Burden was invited to be a guest on a public-access interview show hosted by Phyllis Lutjeans, one-time Curator of Education and Performance Art at Newport Harbor Art Museum (aka OCMA). He arrived with his own videographer, and requested that the interview be broadcast live, which it was. During the course of the interview, Lutjeans asked him what some of his ideas for future projects might be. Burden responded by pulling out a small knife and holding it to her throat. He demanded that the station continue transmitting while he held his host hostage, abusing her verbally with sexual threats. The performance culminated with Burden's destroying the only studio tape of the broadcast, an act which he recorded as the coda to his own document of the event.
Chris Burden, TV Hijack, 1972 (click for attribution)
Chris Burden, Trans-fixed, 1974 (click for attribution)
The question posed by any act of mimicry as critique is, does the action cross over into becoming what it is intended to criticize? In the case of TV Hijack, it does. The criticism of media as a site of detachment from the consequences of violent action, as played out in countless summer blockbusters, war movies and the like, is negated by the artist's willful act of violence. This callousness toward human dignity has other manifestations in contemporary art practice, most notably in the work of Santiago Sierra, the Spanish artist whose works have included hiring migrant workers to stand for hours in a gallery and paying destitute individuals to tattoo a line across their backs.
Santiago Sierra, 250 cm Line Tattooed on 6 Paid People, 1999
Sierra argues, as does Burden, that these actions draw our attention to the violence we take for granted every day, fueled by divisions of class, race and gender. I disagree with the inherent assumption that we all take such violence for granted, regardless of where we stand in life, and argue instead that this is work directed at an affluent art world elite and justified by the same insularity it proposes to attack. I also question the validity of the artists' argument that because they mean to call attention, their exploitative acts are somehow less exploitative. Instead, it seems that the artists benefit and even profit from said exploitation, while those they take advantage of are left exactly as they were found. How is this different from the exploitation conducted by corporate interests for their own gain?
In summation, the art world is just another market economy fueled by the unremunerated contributions of nameless masses, while a very few (mostly white, mostly male) get the benefits. Artists like Burden and Sierra are important because they remind us of this reality in which they each play a complicit part.