I will be shot with a rifle at 7:45 P.M. I hope to have some good photos.
There is something iconic about the images of performance from the 1960s and ’70s. The photographic documentation of fabled Happenings and other actions-by the Fluxus artists, Viennese Actionists, Nouveaux Réalistes, and individuals associated with these groups, either closely or by influence: Joseph Beuys, Chris Burden, Marina Abramovic, Carolee Schneeman, Ana Mendieta, Vito Acconci, Yves Klein, Adrian Piper, and others-may strike us today like rarified chronicles of some lost tribe’s obscure rituals. Wounded arms, conversations with dead rabbits, leaps into the void, self-inflicted bite marks, profane orgies, scrolls unfurling like viscera from the recesses of the body . . . such actions have gained a prolonged life through photographs; they are now burnished in the imaginations of artists, critics, and art historians, to the point that at least some of them seem to be permeated by an unmistakable air of the sacred. Photography serves performance in many ways: by saving the ephemeral instant from disappearance, by composing a moment at its narrative and symbolic zenith, and sometimes by banishing from the frame all that may have distracted the actual witnesses of the event.
Chris Burden’s 1974 riff on Christian martyrdom, Transfixed, lasted barely two minutes at the Speedway Garage in Venice, California, and was seen by only a handful of people from across the street. The image of the artist’s body splayed over the roof of a Volkswagen bug-to which Burden’s hands had been nailed by an assistant-represents the masochistic excesses of body art of the 1970s and has come to symbolize the violent ethos of its time. Burden’s subsequent ironic presentation of the hand-piercing nails in a glass-and-velvet vitrine, as in a saintly reliquary, has not diminished the legend or the conceit of extreme self-sacrifice in the name of art.”