Contemporary visual art goes far beyond mere vision. Its main task is not to inform, but to impress and even shock the viewers. Very often, modern artists experiment with various techniques and methods to create unique pieces of art that leave unforgettable impressions and experience. Without doubts, one of such works is Metropolis II created by the Californian sculptor Chris Burden. It is an anthem of city life, combination of incompatibles, and mixture of audible, visual, and kinesthetic impressions. Metropolis II goes far beyond the three dimensions of existence and represents the time curve, which varies from the fragile temporality of city noise to the generalized eternity of city life, as well.
Metropolis II is a reflection of the city of Los Angeles, its daily routine and lifestyle. In fact, Chris Burden (as well as some of his other works) is strongly dedicated to the settings of Los Angeles and their peculiarities. This paper researches and analyzes relations between Metropolis II as a genuine description of the city life of Los Angeles and other pieces of art devoted to the same topic. Moreover, it is aimed at establishing a connection between the personality of the sculptor and his obsession with urban landscapes of LA reflected in the majority of his works.
Imagine the Los Angeles Museum of Art and Metropolis II in the center. The sculpture has nothing to do with a simple representation of a totality of blocks, cars, shapes, forms, colors, and materials. On the contrary, it expresses permanent movement, development, progress, and motion. With its continuous spinning, turning, reeling, rocking, rolling, circling, wangling, climbing, and pivoting, Metropolis II is a real puzzle for the human eyes. Its motion, distinct and undisputable, leaves prolific impressions and a hypnotic effect. It attracts, puzzles, intrigues, interests, captures, and grabs the whole attention of visitors by playing with colors, shapes, materials, and emotions, as well. Still, Metropolis II is something more than an interesting vision to observe. It comprises a solid idea of the city rhythm and represents it in a hyperbolic, exaggerated, but still peculiar and unique way.
Rhythm in Metropolis II
At first glance, Metropolis II is a unity of excessive details, the majority of which is combined randomly and spontaneously and bears no distinct sense and meaning. Nevertheless, it can be said that this randomness possesses unique logics and importance. Besides, an enormous amount of sculpture’s elements does not distract viewers from the comprehension of the main idea, but promotes a deeper analysis and research. Therefore, randomness and visual incompatibility of sculpture’s units is the primary key to its organization and solid structure.
It is essential to mention that the key units of Metropolis II are not necessarily visual. For example, a great role belongs to the noise produced by hundreds of cars driving along the city motorways. Noise is a peculiar feature of Metropolis II. It adds some sense of familiarity and informality. It means that every citizen of a great city finds the never-ending noise a part and parcel of the hectic pace of urban life.
Chris Burden did not aim at the creation of an abstract and ideal image of the city. On the contrary, he wanted to form something comprehensive and familiar, placing stress on common things. Therefore, transport noise is the first noticeable element contributing to the sculpture’s rhythm of unity and diversity at the same time. According to Burden, noise produces stress and dynamism that is so typical for urban settings.
The second most noticeable unit is, obviously, moving cars. Firstly, one may notice no rules or structure in their moves, thus considering them to be completely chaotic and random. Nevertheless, cars also possess their peculiar rhythm and organization. After a precise observation, viewers can notice that every vehicle is moving according to a certain plan and organization. Some lanes represent traffic conjunctions, while others allow high speeding for every “driver”.
Interestingly, every car has a certain place on the road so that it does not interact or crash into another car. They have to wait in traffic jams before getting a possibility to move freely. Such a tendency is much similar to real-life situations. As a result, visitors feel excitement and fear, recollections from their own experience, and hectic rhythm of a busy working city.
Thirdly, not only moving cars contribute to the rhythm of the sculpture. To a great extent, it is formed with the help of block constructions, their colors, and shapes. After a detailed analysis, one can see that buildings are colored in different shades and hues. Thus, they vary from deep grey to green, brown, red, yellow, and white colors. The critics argue that such a diversity of shadows is not spontaneous, but it also serves for the sake of unity and specific rhythm. For example, grey and white buildings represent block constructions and offices typical for the metropolises. On the other hand, colored areas resemble parks, green zones, recreational areas or open spaces.1 In fact, such description of a city landscape looks very imaginary, figurative, and abstract. However, it is one of the main qualities of the modern art and Metropolis II, in particular.
