Chris Burden Metropos2 - TaxiArtmagazine - March 2012

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Chris Burden's Metropolis - High Concept Art Meets Toddler Fantasy.

With over 1200 specially built toy cars, running to scale at 200mph around a huge track,  US artist Chris Burden has shifted gears since his heyday in the 1970's when he created performance art pieces with a decidedly masochistic streak.

 In 1971 for a performance piece he called Shoot, he was blasted in his left arm by an assistant with a 22 caliber rifle from a distance of about five meters

Another 1974 performance, Trans-Fixed took place on April 23, 1974 at Speedway Avenue in Venice, California. For this Burden lay face up on a Volkswagen Beetle and had nails hammered into both of his hands, as if he were being crucified on the car.

This time around the only masochistic element is enduring the legions of parents and kids who have been flocking to the exhibit at LA's LACMA. Metropolis II," is complex enough to need an operator. The miniature city in motion consists of 1,100 Hot Wheels-sized cars, 25 large buildings, 18 lanes of traffic, 13 trains and one human operator.

Burden collaborated on the project with his chief engineer Zak Cook and both worked on R&D and construction in Burden's studio over a four year period to complete it.

They had initially worked together on an original version of the concept, Metropolis 1 a smaller toy-car city called Metropolis I that was sold to a museum in Japan. It was subsequently exhibited for six months and then placed in storage.

Metropolis 1 used only 80 toy cars circulating on single-lane highways, while Metropolis II uses 1,100 cars traveling on 18 different roadways. Metropolis 2 measures 20-by-30-feet and circulates 100,000 cars every hour .

Unlike the cars  featured in the first version of the installation (Metropolis 1) which were run of the mill Hot Wheels toys, those used in Metropolis 2 are custom made to be heavier than your usual retail friendly models.

The original toy cars have very thin axles that wear out too fast," says Burden. He says the Metropolis II were cars specially manufactured in China to his custom specifications. They are around three times the weight of the toys and contain magnets that aid with their stability.

Individually hand painted the cars stand alone as pieces of art – Whether deemed sculptures or assemblage, LACMA has plans to sell the individual cars as museum souvenirs for an undoubtedly high sum, (sources claim a range of $50 each).

Burden says  the work is inspired by futuristic and apocalyptic visions of cities succumbing to car overload. Burden believes, "Metropolis II,"  will eventually become reality with, real cars racing across the hillsides and over the freeways of Los Angeles, putting an end to traffic gridlock. He adds, "I'm personally looking forward to it because I don't like driving in Los Angeles."

Still he's not obsessed with any social commentary about car culture, green political pretensions or coveting a gifted hybrid Toyota. Toys seem to figure more in Metroplis 2's conceptual thread, as they have in his previous artworks.

In 1999, Burden's sculpture When Robots Rule: The Two Minute Airplane Factory was shown at London's Tate Gallery. The work was factory-like assembly line which manufactures rubber-band-powered model aeroplanes from tissue paper, plastic and balsa wood. Each plane had a propellor powered by a rubber band, and when each was completed, at a rate of one every 2 minutes,

For the 2005 work Ghost Ship, a crewless, self-navigating scaled yacht travelled 330 miles from Fair Isle, near Shetland to the docks of the Tyne in Newcastle.

Burden claims, "Toys are interesting as objects -- they're the tools you use to inculcate children into adults, a reflection of society."

Meanwhile, Metropolis 2 is destined to remain part of Los Angele's unique car culture for some time. A collector bought the installation for several million dollars, but has subsequently donated it to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for display over the next 10 years.


Written by Craig Stephens

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