Eyes Without a Face

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Dressed in white and wearing a pair of dark sunglasses, I sat facing the door. Just inside the door, were two cushions and a small box of marijuana cigarets. Viewers were permitted to enter the room one at a time. The viewers were under the impression that I was observing them, but because my sunglasses had been painted black on the back sides I was virtually blind. I remained immobile and speechless during the performance. Many people tried to talk to me, one assaulted me, and one left sobbing hysterically. The piece was performed on two days on two days for five hours each day.

The performance is one of many conducted by Chris Burden in the early 1970s, involving publicly exposing his body to harm. From being shot in the left arm (Shoot, 1971) to pretending to be dead on the road (Dead Man, 1972), his early work tested the limits of pain, pleasure, and the spectator’s empathy. 

The piece Jaizu (1972) is striking for its early exploration into the position of the spectator— Marina Abramović, famous for this style of work, only began performing outside Yugoslavia in 1973. In Burden’s piece, the visitor believed to be staring back at an artist that was staring at him — yet this was an illusion.

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More than just reflecting relationship between artist and spectator, the piece serves as an apt metaphor for our relationship to the State. Especially our very XXIst century technocratic security State. Something (we have the impression) that is viewing each one of our actions; if Facebook knows where I am, then the NSA knows where I am. But there is no human view us back. The glasses, the interface, are all; the bureaucrat receives the information (in the cybernetic sense), but has no direct contact with the human viewing it. We are not seen by the technocratic State; we are known by it. Our steps are heard. It is this lack of empathy that perhaps led the 1972 viewer to leave the room sobbing hysterically. Yet we have no room to leave. The black glasses are now black mirrors.

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