Then, it is essential to pay attention to the size and scale of the sculpture. The first thing that every visitor can notice is the huge size of Metropolis II. Doubtless, Chris Burden used overwhelming scales deliberately. In such a way, the sculpture provides an intense impression and evokes strong emotions and feelings among visitors.
It should also be mentioned that the sculpture does not contain a clearly defined center. All elements are equally important for the entire composition and serve equally significant purposes. Despite this peculiarity, the first thing that catches visitors’ attention in the sculpture is the place where all the cars gather and form a starting point or end point. In such a way, the author draws public attention to the issue of motion and progress. He emphasizes dynamics rather than statics to show the leading qualities of the city lifestyle.
Finally, the rhythm of the sculpture is set in its material, which also adds resemblance with the city-life, its dynamic structure, and a busy way of life. If a person looks at the constructions, he or she can notice that they are mainly made of metal. However, there are also wooden, glass, and plastic buildings. The variety of the materils used for creation of the scupture reflects the changing nature of city life, its relativity and instability.
Therefore, one can conclude that the unity of Metropolis II consists in its diversity. The variety of forms and materials, great multitute of colors and shapes, different speeds of cars on the lanes are all responsible for the creation of a unique image of city life. Metropolis II finds its structure and rhythm in the randomness and spontaneity. In general, all the units of the structure contribute to formation of peculiar emotions and attitudes, which evoke memories from a busy day of a city life. In order to stirr up the viewers’ imagination and emotins, Chris Buren has chosen the the image of Los Angeles, the symbol fof dynamism and infinite energy.
Metropolis II as a Reflection of Los Angeles
In fact, many critics have dwelled on this issue, pointing to a great resemblance between this piece of work with the real image of LA. The main similarity lies in the description of streets. Thus, viewers can observe the Main Stret, Speedway Avenue, Ocean Front Walk, Market and other prominent places. Judging from this, it can be assumed that the image of Los Angeles served as a model for creation of the sculpture. However, resemblance to the main streets of LA is not the only connection between the city and sculpture.
The second feature confrming an association between the sculpture and Los Angeles is the continuous flow of cars. In one of his interviews, Chris Burden admitted that there are around 100.000 cars that are permanently moving around the territory of Los Angeles.2 This phenomenon causes plenty of noise, adds dynamics to the city life, and determines its urbanistic direction of development. In fact, the sculptor wanted to transmit this hustle and bustle of the urban settings and reflect it in his art work. In Metropolis II, visitors can observe an enormous amount of vehicles moving at lightning speed. The continuous flow of cars is another quality stressing the relations of Metropolis II and the city of Los Angeles.3
In addition, Metropolis II can be viewed as a living organism with its tangled streets, rich and diverse textures, and city turmoil. Interestingly, all streets and constructions are nearly similar in their forms and shapes. In other words, there is no distinct central construction that could have become a hidden symbol of the sculpture. Such a tendency is also typical for Los Angeles, which is usually criticized for absence of a noticeable building or outstanding monument. In fact, the most prominent feature of Los Angeles is motion, dynamics, energy, and life itself in all its manifestations and displays. Without doubts, this is the quality of Metropolis II, as well.
Chris Burden and Los Angeles
The sculptor has intentionally chosen Los Angeles as a prototype of Metropolis II. In his interviews, he frequently referred to this city and its exclusive influence on his life and art style. However, Chris Burden is interested in Los Angeles not only as a tourist or external observer. He finds it a brilliant reflection of human nature that has to compete with the increased role of urbanization. In his art works, Chris Burden widely used the concept of Los Angeles, associating it with the power of technologies, impressive sizes and outstanding buildings.4
For Chris Burden, Los Angeles is the combination of natural and artificial components, an outstanding representation of form and content, emptiness and meaning. This is a city without a center and margins. It exists as a unique body where all elements are interconnected and interdependent. The loss of one unit leads to malfunctioning of others. Los Angeles is an accomplished example of human and urban features that are combined together in the form of a gigantic independent organism.
