Burden began to work in performance art in the early 1970s, he made a series of controversial performances in which the idea of personal danger as artistic expression was central. His most well-known act from that time is perhaps the 1971 performance piece "Shoot", in which he was shot in his left arm by an assistant from a distance of about five meters
Burden’s "Trans-Fixed" took place on April 23, 1974 at Speedway Avenue in Venice, California. For this performance, Burden lay face up on a Volkswagen Beetle and had nails hammered into both of his hands, as if he were beingcrucified on the car. The car was pushed out of the garage and the engine reved for two minutes before being pushed back into the garage.
Several of Burden's other performance pieces were considered somewhat controversial at the time: another "danger piece" was "Doomed" (1975), in which Burden lay motionless in a gallery under a 5' x 8' slanted sheet of glass near a running wall clock. Burden planned to remain in that position until someone interfered in some way with the piece. Forty-five hours and ten minutes later, museum employee Dennis O'Shea placed a pitcher of water within Burden's reach and Burden rose, smashed the glass, and took a hammer to the clock, thus ending
Chris Burden shifted his practice from performance to large-scale installation during the late 1970s.
“Beam Drop Inhotim” (2008) is the recreation of a work originally displayed in 1984 at the Art Park, a park of sculptures in the State of New York, and then destroyed three years later. The work was remade in Inhotim, in one of the Institute’s areas of expansion. For 12 hours, a 45-meter-high crane dropped the 71 beams that make up the work into a fresh cement pit. The result of this highly impressive operation is a sculpture of great dimensions sitting at the top of a mountain on a farm at the outskirts of the park.
In 1973 Chris Burden conceives the work "Through the Night Softly", to be inserted during 10 seconds amongst the regular Tv advertisements, "4 times a week for 4 weeks.
The "Flying Steamroller" , is a twelve ton steamroller that is attached to a pivoting arm with a counterbalance weight. The steamroller is driven in a circle until its maximum speed is reached. At the same time, a hydraulic piston is activated and pushes up the beam from which the steamroller is suspended, causing the steamroller to lift off the ground. Because of the combined weight of the steamroller and the counterbalance, which is approximately 48 tons, the steamroller, once lifted off the ground, continues to spin, or "fly" for several minutes. As the steamroller nears the end of its circular motion, or when the spinning momentum is exhausted, the hydraulic piston is slowly retracted and the steamroller gently lands.
In the Summer of 2011, Burden finished his kinetic sculpture, "Metropolis II", which took four years to build. This large-scale sculpture will be coming to LACMA on long-term loan in the near future. Be sure to watch the mesmerizing and incredibly noisy video of the work, featuring 1,200 Hot Wheels cars on their roller-coaster ride through the "city."
With a matchstick placed atop a nickel representing one tank, "The Reason for the Neutron Bomb" recreates the fifty thousand-strong Soviet tank division in an overwhelming yet orderly display. Burden conceived this work in response to the heated debates about nuclear proliferation occurring during the late 1970s. Concern about the Soviet army’s superiority over Western European forces was the justification given by the U.S. military for the stockpile of nuclear weapons. A potent symbol of Cold War international power dynamics, the installation reflects the artist’s abiding fascination with military weaponry and political might. The title echos a Reagan-era rationale for building the neutron bomb. In fact, Reagan restarted development of the bomb in 1981, two years after the Burden piece. Leonoid Brezhnev, General Secretary of Reagan’s “Evil Empire,” called the neutron bomb the “capitalist bomb” for its claimed ability to exterminate humans while preserving valuable real estate.
A museum installation consisting of a 100-ton jack connected to a gear box and a turnstile. The 100-ton jack pushes two large timbers against the bearing walls of the museum. Each visitor to the museum must pass through the turnstile in order to see the exhibition. Each input on the turnstile ever so slightly expands the jack, and ultimately if enough people visit the exhibition, "Samson" could theoretically destroy the building. Like a glacier, its powerful movement is imperceptible to the naked eye. This sculptural installation subverts the notion of the sanctity of the Museum