am aware, there is no precedence for such a declaration through literally threatening a woman with violence and rape. And today we are celebrating this artist with a retrospective at a premier art institution. Give yourself a pat on the back Art World, you have a lot to be proud of.
Photo documentation of T.V. Hijack, Burden with a knife at Lutjean’s throat,below the cut.