Moreover, Chris Burden believes that Los Angeles is not a static city, but rather a motion itself with changing features, innovations, reforms, and permanent development. It may even be compared to a vehicle that moves, speeds up or down until reaching the final destination. In case with Los Angeles, movement is the aim and result, an essential characteristic of the city existence.
The other thing, which made Chris Buren interested in Los Angeles, is his obsession with the technological innovations and engineering. This city represents a vivid coexistence of the high technologies, breakneck speed and brave architectural decisions. Being inspired by the organized turmoil of a busy city with its never-ending energy and power, Chris Burden has made several attempts to perpetuate this idea, in his cutting-edge art works. Altogether, metaphorical nature of Los Angeles, its incompatible sense of motion and development as well as absence of a united center provided the never-ending source of inspiration for the sculptor.5
Metropolis II and Other Art Objects
Metropolis II serves as a certain kind of anthem of Los Angeles’ majesty and mighty. However, it is far from being a unique art work in this sphere. It was already mentioned that Chris Burden was strongly inspired by the city and reflected his impressions and emotions in a range of art works. One of them is the Urban Lights, an informal temple of street art and urban beauty.
Once, Banham admitted that Los Angeles has nothing to do with conventionalism and traditions. That is the reason explaining the absence of some memorable monuments or constructions inside.6 On the contrary, Los Angeles needs to find something extraordinary and unusual in order to reveal its nature and peculiar features. Urban Lights is one of such sculptures that fight against conventionalism and offer a new view on art.
Similar to Metropolis II, this sculpture reflects the changing nature of Los Angeles. It is a museum, a sculpture, and a temple at the same time. Urban Lights represent the totality of street lamps that are organized in a certain order, which creates a sense of accomplishment. It is sometimes regarded as the “immovable monument to mobility.”7 There is, definitely, a grain of truth in such words. Both Urban Lights and Metropolis II reflect the tendency of escapism, innovations, postmodernism, and urbanization. They are concerned with transmission of the changing nature of big cities that suffer from the assault of artificial materials and shapes.
In addition, both sculptures refer to the description of Los Angeles in a new, pretentious, and outstanding manner. Both emphasize huge sizes, intense prominence, interesting combinations of incompatible materials and locations. Moreover, both sculptures aim at impressing the viewers, stressing urban influences on humans, leaving place for personal imaginations, whether these influences are positive or negative.
At the same time, the salience of Metropolis II is its complex structure and the reflection of the accomplished entity. This sculpture transfers the wholeness and integrality of various urban aspects and units. On one hand, such a complicated structure is the witness of its profundity and objectivity. However, it can be also regarded as the outline or introduction to the image of a metropolis. Nevertheless, it means that other art works, including the Urban Lights, cannot compete with the depth of Metropolis II, its elaborate organization and design.
In general, it can be said that Metropolis II is not the only art work, dwelling on the relativity, instability, and changes of great city life. This tendency is reflected in many pieces of work that struggle to escape from traditions and classical canons and rules. Similarly to Urban Lights, Metropolis II combines different types of art, representing a complicated image for perception and analysis. Still, complicated nature of Metropolis II is its advantage and strength in comparison with the other pieces of art.
To sum up, Metropolis II is a vivid reflection of the Los Angeles’ busy and hectic temp of life. With the help of combination of visual, audible, static, and kinesthetic techniques, this sculpture represents a brilliant symbol and image of urbanization and life changes. Chris Burden, the creator of the work, managed to impress viewers with an immense prominence and meaning of his sculpture. Metropolis II opens a new look at common things, impressing with its simplicity and accomplishment. Therefore, it can be concluded that this sculpture can serve as a symbol of Los Angeles’ majesty and anti-conventionalism, emphasizing its strength, power, and eternity.