Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Grants not Loans, but Remember to Fund Arts and Humanities Degrees too!

Jeremy Corbyn has gained such ground that even those of a more conservative position are seriously debating the abolition of university tuition fees and reinstating grants. With the abolition of fees comes great emancipatory potential for those from underprivileged backgrounds, but there also comes a great threat to the arts.

The arts at university, despite under funding, are currently somewhat protected. They are protected because people still want to study them and are willing to pay £9,000 a year to do so. A move away from this model to one fully publicly funded has re-opened a debate around how many students we should fund and even how many universities we should have. A sub-set of this debate relates to which subjects we should fund. Those who only see the world in economic terms appear to feel that we have too many students in Higher Education, too many universities and that we do not need so many students of the arts and humanities. Dominic Holland embodied this position today on Channel 5's The Wright Stuff. He claimed that many degrees do not need to be three years long and that humanities degrees could be completed in only one year. This is like a parent telling their child that they will not pay for a year's driving lessons, because you can learn to drive in a month: if you cannot learn in a month, you are not good enough an should not drive! While it is clearly possible to demonstrate every manoeuvre and explain every situation covered by the test in this time frame, it takes time for this information to sink in. I could show Mr Holland how to play a guitar riff in thirty seconds, but would he be able to learn it in one minute? How long does it take to learn to play or compose music? How long does it take to learn to draw? You certainly could learn arts at university in one year - but not to the same level. The same is true of the humanities. Arts and humanities degrees are not about learning a set amount of information in the quickest possible time. Students learn new ways of thinking and seeing the world, but it takes time for these ideas to sink in and become fully formed.

Public funding of Higher Education is socially responsible because it removes financial barriers to education and our graduates benefit the whole of society in uncountable ways. If I get run over by a bus, I want the very best doctor to treat me - not the best who could afford to take on the debt or the best who came from a social background where going to university was an option. If I am falsely accused of a crime I want the State to provide me with the very best possible defence lawyer. I want our brightest and best scientists and engineers working on ways to improve our lives. But I also want critical thinkers who can interpret and challenge the so-called fake news and post-Truth climate we live in. I want creative thinkers who can imagine new ways of living in and running the world. I also want new generations to contribute towards new modes of cultural production. There is a cost to sending people to university, but the benefits are far greater. France has a huge tourist industry based on its historic place as a haven for artists. People visit Monet's garden in Giverny and Aix-en-Provence to see where Van Gogh lived and the Mont Sainte-Victoire that Cezanne painted for about fifteen years. Paris is perhaps even famous as the place where great artists such as Dali, Picasso and the Impressionists once lived. All these reasons for France's art economy have nothing to do with the artists' economic success in their lifetime: France did not invest in and foster these artists for a short term payback. All of my examples had their success (or at least their break through) between the turn of the last century up until around the Second World War, but France continues to reap its reward. However, continuing to view this debate in purely economic terms is misguided. We should fund education so that everybody who gains the entry criteria can study if they want to without the fear of being saddled with £50,000 of debt; a debt that will affect the graduate's ability to buy a home, as Student Loan repayments are considered as outgoings on mortgage applications.

Returning to the target of this article, Dominic Holland stated that he had two degrees and a Masters degree - all of which were "a complete waste of time". This is evident in the lack of sophistication of his argument. Holland simply cannot see that his successful career in comedy and television might be, at least in part, due to his formative years at university. Rather than write off arts and humanities Higher Education for future generations, Holland would do better to ask himself why, when he had access to a great library, a network of peers and expert academics in his chosen field, he considers his time to be a waste. Perhaps it is he who wasted his time, or perhaps he needed a lot longer than three years for the information and experience to sink in, develop and become useful to him.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Reflections on a Visit to a Stately Home: We are all in this Together (but Not in the Way You Thought)

I recently visited a stately home, Doddington Hall near Lincoln. Entrance to the gardens and the hall will set you back £10.50. I was lucky enough to have a tour of both.
Doddington Hall

