“All Art is Pain Suffered and Outlived”

On November 19, 1971, at the F-Space gallery in Santa Ana, California, a friend raised a .22-caliber rifle at a distance of 15 feet from the artist Chris Burden and shot him in the left shoulder. The performance was documented in an eight-second video on 16mm film and photographs. There was a small audience for the performance, including the videographer and photographer. The work was later presented through documentary photographs and text from Burden.

Ow, that’s gotta hurt!

Shoot has been described as Burden’s “most infamous” work. With Shoot and his later work, Burden pioneered the use of deadly risk as artistic expression. It made him known as “the artist who shot himself”, although this description is not technically accurate. As a critic in X-TRA put it, Shoot‘s primary medium is rumor.

Artist Laurie Anderson’s 1976 song, “It’s Not the Bullet that Kills You (It’s the Hole)”, is in reference to Burden’s performance.

The performance spawned multiple reproductions. In 1999, an Israeli artist painted Burden after Shoot based on an image in Lucy Lippard’s 1973 Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object. Tom LaDuke’s 2004 Self-Inflicted Burden is a three-foot self-portrait sculpture modeled after Burden after Shoot. UCLA art student Joe Deutch simulated Russian roulette with what appeared to be a loaded weapon in a 2004 performance class. Burden spurred an ensuing media controversy comparatively larger than Shoot‘s by resigning his teaching post at the university, blaming the university’s inaction against a hostile work environment, and likening the work to domestic terrorism. Burden later said that the offshoot work was meant to co-opt, demean, and parody his own. Burden’s retirement in reaction to Deutch’s performance assured that the work would be remembered in connection with Shoot.

Today, you can watch Shoot and more performance art videos on The SCREW Channel exclusively on Roku, uncut and unedited from the original film. Don’t have The SCREW Channel? Add it here.

—SM

P.S. — The title, “All art is pain suffered and outlived” is a quote from the poem The Tatooed Man by poet Robert Hayden (1913—1980).

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