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Graduate Lecture Series: Bailey Fernandez – “On Purpose: Chris Burden and the Philosophy of Action”
March 23, 2022 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
The work of American artist Chris Burden (1946—2016) came in both early and late periods. The early work, which consisted of transgressive, often dangerous performance art pieces such as Shoot (1973) or Trans-Fixed (1974) frequently put the artist’s body at risk. The second, consisting of pieces such as The Flying Steamroller (1993), The Big Medusa (1993), Metropolis II (1998), and Urban Light (2005), drew on the artist’s undergraduate background as an architect and structural engineer. While the two periods seem distinct, I argue that a reflection in the documentary Burden (2016) — that the artist’s early work “often looked more dangerous than it was, due to all the careful planning that was involved” —suggest a way in which the earlier work can be understood in terms of the later. Namely, I argue that his early works can be understood as plans for the body. Further, through a consideration of Michael Bratman’s “planning” approach to the philosophy of action — that branch of analytic philosophy which deals with the relationship between “act” and “intention” — I argue that Burden’s work models a challenge to the intellectual paradigms concerning author intention and aesthetic responsibility which have dominated theories of literature and the arts for the past half century.