The house was built in the Elizabethan period and has stayed in the same family ever since, although their surnames have changed through marriage. Having never been sold, the house has never been emptied and the guide explained that the house is littered with treasures. One chair was worth £40,000 - the complete set of four is worth much more. The family did not know this until a delegation of antiques experts from Christie's, Sotherby's, Buckingham Palace and the Swedish royal family arrived to investigate what might be lying around. The delegation found four sets of the chairs I refer to, scattered about the mansion. The family did not know how many they had. The same room had chandeliers made our of Venetian Murano glass (surely the most garish and overrated manufacturers of glass in the world). The guide explained that there were some important and expensive paintings, some by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Example of a Sickening Murano Chandelier


It's nice to know that if this family ever falls on hard times the worst they will have to do is sell a chair or two, a garish chandelier, fell a few trees or... if the worst comes to the worst... a Reynolds. Of course, it doesn't need to come to that if you are rich. While we were there we saw two people restoring the families collection of tapestries. Apparently they have already spent over 80,000 hours working on this. I asked who was paying for the restoration work: a charitable grant. I wonder what my chances are of gaining a charitable grant to upholster a sofa or restore some paintings? I won't hold my breath. On the gardens tour we were told that, since this is not a National Trust property, they have fewer restrictions. One garden was reclaimed from agricultural use - that must have been expensive. Not to worry, it was funded by a National Lottery Heritage Grant. Presumably I am entitled to the same fund to redesign my garden, so long as I open it up to the public for £5 a ticket. I won't hold my breath.
Our Painting, by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Later on the tour we saw a portrait of "the man who saved Doddington Hall". We were told that this great man made the "brave decision" to repair the roof when it was leaking in the 1950s. At this time, just after the war, we were losing stately homes like this at a rate of knots. The landed gentry were struggling to keep up with the cost of running such massive buildings - especially since they rarely had jobs. But what is so "brave" about saving your home? It would have been expensive to repair such a big roof, for sure, but you can either afford the repairs, or you lose your house. He couldn't sell the chairs. Remember, the family were ignorant to their value and even their quantity. Did he bravely did into his own pocket? Not exactly. He bequeathed a Reynolds to the nation in return for the funds. That must have been tough - losing a valuable painting... and one that is of a family member too. Not to worry though, the painting remains in Doddington Hall of course. The guide explained that the painting is the reason that we are able to visit the house - because we paid for the roof (and we own the painting). Fair deal, but why then do we still have to pay £10.50 to see it?

In one way or another we have paid for the upkeep of this house, its grounds and its contents, which are still (with the exception of the Reynolds) privately owned. Our taxes, charitable donations, lottery tickets and entrance fees all prop up this millionaire family. My final observations on the tour of the house were two photographs, presumably of Anthony Jarvis (the previous owner of Doddington Hall, who has now passed it to his daughter). In one he was meeting Margaret Thatcher. In the other David Cameron is pouring champagne for him. Under the photographer there is a caption that reads "More Bollinger? Excellent policy Prime Minister". Seeing Mr Cameron again reminded me of his dictum that "we are all in this together". So I see. Indeed we are all in this together, but not in the way that we thought. We, the 99%, have banded together to support the 1%. We are all on the same team.


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Boris Johnson on why salaries are a luxury

"Young Londoners will now have to do 13 weeks unpaid work for their £56 a week dole money". 

Guest Blogger Boris Johnson explains the benefits of unpaid work.

Reactive from the left wing press has been predicable in response to my new scheme.  In fact, this is excellent news for young Londoners as they will now be able to gain valuable experience that the country could not otherwise afford to give them. Those who claim that this is 'work', and as such should be paid,  are just bleeding heart liberals who don't understand economics. People focus too much on money these days. What's important is that, today, I can unveil a plan to create 200,000 jobs over the next four years.

Labour's introduction of the minimum wage has been disastrous for this country - I mean, what business can afford to pay £6.08 per hour in the current climate? That's £228 a week, £912 per month or potentially a massive £10,000 per year for a full time temp! We're just not competitive any more. 

