With a Heavy Art



Nicole M. Campbell is a KFI editrix. People are shocked every time she tells them her favorite song is "Sailing" by Christopher Cross. This week, the Girl on Film gives us her review of a new documentary on the artist Chris Burden.

Shia LaBeouf may be a polarizing figure in show biz these days, but I love the guy. He's bold. Not for his movie choices (though Lars von Trier's two-parter sexapalooza from 2013, "Nymphomaniac," was carnally commendable) but for his commitment to performance art. 

He once sat at an art gallery in L.A. with a paper bag over his head with the words, "I am not famous anymore," written on it. He invited people to join him at a theatre as he watched all his films, one after another. Earlier this year, he and two other cultural conspirators stayed in three separate cabins in rural Finland and the public could communicate with them by a computer at a museum in the country's capital, Helsinki.

One of LaBeouf's performance art predecessors, Chris Burden, gets the spotlight treatment in a new documentary about his life.

You may not know Burden's name but you may know one of his most famous pieces, "Urban Light." That's the collection of cool old streetlamps in front of LACMA. It's one of the most photographed places in Los Angeles, the city where Burden worked and lived for many years.

Burden may have ended his career as a respected, visual artist but he started out in the decidedly far-out, freaky performance art arena. He had a friend shoot him in the arm in 1971, during the time he was an M.F.A. student at U.C. Irvine.

Burden crucified himself on the back of a V.W. Beetle a few years later. (It would take decades before Volkswagen got crucified for cheating on diesel emission tests.)

Though much attention is obviously paid to Burden's pieces, the film doesn't do a tremendous job of fleshing out his motives and muses.

It's not for lack of trying; in addition to the usual talking heads in the art world, the film contains archival interviews with Burden as well as more contemporary ones. He died in 2015 of cancer, a fact the movie treats as an afterthought. I found it rather shocking. Burden's art was so alive, it seemed fleetingly impossible he would be anything but.

You can't separate the art from the artist and someone as interesting as Burden deserves a deeper documentary delve. Burden's performance pieces and visual works may speak for themselves. But I wanted to hear more.

"Burden" opens exclusively Friday, May 12 at the Nuart Theatre in West L.A.


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