Wednesday 2 November 2011

Please Stand By, Pt. 1 - An American Folktale (Rough Draft)

Originally he hailed from the "Cradle of Liberty," that echo of the cradle rocked out of, Boston. Historic and colonial, an Atlantic capitol of Old World once-wasness. A lovely "walking city," everyone says.

But a fucking nightmare to drive in.

Home to the reputed Worst Drivers in the Nation. Unsurprising, seeing how successful navigation requires the quickest and most aggressive reflexes -- the sort that never fail to confound and frighten non-natives. It's what's required if you' aim to get anywhere. Of bettering the illogic of the city's narrow streets, those streets that weren't designed with the idea of this sort of traffic in mind, ages removed from any modern idea of enabling vehicular progress.

And you know how progress means a lot of things. For over a century it'd meant heading west, to the land's nether shore. West over terrain once crossed by horse and by wagon, then by telegraph and railway. Much of it, thank god, now much more easily and more often flown over. All part of expansion, of a fated and manifest destiny. So westward he went. To where everything, as they said, was presently at. The whereall to which everything led, the telos of all pioneering and frontiering. To the ascendant domain of the Now, the cultural seat of powers-having-shifted, of late modernity itself. Last stop, final destination. Built for cars, for maximum traffic. To fully accommodate its flow and—the theory had it -- avoid the snarls and tangles and perpetual arterial clusterfuckage. Its skies and sun having waited all those ages to be finally tinged peripherally pink by a brume of ozone.

He found plenty of things to do in L.A., though. Like playing in traffic. Lying down on a bustling blacktop amid flares (but only to get arrested once the cops arrived). Or staging lurid roadside distractions for random passersby. Getting shot, or tortured, or dangled from on high. Or having himself nailed to one of the road-clogging four-wheeled beasts, while the beast screaming beneath him in the morning sun. All of it a means, perhaps, of becoming one with the city, of becoming part of its circulatory system.

And then one night arriving at an elevated and narrow stretch of coastal highway, and there placing twin monuments. Two cruxes soaked in the very stuff that made all such things possible. Planting them in the paths of the road's to and fro, to ignite and then vacate into the night, leaving behind a pair of blazing glyphs. Flaming totems, emblems for the name and number of the century in which all of this came to be. Dual sentinels, their limbs splayed to alert, or forewarn, or deliver reckoning. Left there for the latenight traveler who, finding his route obstructed, could only stand in the torchlit road and wonder what on earth this could possibly mean.


Anonymous said...

I like this and I'm looking forward to more. Burden is the American Male Performance Artist we remember, three stripe gazelles, black 501s, shirtless and bleeding. Rendered forever in 16mm.

Despite this tension of stoic machismo (more the stare of Toshiro Mifune than the hysterical French karate of Yves Klein) Burden's work never seems that macho itself. I think you're dead on it to see him through the car, because ultimately what he seems to have always wanted is analogous to the combustion engine itself; an explosion, as significant an energy release as possible, but contained within system, followed by another, and another (the work where he installed a turn-style in the gallery and geared it to a huge jack. Visitors pushing the walls apart millimetre by millimetre with their actions, as unthinking as a river). Like if Marienetti was a robot rather than a romantic prick. Or if Marienetti was played by Gary Cooper with a bit of Howard Roark still running through his system (for sure Burden's work, if not the man himself, is a registered Republican. He's the Ying to that beautiful hippy of the same age Dennis Oppenheim).

That's still too macho though, because the isn't really like that is it? It's far more matter of fact. He has this equation he's testing and the body can be used as part of that he does so, it's just economy and thoroughness that leads him to try and breathe water.

Energy in a system of limits.

I remember seeing a sketch of his in a book years and years ago. A proposal for a public monument, a lifesize Eiffel Tower with two Titanics spinning from its spire forever.

Once again Greyhoos thank you, great post.

Greyhoos said...

Thanks, Ralph. After that spiel of yours, I can't help but wonder if part two'll prove anticlimactic.

Registered republican? I'd never encountered that bit of info. Contradictions never cease to abound, do they?