(Chris) Grayling took a swipe at the Labour party and those campaigning against "workfare". "The usual suspects will cry 'slave labour''. They always do. But they are the people who believe that young claimants have the right to sit at home playing computer games. I simply disagree."

I agree with Chris Grayling - we must end this "something for nothing" culture. It's long overdue for good, honest, businesses to be able to employ these people - without having to pay them. The rise in tuition fees and repeal of EMA should ensure there are plenty of young people available for the new 'workfare' scheme.

Working Class 'pride' now seems laughable. Unless you are generating wealth for the economy, you are a drag on the economy. Thank God we deregulated the City in the 80s - the bankers are the only ones who contribute anything nowadays.

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is the Mayor of London. He was born in New York and educated at the European School in Brussels before attending Eton and Oxford University.  His father is employed by the World Bank.



Tuesday, 21 August 2012

On Militant Art: Part 4 - Voina

Voina: "Dick in FSB Captivity"
Gavin Grindon claimed that most Art Activism merely mimics activism in a "context without consequences". He also tells us that at while Art Activism is currently very popular, drawing down funding and support from liberal art institutions, it is also being criminalised and excluded as 'terrorist' by political establishments: the legal definition of 'terrorism' being extended to include non-violent civil disobedience: the 'eco-terrorist' for example (Art Monthly 2010 #333 pp 9-12). Art Activism sits in a difficult position: if it merely re-presents social conflict in a gallery setting, or within the gallery system, it can come across as just playing with real, big issues and have no real impact. On the other hand, as Boris Groys points out (Art Power 2008), if art becomes embroiled in politics and creating social change it risks becoming mere activism (and losing the 'art'). The Voina art collective raises the question of how contemporary practice can straddle this boundary of making socio-political art with an impact that can also be judged aesthetically - 'as art'. 

Voina (which means "War" in Russian) is a Russian art collective, founded in 2006 by husband and wife Oleg Vorotnikov and Natalia Sokol. Other key members include 'Preseident' Leonid Nikolayev and Alexei Plutser-Sarno (AKA Plucer).  As with previous examples of militant art on this blog, Voina operate in the Dadaist tradition. Examples of their performances include:
How to snatch a chicken: the tale of how one cunt fed all of Voina
a live public orgy at the State Biological Museum to mock the election of Dmitry Medvedev; a 180-foot-high projection of a skull-and-crossbones on the exterior of Russia's parliament; theft of a supermarket chicken by inserting it into a member's vagina; flipping police cars over; setting fire to a prison transport van; and painting an enormous cock on a drawbridge facing a police building (formerly the KGB Head Quarters) in St. Petersburg.  

One of Voina's supporters, the radical curator Andrei V. Yerofeyev, was fined...
for "inciting religious hatred" in connection with a show of "Forbidden Art" he co-curated Moscow's Sakharov Museum [...] In 2009, Voina had stormed the court when charges were brought against him. Assuming the persona of a band called Cock in the Ass, Voina members performed a raucous punk song titled "All Cops are Bastards" in court as a theatrical gesture of solidarity with Yerofeyev and his co-defendant. (Art Info)
Cock in Ass
This, no doubt, reminds us of a more familiar political protest in Russia (due to the current high levels of media coverage): that of the female Punk Band Pussy Riot who have been sentenced for two years for performing a protest song (which may have featured bad language and anti-Putin sentiments) in a cathedral. Voina, despite their more radical stunts, have so far evaded such harsh sentences. Two members, imprisoned for their role in Palace Revolution (where they up-turned Police cars in St. Petersburg) were released in March after Banksy rasied their £90K bail money from an online auction of his work. The BBC described "Palace Revolution" as involving:
...31 activists; five to do the heavy lifting, while the rest filmed what was happening, acted as lookouts and distracted the police by pretending to be lost tourists.(BBC)
While Grindon draws our attention to the use of anti-terrorist laws against the likes of Green Peace, with the likes of Pussy Riot and Voina we have seen charges of political, racial, religious or ideological hatred levied at the artists (you know you're in trouble when they pull that one out... it's like health and safety... no one feels they have the authority to challenge it). Just making a protest wouldn't get Pussy Riot put in prison - but if the protest (in a cathedral) were to be interpreted as being motivated by religious hatred... This is the danger of puritan attitudes towards Islamophobia - suddenly a comment or action can be exacerbated and you can be attacked as an extremist (extremist/terrorist, it doesn't matter which). This is worrying indeed as we are already in a situation where only a very narrow spectrum of political ideologies is deemed acceptable - in the US 'Liberal' is a dirty word on a par with 'communist' nearly (imagine the horror!). In the UK we have no real left wing parties anymore (you can't really call Respect a party and Labour/Lib Dems are committed free-marketeers), while on the right UKIP are considered acceptable (just about). The lack of democratic representation drives people towards the English Defense League, British National Party (although they've recently taken a kicking) or the National Front. 

