The New York Times released a four-and-a-half minute documentary on the late Chris Burden’s famous 1971 performance piece, Shoot, in which his friend and fellow art student Bruce Dunlap shot Burden in the left arm with a .22 long rifle from a distance of 15 feet. Dunlap’s identity as the shooter remained a longstanding secret—at the hospital afterwards, Burden would only say that he was wounded by accident (“They probably thought my wife had shot me, and I wasn’t pressing charges”)—until director and editor Eric Kutner tracked him down and convinced Dunlap to give his first-ever interview on camera. Kutner notes, “He had long ago cut his hair, given up his artistic ambitions and embarked on a successful career as an accountant. But for a moment decades ago, these two young men were united in making risk-centric art. A dangerous, resonant collaboration before their lives took different paths.”
Shoot was conceived, in part, as a response to the violence in Vietnam. Burden says, “You saw a lot of people getting shot on TV every night in Vietnam. Guys my age.” He goes on to detail the performance’s best possible outcome (the worst case being death), which echoed that for American soldiers going off to war: “The bullet would whiz by my arm, and it would scratch it, and one drop of blood would roll down my forearm. That was the ideal-ideal.”
Dunlap was drafted but never made it to Vietnam—he “didn’t relate to guns and didn’t relate to shooting,” though he became a marksman in the Army. After being discharged, he met Burden in art school at UC Irvine. On his participation, Dunlap says, ““I liked the challenge, and the idea of shooting someone for art. I appreciated the significance of the piece even then.”
Burden concludes, “I think a lot of those performance works were an attempt to control fate, or to give you the illusion that you can control fate.” You can watch the video here.