For Chris Burden, best known at the time for difficult and dangerous performances such as Shoot (1971), television offered an appealing platform. His initial proposals for performance works having been turned down, his first television appearance was a 1972 interview that he – literally – hijacked to pursue his own agenda, turning the interview into a performance called TV Hijack. It’s not this that I want to write about though, mostly because I find the idea quite hard to contemplate but also because I find his subsequent strategy of buying advertising time rather more interesting.
Art isn’t usually advertised on television – the Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern notwithstanding – and the idea of an artist working with the format of a 10 second advert is an intriguing one.
TV Ad: Through the Night Softly, 1973
Burden’s first advert, which he refers to as TV ad, was shown five times a week for a month on KHS-Channel 9 in Los Angeles late in 1973. The piece carries Burden’s name and the title Through the Night Softlyfollowed by a brief clip of Burden crawling on his belly over broken glass wearing only a pair of briefs.
This is very different to David Hall’s TV Interruptions and Keith Arnatt’s Self-Burial (Television Interference Project). In part this is down to Burden’s use of an advertising slot and the inclusion of credits. Whereas Hall and Arnatt offered baffling interventions into the schedule, Burden is advertising himself and in the process raising questions about both the nature of art and the nature of advertising.
In Promo, Burden presents a series of names on screen: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrant, Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso – chosen as being the artists’ names most recognisable to Americans – followed by his own name.
In Full Financial Disclosure, Burden references political advertising with the patriotism of the American flag and the disclosure of his financial circumstances. His income for 1976 is shown as $17,210, his expenditure for the same year as $16,156. An artist earning very little from their work? Some things don’t change (once again, Damien Hirst notwithstanding).