Voina are currently on the run. Although they are wanted by Interpol, they managed to co-curate this year's Berlin Biennale with Artur Żmijewski, who organised political actions for the Biennale supporting causes including freeing Belarus’ political prisoners, the Occupy Movement, and opposing the recent international arrest warrants issued for Oleg Vornikov and Natalia Sokol. 

So, how do Voina address Grindon's accusation that art activism cannot "make a difference" and/or Groys's position that if it does "make a difference" it risks losing its status as art?

Take the example of fire-bombing a Police transport: this is clearly a militant and illegal activity. It is, perhaps, more easily accepted as activism than art. Voina member Alexei Plutser-Sarno explains that by burning it the group “stirred up discussion” in the entire country [... and that such] actions are an adequate reaction to all those batteries, tortures and arrests of innocent people, to the situation when thousands of political prisoners are kept in jails all over the country.” Writing for Art Info (January 2012) Voina's position on the definition of art: 
the difference between performance art and political activism is art’s public nature and the importance of laying claim to your work. “If an activist secretly burns a cop truck at night, it won’t be art. It will be the revenge of an activist,” Plutser-Sarno wrote. “But to burn it openly and proclaim to the entire country: ‘I am an artist. I burned down your prison, symbol of totalitarianism. This autodafe is our art action,’ then it becomes a piece of art. We made people discuss it as an artistic action.”(Art Info) [Plutser-Sarno is currently in hiding abroad].
Crazy Leo
This definition is not incompatible with US artist Mel Chin who, speaking about his activist art piece Operation Paydirt (which aimed to find a solution for the high lead contamination in the soil surrounding New Orleans) told Claire Bishop that his work can be judged aesthetically and politically as a landscape without lead pollution would be beautiful. Another action at first seems less militant and more Dadaist. Leonid (crazy Leo) Nikolayev climbs onto a police car with a blue bucket on his head "to protest against the widespread use of blue emergency lights by officials who cannot be bothered to sit in Moscow traffic jams" (BBC). He then runs blind down busy streets trying to avoid arrest: a police officer pulls the bucket off his head only to reveal another, smaller, blue bucket. This may seem comical and absurd (and it is) but it also fits into an anarchist tradition in that it challenges authority and by 'doing' helps others to see that we can be more free, live without fear and be braver. 
Decembrists Commemoration: Public Execution in the Supermarket


There are many more examples which I do not have the time to recount here (but videos can be seen on Plucer's own blog). Here are a few of the more outrageous stunts. Judge for yourselves, but we here at Malaised feel that Voina are one of the most ground-breaking and cutting edge performance art activists in the world right now:
 
In Decembrists Commemoration Voina staged the mock lynching of five people in Moscow's largest supermarket. The five victims represented Jews, Central Asian Immigrants, and homosexuals - "a special gift to the Russian corrupted authorities, who incite homophobia, misanthropy and anti-Semitism; as a result the killings of Central Asians guest workers [...] have become an everyday reality in Russia."  (Plucer). Of course, the action was also to remind Russians of the libertarian ideals of the country’s first revolutionists - the five 'Decembrists' hanged in 1826.
Cop in a cassock
Also in a supermarket a Voina member dressed in a police uniform covered by a Russian Orthodox cassock and large cross, shoplifted alcohol and food "with the impunity enjoyed by priests and cops in today’s Russia". Following  on with another large corporation in the food industry Voina stormed McDonald's hurling stray cats behind the counter "As a result the fast-food products were spoilt, hungry cats – fed".
Mordovian Hour
Two days before the election of Dmitry Medvedev, Voina staged a live public orgy at the State Museum of Biology. '
 
