Metropolis II: Chris Burden’s Amazing, Frenetic Mini-City

In his 2007 New York­er essay on per­for­mance artist Chris Bur­den, the crit­ic Peter Schjel­dahl wrote that most of Bur­den’s oeu­vre con­sist­ed of “pow­er­ful works that deal inge­nious­ly with aes­thet­ics and ethics of pow­er.”

Schjeld­hal added that “you needn’t like them to be impressed,” and then described some of Bur­den’s more infa­mous pieces:

He spent five days in a small lock­er, with a bot­tle of water above and a bot­tle for urine below; slith­ered, near­ly naked and with his hands held behind him, across fifty feet of bro­ken glass in a park­ing lot; had his hands nailed to the roof of a Volk­swa­gen; was kicked down a flight of stairs; and, on dif­fer­ent occa­sions, incurred appar­ent risks of burn­ing, drown­ing, and elec­tro­cu­tion.

Bur­den’s more recent “Metrop­o­lis II,” which might seem tame by com­par­i­son, fea­tures over 1,100 mini­cars careen­ing through a maze of inter­con­nect­ed free­ways. It’s still pret­ty chal­leng­ing, even in dilut­ed video form:  The noise and con­stant motion seem cal­cu­lat­ed to wreck your nerves, and accord­ing to this brief seg­ment on the piece, at least one car spins off the tracks every hour. The city may be sur­re­al, but the stress feels as famil­iar as your last bad rush hour.

You can find a fas­ci­nat­ing on-stage inter­view with the artist in LAC­MA’s Direc­tor’s Series, as well as a wealth of infor­ma­tion about Bur­den’s life and work on the muse­um’s web­site.

H/T Fast­CoDe­sign

Sheer­ly Avni is a San Fran­cis­co-based arts and cul­ture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Week­ly, Moth­er Jones, and many oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low her on twit­ter at @sheerly.

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