Gendering Chris Burden TV Ads

Between 1973 and 1977 Los Angeles performance artist Chris Burden made a series of television commercials as a platform for his work. You can view his commercials here.

In late March of 2020, thanks to a generous grant made possible from the College of Fine Arts and Communication Film and Digital Media Fund, I purchased YouTube commercial space as a stage for performance art. In his commercial entitled “Full Financial Disclosure”, Chris Burden states while sitting in front of an American flag, “In keeping with the bicentennial spirit, the post Watergate mood and the new atmosphere on Capitol Hill, I would like to be the first artist to make a full financial disclosure”. He finishes the video by displaying his income and expenditures for the year 1976.

I thought it would be important to recreate these videos showing a feminine side, focusing on a nurturers viewpoint. My video also attempts to quantify my personal worth in an abstract way; but in terms of how much food storage I have produced for my family. How might a mother show off her worth in a material way? To what extremes do women go through to provide for a family.

This video was aired 55,000 times in Utah and Salt Lake counties. According to google ads, 25,000 Utahans did not skip the commercial. I received one thumbs up, and a few friends congratulated me on my food storage.

When I made the commercials in January, I could not foresee that this commercial would air at the same time that we would be required to social isolate, creating a new context for the work. Rather than it being a social commentary of how we judge our worth, I had many people come to me saying that they wish that they had a food storage. As a side note, the information taken in the video is an honest account of the food my husband and I canned the previous year.

Chris Burden Promo, lists the artists, Leonardo diVinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Pablo Picasso and of course, Chris Burden. These names flash across the screen making Chris Burden in league with the other artists. In my video I list five well known women: The Little Old Lady Who Lived In a Shoe, Mary Queen of Scots, Martha Stewart, Carol Brady, Mother Teresa. Then I include myself, Sara Lynne Lindsay in that prestigious group. This video aired 4,600 times in March 2020. All these women are extreme examples of motherhood or nurturing. The inclusion of my own name, not known to the general public, is an invitation to compare unrealistic standards of mothering to ourselves, which is ridiculous. We can not be all these women. Mother Teresa was not Martha Stewart and Martha Stewart couldn’t create her empire by baring child after child like the Little Old Lady.

In Poem, Chris Burden makes three statements that appear like prophetic verse across the screen: “heat is life”, “science has failed”,  “time kills”. In my video, I have chosen the phrases: “it takes a village”, “spare the rod” and “you don’t know where that’s been.” Like Chris Burden, who took words that were graffitied on his wall, I chose words that clutter our parenting vocabulary like graffiti. I didn’t realize that this would be airing at a time when people were really considering the fact that “you don’t know where that’s been” in reguards to surfaces that we touch and germs.

This video aired 19,000 times, causing people to track down my email and question the meanings behind them.

In one of  Chris Burden’s works, “Through the Night Softly” we see him slithering on a street covered with broken glass dressed only in a speedo. In my video, I am wearing pajamas, slithering on the ground through a pile of legos and trying to escape quietly from my child’s bedroom at night.

This video was unfortunately pulled off of YouTube, not citing a cohesive reason why. I was able to bring it back on YouTube with the a 18 and older warning label. Who really wants to see a mother slithering across th floor in her PJ’s? This originally aired for one day, recieving roughly 1,300 views, when children were going back to school to start the new school year. Mothers had been given a one weeks notice informing them that they were to divide their time mothering, working and now teaching at home most days of the week.

This project brings up issues regarding motherhood: our unrealistic expectations and our innate quality to compare ourselves to others. Such comparisons generally are not helpful. These artworks illustrate the extremes that mothers go through to support their families, as well as the weight of comparison that mothers place upon themselves.

I would like to thank Brigham Young University’s College of Fine Arts and Communication Film and Digital Media Fund for funding this opportunity.

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