In the performance called Doomed – Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1975 – he installed a running wall clock and, near that, an inclined sheet of glass, leaning against the wall, so that he could lay under the glass.
Nobody knew what he was going to do, as often happened with him, so there was a lot of tension. Some of his performances were really at the edge of safety, such as having someone shooting him in an arm.
But he laid there. Doing nothing. Maybe waiting. In silence. People were starting to worry, or get bored.
He laid there forty-five hours, then they began to see his health in danger, but didn’t want to interrupt his performance, so they put a pitcher of water near him. At that point, Burden got up, went to take a hammer, and smashed the clock.
When I saw that, I remained speechless.
Essential. Mighty. Liberating.
What I saw
I don’t pretend to interpret Burden’s art. He surely expected subjective reactions to it and purposely planned his work for that, starting from the key elements of his vision. In performance arts, experience is the key factor.
Maybe the title Doomed tells something about our life and our destiny, about the waiting theme, about our relationship with reality, and so on. But what about all that controls my life, or that tries?
Clock dictates our schedule, because we need or want to get results, because the duration of our life is limited, because life and people expect something from us. In a sense, we often see time as the enemy of our life. We often try to be more efficient. Or try to hold the best moments. Or try to push death beyond.
Of course, we learn to compromise with time. Maybe our time slot for meditation helps. Or maybe we don’t care. But time is there. Death is there.
Consider going in the opposite direction. When time urges, let it flow. When the whole of your body and your mind calls for action, you stay. Maybe doing nothing. Doing the opposite of your reactions.
Because it’s an exercise aimed at resuming control. Not the control of time. Time is still running. But you try not to depend on it.
Because when time dictates your life, you lose the best part of you. You lose your will, your ability to focus on what matters, your opportunity to fill your life with intangible values. We are immersed in materiality and in time, but humans have the precious ability to add immaterial things to life, like love, spirituality, ideas, and so on.
“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
If you let time go, you can break the clock and move forward. If you try to beat the clock, you have no hope.
Of course, time will move on. That’s not in question. What’s in question is your ability not to be a slave to time.
Widening the perspective
That’s for time. What about emotions, relationships, our instincts?
Do you feel that you have to force yourself out of pain, to escape? Perhaps you need time to elaborate, to eradicate something. Maybe avoiding shortcuts, going straight through what torments you will let you emerge regenerated.
Are you pushing for a confrontation? Maybe letting some resentment go will turn a relationship.
When you feel that you’re engaging in a fight or resisting, like with time, consider taking the opposite way, to let that thing run, to ignore it, to go your own way. I’m not saying you should do that. Just consider.