While five couples were copulating, the Voina chief media artist Alexei Plutser-Sarno, wearing a tuxedo and a top-hat, was holding a black pre-electoral banner reading "Fuck for the Heir - Medvedev’s little Bear! [...] in Russia everyone fucks each other and the little president looks at it with delight". Voina mocked the farcical and pornographic elections in the country, as Medvedev just inherited the V. Putin's presidential throne".
Fuck for the Heir - Medvedev’s little Bear!

Further reading:

http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/755205/voina-explains-why-firebombing-a-police-tank-is-a-piece-of-art
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11982984
http://plucer.livejournal.com/531761.html#cutid1
http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/38894/escape-artist-wanted-voina-art-anarchist-outfoxes-russian-police-again-fleeing-on-his-bike/
http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/37437/police-baiting-penis-graffiti-by-radical-voina-collective-wins-14k-russian-innovation-prize/
http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/36573/banksy-bankrolls-jailed-russian-art-anarchists/
http://plucer.livejournal.com/266853.html
http://www.animalnewyork.com/2011/voina-oleg-not-arrested-but-internationally-wanted/

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Aesthetics of Assange



Julian Assange addresses the crowd outside the Ecuadorian embassy today
Julian Assange appeared in public today, for the first time in 61 days. A small group of pro-Assange protesters lined the pavement opposite the Ecuadorian embassy where Assange is claiming asylum and the rest of the surrounding streets were taken up with a large police presence, press and tourists. The atmosphere was friendly but excited as the Met Police helicopter circled overhead (presumably to help catch Assange should he make a bolt for it). A few diplomatic cars with blacked out windows sped away and one person in the crowd commented "that's it, he's gone". But he wasn't gone. He did appear, slightly later than his advertised 2pm slot, on a balcony - just out of reach from the police (both physically and legally). 

But what does this mean in aesthetic terms? Assange knows better than anyone that since around 9-11 we have entered into a Bond Movie. The (seemingly) loan baddie Osama takes on America and the West in a daring terrorist attack, unbelievably hitting the Pentagon and the WTC. Then some of his henchmen hit the media: a one eyed man with hooks for hands called Abu, a man who decapitates statues with a razor-tipped top hat and another man who releases all the world's secrets via the Internet... you can't make it up.

The great American intellectual George W. Bush, during his presidency, simplified the War on Terror that followed for us, by explaining that "you are either with us or against us" and often adding that the terrorists' motives were simply that that "hate freedom".  With Assange though there is a problem, to invoke Spinal Tap: there's a bit too much fucking freedom if you ask me. In fact Assange has crowned himself price of truth and freedom - how can we fight against that? This reminds me of George W's response to the Yes Men's prank website www.gwbush.com and the satirical campaign "Yes Bush Can!" that followed in the run up to the 2000 election. While the website was only intended to highlight hypocrisies on the real Bush website George W didn't like it at all. In fact he said that they had gone too far and that there should be limits on freedom of speech (imagine Spitting Image being taken to court...) At the same time as the Assange case we has Pussy Riot beginning their 2 year prison sentence for... well, playing an anti-Putin Punk protest song in a cathedral. I guess the church could be pissed about trespass (although I'm pretty sure they're supposed to forgive trespasses) and maybe not Punk fans but guess what? The Russian Orthodox Church called for clemency! So who prosecuted? And for what? It's a joke. You might be able to convince me that they broke a law but a two year custodial sentence? We all know this is about Putin sending out a message: criticise me, and you'll end up in prison.
One of two diplomatic vehicles (with blacked-out rear windows) leaves the embassy unchallenged


Meat wagons line up outside Harrods
 This makes it very difficult to call for limits on freedom of speech without sounding like a right wing fanatic. But I reckon there should be limits. Surely releasing defence plans (read "weaknesses") is irresponsible. We are operating in an information age vulnerable to cyber attack but old school defence has always guarded its secrets - think of the Cold War or even Bletchley Park. Certain information in the wrong hands can cost lives.