"Hysterical French karate"? LMAO.

David K Wayne said...

I'm not surprised Burden's right-wing. It's all very 'will to power' isn't it? Just from his work, I get the impression he'd find 'shock doctrine' military action quite exciting. Is he a fan of Mishima. perhaps?

Greyhoos said...

And the "macho" and "will to power" aspects have occurred to me in the past, but I've always been a bit unsure about them. If only because I've always found something vaguely comical about the guy. Something that struck me as a bit "pre-macho," because it always seemed more like some 10-year-old kid sitting around and thinking, What would I do if someone shot me with a pellet gun? How can I build my own television set? What would it take for me to print my own money? What would it take to make a steamroller levitate? What would happen if I put on a cape and jumped off the roof? That sort of thing. Not so much macho, just "boy." (And that's before you account for all the pieces that involve models and toys.)

Anonymous said...

yeah, he's not macho at all, it's just a plane and un-self-concious desire to work this thing out.

The registered Republican thing is just a guess by the way, I've no proof at all (other than rugged individualism of the work).

It also hasn't stopped his being a favourite of mine for about a decade now.

Greyhoos said...

Re, 747: Well yes, since Burden did say that the piece was about "impotence," then I guess the gun=phallus analogy only follows accordingly. That's one way of looking at it, yeah.

But as everyone knows Americans have long had a intensely pathological relationship with firearms. Not to mention that at the time the country was reaching the end of an extended, costly, and brutal military action which would soon be declared -- uhhm -- "undeclared." So there's other ways of thinking about it, as well.

David K Wayne said...

When I first read about the 747 thing, I thought it was a reference to 'Patton' (Nixon's favourite movie at the height of his troubles), where George C. Scott does similar in a fit of patriotic, theatrical rage.

So maybe it does refer to military might/impotence - embodied by power-crazed/humiliated All-Americans like Patton/Nixon. The whole machismo/masochism thing is very 'Vietnam' - from Travis Bickle to Rambo.

Greyhoos said...

I think it plays out on a number of metaphorical level, sociologically. Inasmuch as it could be said to be about any Will to Power, I also see it as being about delusional thinking and limitations ('impotence' being also sometimes described as 'inadequacy').

But yeah, less literally/more broadly speaking -- Vietnam, the decline in manufacturing and the economy as a whole, social unrest. It was a period in which the self-appointed Leader Of The Free World discovered that a lot of things ultimately fell outside the domain of its control and influence.

And, coincidentally, the commercial airline industry is also a good symbol for such stuff. Just six years previously, it was viewed as this Big Glamourous Thing -- an apex of modernity. But then came the long rash of skyjackings, wild fluctuations in the price of fuel, and -- eventually -- stewardesses stepping forward and and mobilizing to complain about how the industry fostered a work environment that was rife with sexual harassment. Reality checks all around, with air travel seeming a lot less fantastic than the adverts of prior years had made it out to be.

So in a lot of respects, it was a period of the first in a long series of rude awakenings. And that sort of malaise seeped into the larger culture in a number of oblique ways.

David K Wayne said...

Interesting comment about the image of airlines. I have (very) early memories of airline ads suddenly switching from the 'glamorous and exotic' schtick - to the no-frills package tour approach. Less gorgeous models with John Barry-ish music playing over them, and more lumpen-looking families getting a break with 'accented' voice-overs telling you how cheap'n'easy it was.

And yeah - hijackings became the most 'glamorous' thing about aviation around then, ironically enough. The idea that there was a little war of secret agents and terrorists going on up in the sky all the time. Media technology/frequency made hijacks very exotic and unpredictable back then. 24-hour news, media micro-management and 'embedding' kind of killed its glamorous place in the spectacle (apart from 9-11 of course, which was 'sold' as changing the world overnight).

Greyhoos said...

Not sure how it was in the UK, so I was speaking from a strictly State-side perspective. And admittedly, despite all the reroutings to Cuba, not all skyjackings in the U.S. at the time were political. Extortion was sometimes the aim.