Chris Burden’s Samson tries to destroy a museum from within
Chris Burden - Samson, 1985, turnstile, winch, worm gear, leather strap, jack, timbers, steel, steel plates, dimensions variable, installation view, David Zwirner

Chris Burden – Samson, 1985, turnstile, winch, worm gear, leather strap, jack, timbers, steel, steel plates, dimensions variable, installation view, Zwirner & Wirth, New York, 2004

Published on: Friday November 1, 2019

Introduction

What do you think would happen if you connect a 100-ton jack to a turnstile and gearbox? In case you feel confused with all that, then you’re probably unfamiliar with Chris Burden’s Samson. Burden (1946-2015) has managed to employ different items to create a stunning piece of artwork. Apart from the items above, the rest include a winch, timber, leather strap, steel plates, steel, and worm gear. He has masterfully used all the elements to come up with a sculpture that continues to impress anyone who dares look at it.

What is Samson?

Ideally, the question should be, “Who is Samson?” However, that question would be remiss when referring to the Samson that Chris Burden painstakingly created in 1985. Through it, the jack pushes two massive timbers against the overbearing museum walls. Furthermore, visitors are all able to view the exhibition. However, for this to happen, you would first need to pass through the turnstile. Theoretically, Burden wishes to use it to tease your mind by making you believe that Samson is capable of destroying the museum if more visitors arrive.

Chris Burden - Samson, 1985, turnstile, winch, worm gear, leather strap, jack, timbers, steel, steel plates, dimensions variable, installation view, Inhotim Museum, Brazil

Chris Burden – Samson, 1985, turnstile, winch, worm gear, leather strap, jack, timbers, steel, steel plates, dimensions variable, installation view, Centro de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim

Samson’s Subtle Message

Typically, you may not think much about Samson at first. Mostly, your thoughts would revolve around the piece of technology that allows it to move the way it does. However, Chris Burden isn’t your everyday apolitical artist. Burden has built a solid reputation in the world of anti-authoritarian artists whose messages resonate with the masses. Based on that, you are definitely on the money to think or conclude that Samson carries a political meaning. The message is about resistance and pressure from the masses that bring the desired changes.

Chris Burden - Samson, 1985, turnstile, winch, worm gear, leather strap, jack, timbers, steel, steel plates, dimensions variable, installation view, Inhotim Museum, Brazil

Chris Burden – Samson, 1985, turnstile, winch, worm gear, leather strap, jack, timbers, steel, steel plates, dimensions variable, installation view, Centro de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim

Video: Chris Burden speaks about Samson

2 min 24 sec

Conclusion

As you might have noticed, Samson’s message is that with the participation of enough people, any building could be brought down. Here, the building refers to the museum in which the sculpture stands. You may be wondering why Burden would be interested in destroying a museum, even on a theoretical basis. Well, he was part of a group of artists who always considered museums part of the establishment. Because of this, it’s easier to understand why he would wish to see the establishment collapsing into a heap.

Chris Burden - Samson, 1985, turnstile, winch, worm gear, leather strap, jack, timbers, steel, steel plates, dimensions variable, installation view, Inhotim Museum, Brazil

Chris Burden – Samson, 1985, turnstile, winch, worm gear, leather strap, jack, timbers, steel, steel plates, dimensions variable, installation view, Centro de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim

Chris Burden’s Art

Lastly, in talking about Samson, one must also delve into the kind of art that Chris Burden practiced. Samson demonstrates his passion for Land Art. It’s also a perfect illustration of his Performance Art. Conceptual art is something that Burden practiced as well. He used them to add his voice to the issues of the day that were close to his heart. In the 1970s and 1980s, when Burden’s art was at its peak, topics such as antiwar student rebellions and equal rights movement were quite popular.

Chris Burden - Samson, 1985, drawing

Chris Burden – Samson, 1985, drawing

Chris Burden - Samson, 1985, drawing

Chris Burden – Samson, 1985, drawing

All images: Eduardo Eckenfels/inhotim.org.br unless otherwise noted.

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