Back to aesthetics and we can now see that Assange is evoking cinema (Bond baddies), music (Punk and protest songs in general) and art (specifically protest art and culture jamming in the Yes Men!). He was also evoking Eva Perón through the manner of his address. I also feel the white hair adds an element of Bond baddie and the French-sounding name coupled with the Australian-British(?) identity adds a kind of suave debonair sophistication also found in Bond movies. Furthermore Assange appears to have made the US and UK act as if it is they who are in a Bond movie. Cold War era espionage and trickery are back on the table. Do they really think we are so stupid that we won't see through these sexual assault "accusations"? Anyone with half a brain cell can see it's a set up. Just as anyone with an ounce of moral fibre or sense of justice can see that Pussy Riot have been fitted up: it's political. But I have a solution: Assange should offer to stand trial, in Sweden, in absentia. He could appear via video link. If found guilty he should give himself up and serve the sentence, if not in Sweden then in the UK or Ecuador even. Surely the UK couldn't object to him being moved from the embassy if he were going to prison? (whether in Sweden or elsewhere). 
Met Police Helicopter presumably waiting to track Assange should he make a run for it!

So, aesthetically, we can expect the UK or US government to poison Assange by ascertaining only he in the embassy eats a certain food product (Vegemite I expect), or kill him with a poison blow-dart the next time he appears on the balcony. Perhaps Assange will evade the blow-dart and escape to Ecuador on a jet-pack? Assange could be said to have brought issues of freedom of speech and the policing of the Internet into the public conscious and debate and artistically this could be seen as operating in the same mould as the Yes Men and many others (see my posts on Militant Art for examples).

Monday, 13 August 2012

Thomas Bresolin: Сучьи войны (Bitch war)

Following on from our post about Chris Burden, Martin Lang makes a connection between Burden and a contemporary artist who inflicts violence on himself, on others and encourages others to inflict violence on him. For 'Bitch War' Bresolin carried out an eight-day hunger strike culminating with a performance in which he was force-fed (see the video below).

 
Read Martin's full review on a-n online here (or see below) to find out how he links Bresolinand Burden and how he thinks Bresolin's eight-day hunger strike was not out of solidarity for prisoners, but for starving artists.



Monday, 25 June 2012

On Militant Art: Part 3 - Chris Burden


Chris Burden


Chris Burden is an American artist working in installation and sculpture but he is best known for his performances. Burden is a useful example as, although he might be recognised as violent, he is not immediately thought of as “militant”.  By way of example he allows us to question what Militant Art is.  He is also a useful example of the aesthetic ancestry of Militant Art. 

1970s Performances

Shoot (1971)
Transfixed (1974)
747 (1973)
During the early to mid 1970s Chris Burden made a series of violent and controversial performances that helped to define the genre of performance art.  He is perhaps most famous for his 1971 performance “Shoot” in which an assistant, from 5 metres, shot him in the arm with a .22 rifle.  In “Transfixed” (1974) he was nailed to a Beetle car, as if crucified.  The car was driven out of the garage, revved for a couple of minutes and then taken back in.  For “Deadman” (1972) he lay, completely covered by a tarpaulin, on La Cienega Boulevard in LA with two fifteen minute flares placed nearby to warn cars (Burden was arrested and charged for this performance but acquitted when the jury failed to reach a verdict).  In 1973 the FBI questioned him after he fired several shots at a Boeing 747 as it took off from Los Angeles International Airport (he was out of range at the time so the FBI decided not to press charges). 

"747. January 5, 1973. Los Angeles, California. At about 8am at a beach near the Los Angeles International Airport, I fired several shots with a pistol at a Boeing 747." Chris Burden (BLOCNOTES editions, 1995).

