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Frieze Los Angeles 2023

Anne Imhof Commends Chris Burden’s ‘Total World’

Ahead of her exhibition in Los Angeles, the artist explores the influence of the late Chris Burden’s pioneering practice

BY Anne Imhof in Frieze Los Angeles , Frieze Week Magazine , Profiles | 10 FEB 23

Chris Burden’s art has resonated with me a lot in my development as an artist, ever since I first read about it in ‘Out of Actions’ (1998), curated by Paul Schimmel. His view of performance as three-dimensional sculpture aligns completely with the way that I compose my performance pieces. They are a total world to be stepped into, and seen in the round. For Shoot (1971), I somehow always pictured the audience as super close to the action, but revisiting the pictures, I realized people are quite far away, as is the guy shooting him. It’s a circus action, like a knife thrower. That distance is deliberate and part of the piece. Standing in front of a white wall, observed from a distance, Burden becomes an image. The image is sculptural. It’s as if the idea of the performance manifests in a sculptural way.

Creating what you want to say in the photos of your piece is something that has to do with you gaining control. I think that’s what Burden’s work is about—control. Who’s controlling whom? What are you allowed to do? What freedom does an artist have? What power? It’s interesting to me to think about Shoot taking place at the start of the decade that sees the Red Army Faction or the Symbionese Liberation Army, who asked versions of these questions too.

Anne Imhof, Natures Mortes, 2021, performance view. Courtesy: the artist, Sprüth Magers, Galerie Buchholz, Palais de Tokyo; photograph: Nadine Fraczkowski

But this is also a generation super aware of the media and TV. They all counted on a kind of fame. That does something to the reality effects of these images. If you look at Hans Namuth’s photos of Jackson Pollock painting, they are almost like a film strip. You see Pollock doing what he’s doing as it happens. But with the documentation of Burden’s performances, you see the moments after events. In the Shoot documentation, you have the proof that something happened. You see the blood running down his arm, but you don’t see the bullet. It’s the same in the images of 747 (1973). You don’t see the bullet, or even know if the bullet could have hit the plane. So it just hits a nerve of this possibility, of crossing over a boundary. It was only the artist and the photographer there, nobody else.

I think Burden’s work is in this way a lot about dreams. In the photographs of 747, there’s a white sky, but if you see the sky in LA, it’s never white. It’s the most beautiful, blurred dome that opens up above you over the huge Pacific ocean. When I first saw the Pacific I thought, ‘Wow, this is more overwhelming than anything I have seen in my life.’ It’s almost too big to be anything you could have ever imagined. The dream of shooting down an airplane is about something bigger than you too.

I read that Burden had his studio on Venice Boardwalk. So, every day he was looking out on the beach, the palm trees and the sea, and he must have seen the airplanes constantly taking off from LAX. That was something that surrounded him. It’s that weirdness where your artistic practice and everyday life go inside each other and almost merge. It’s almost a case of, ‘I did this because it was in front of me.’ Like falling in love with some person because they crossed me on the street. I love how in this way the artist uses this city of big streets and cars, accidents and palm trees, as his material. The geographical context gives Burden’s work a map, a place and time. It lends an almost cinematic quality, that lives on like a movie you can replay. LA itself is so connected to film and the idea of fame. When Anne Wagner wrote about Burden, she quoted this Beatnik poet Stuart Perkoff about the city being ‘a dream, a container of dreams, a structure’, but also ‘a limit and a tool.’ As I spend more and more time in the city for my upcoming show, I find this huge raw potential for creating new worlds, whether through the dream world of film or the endless possibilities of getting on the freeway. That’s what I want to achieve in my exhibition—to create another world for the viewer to become embedded in, like a player in a video game.

As told to Matthew McLean.

Anne Imhof: EMO’ is on view at Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, from February 15 to May 6

Chris Burden's 40 Foot Stepped Skyscraper is currently on view at Frieze Week Los Angeles

This article first appeared in Frieze Week, February 2023 under the headline ‘
In Dreams

Main image: Anne Imhof, Youth, 2022, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Sprüth Magers

Anne Imhof is an artist. She lives in Berlin, Germany.