In the 1988 action film, Die Hard, John McClane (played by Bruce Willis) hustles around a Los Angeles skyscraper—sweat-soaked and shirtless—in an effort to save his wife and other hostages from a ruthless terrorist group. At various points throughout the film, McClane (an NYPD officer) survives a partial jump from an exploding building and smashes through a plate glass window. Basically, he is injured to the extent that he arguably would not be able to still perform such heroics as he does (saving everyone in the end) if this were real life. But this is not real life, it’s Hollywood. And so the hero always perseveres.
The themes of personal danger, machismo and pain have been explored by artists in the past, namely Southern California performance artist Chris Burden. Burden is perhaps best known for his 1971 piece, Shoot, in which he had a friend shoot him in the left arm from a distance of about fifteen feet. Shoot, and the many other performances by Burden throughout that era (during which he crawled over broken glass, spent weeks on a high-up gallery platform with almost no food and no human interaction, and was nailed through the hands to a Volkswagen) prompted serious discussion around the subjects of fear, war (Vietnam), consumerism and the role of art in society. While there is no shortage of people who considered Burden insane at the time, many continue to consider his work monumental. (Incidentally, if you’re interested in reading more about Burden’s work, I recommend this particularly well-rounded New Yorker essay by Peter Schjeldahl.) What if, however, an artist were to take a more humorous–and admittedly less painful—approach to the same overall theme? Enter Toronto-based artist, Robert Lendrum.
Lendrum’s I’ve Been Shot consists of a looping video in which a man grasps his bloody chest and crawls in pain toward a red phone to call help after having been shot. Just as he reaches his goal and goes to lift the phone, the video loops back to the beginning where he enters the frame, grasps his chest, exclaims that he’s been shot, and drags his body toward the phone. And it goes on and on. In his statement about the piece, the artist says, “This humorous re-articulation of the Sisyphean myth…satirizes machismo in both the art world and Hollywood films.” I’ve Been Shot does well to continue the dialog that Burden once started, and at the same time consider the extremism of Burden’s approach, but it can easily be argued that the younger artist’s work is just as reactionary and extreme (albeit in a different way) than that of his predecessor.
Robert Lendrum is currently included in the group exhibition, THIS IS UNCOMFORTABLE, at Gallery TPW in Toronto, Ontario. He earned his BFA in Visual Arts and English at University of Western Ontario; his MA in Media Studies at Concordia University, Montreal; and his MFA in Documentary Media at Ryerson University, Toronto. He has been included in solo and group exhibitions all over Canada and in the U.S., including at: Xpace Cultural Centre, Toronto, ON; University of Colorado New Visual Arts Complex, Boulder, CO; and Spark Contemporary Art Space, Syracuse, NY.