Works such as these are violent, but what makes them militant? How is shooting at an aeroplane not an act of militancy?  Burden’s cold-blooded description (above) leads us to believe that it was a purely formalist action, not politically motivated. He later spoke of how the work was not about shooting a plane but about impotence, about the bullet never reaching its target, but this too could be read politically.  Do actions need to be politically motivated in order to be militant?  Or do Burden’s artworks, in fact, bear a message? 

White Light/White Heat (1975)
In “White Light/White Heat” (1975) Burden placed himself on a triangular platform, at about ten feet above the floor and two feet below the ceiling, in the corner of the Ronald Feldman Gallery…and there he remained for 22 days.  During the entire performance Burden did not eat, talk or come down.  He did not see anyone, and no one saw him.  The performance built on “Bed Piece”, in which Burden stayed in Bed for 22 days (but did eat and get up to go to the toilet – when the gallery was closed) and “Five Day Locker Piece” (1971) in which Burden locked himself in a college locker for 5 days.

Visitors to the “White Light/White Heat” exhibition spoke about feeling his presence, although none saw him and few heard him. As the viewer waits and listens their experience of the room and its sounds is heightened. Who would have known if he had died? 

This work can be seen as a critique on religion, with Burden playing the role of the invisible God “up above”.  One can also draw parallels with Saint Simeon Stylites, the Christian who lived on a pillar for 37 years.  Mortification of the flesh; fasting; voluntary seclusion; trial by ordeal, Burden presented the trappings of Sainthood.  Although the title of the exhibition came from a Velvet Underground song it also carried religious significance and his previous exhibition was entitled “The Church of Human Energy”. 

Burden has a longer track record of religious iconography in his work.  For “Jaizu” (1972) he was dressed in white and wore dark sunglasses while he sat, motionless, in a director’s chair for two days while viewers contemplated him while seated on cushions.  In 1974’s “Transfixed” he was literally crucified on a VW Beetle. 

By presenting a vacuum, in “White Light/White Heat” Burden was able to elicit thoughts from the audience.  Such thoughts may indeed have turned to religion, or they may have reflected on the IRA members who were on the seventh week of their hunger strike at the time, and clearly prepared to die for their cause.  If a political motive is needed to be called “militant” then perhaps Burden’s motive is to get people to think.  By evoking religious iconography such as exclusion and fasting perhaps Burden asks us if we too should reconsider our consumerist lifestyles.  If this is the case, then Burden does have a political message and the fact that he is prepared to break the law (Dead Man, 747, Cole to Newcastle); risk his personal safety (Shoot, Dead Man); and that he displays a militaristic, fanatical approach to endurance (White Light/White Heat, Locker Piece) means that at the very least his methods do indeed echo elements similar to those of a militant.  

Tracing Militant Art’s Aesthetic Ancestry

During his undergraduate course Burden made two giant, outdoor, tunnels – essentially like poly-tunnels.  His tutors, who were advocates of Minimalist Art, were an influence on him at the time.  Burden’s tunnels failed on two counts.  Firstly, they were vandalised; this led Burden to live in them during their exhibition, in order to protect them.  Secondly, wind cause one wall to cave in, which had the knock on effect of drawing in the opposite wall – by way of vacuum; you couldn’t walk down the tunnel as the walls collapsed in on you.  However, Burden noticed that if you ran down the tunnel you made an air pocket: the tunnel opened up in front of you and closed behind.  This led Burden to consider interactive art involving the “viewer” who would henceforth become the “participant”. 

Burden’s performances have a direct link to sculpture through minimalism and, I am claiming, Militant Art has an artistic heritage leading back to sculpture through performance art.  Militant Art groups such as Black Mask and King Mob have cited Dada, Futurism, Surrealism as influences so Militant Art should therefore be seen as expression drawing on these artistic histories.

Further Reading: 

http://juleswidmayer.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/intro-to-chris-burden/
http://www.volny.cz/rhorvitz/burden.html