Culture is future » Territorial attractiveness and social cohesion


Article - Artist Chris Burdens gives a frenzied vision of tomorrow’s metropolis

Through their development and evolution, cities constitute an infinite material for the imaginative world of artists. Dreamed as creative entities or as attractive spaces, they help us build new ways of thinking about our society’s future.

With “Metropolis II”, American Chris Burden questions what will big cities such as Los Angeles. Well-known for his controversial performances art – he once asked a friend to shoot him in the arm for his work « Shoot » (1971) -, the artist started creating art installations using automotive engineering in 1975.

18 roadways, 40 skyscrapers, 1200 handmade toy cars and 13 toy trains riding at 240 scale-miles an hour, but also bridges, tunnels and viaducts, that is what the physician, who’s also an architect and visual arts specialist, built for this playful and gigantic 55 square meters structure.

This circuit is even more colossal, excessive and dizzying than the first one imagined by Chris Burden and called Metropolis I. The 20-by-30 foot installation is mostly made of toys, which are, for the artist, « a reflection of society » (1). It took four years to a team of 12 engineers to finish this prototype of tomorrow’s metropolis.

Metallic, colorful, childish, hypnotic and deeply elaborated, it recalls the flows of any future large city, an urban space invaded by an extravagant quantity of cars. Approximately 100 000 of them will circulate each hour in a city such as L.A, according to some forecasting estimations. They will be the symbol of the frenzied and permanent time acceleration. « The noise, the continuous flow of the trains and the speeding toy cars, produces to the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st-century city » (2) explains Chris Burden. Beyond this realization of tomorrow’s urban territory, he is also interested in studying the end of an era – the « free car » era. Such a phenomenon will minimize the dangers induced by carefree drivers, and to him, « we’ll enter an address and won’t have anything to say about the way we get there ».(3)

The reference to the world-acclaimed film « Metropolis » - directed by Fritz Lang in 1927 – is pretty clear, except that the German filmmaker portrayed a robotic working-class evolving in a prison-like environment. Nevertheless, Lang denounced this social dichotomy, whereas Chris Burden doesn’t have any negative judgment on this future metropolis that will be invaded by cars. He only wants to recreate the energy of such a city. Furthermore, the noise produced by cars in the piece is already « the constant, and then you’re really cautious when what you’ve been enduring goes silent or goes away; when you’re in it you simply accept it » (4). The thing is that it might become more and more deafening. Each individual is free to decide if such a (r)evolution is to be feared or not.


Chris Burden Metropolis II is on permanent exhibition at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) since the 2011 fall. A short documentary about the installation has been directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, and can be seen on LACMA’s blog, « Unframed » (5).


(1) « How Chris Burden Created Metropolis II » by John Pavlus, on the website

(2) Article « Best hot wheels track ever: Artist creates massive circuit featuring 1,000 cars going 230 mph », by Louise Boyle, Mail Online, January 10th, 2012

(3) « How Chris Burden Created Metropolis II » by John Pavlus, on the website

(4) « Chris Burden’s Metropolis », by Catlin Moore on the website, February 9th, 2012



A contribution of Sciences Po Paris, by Margaux Juvénal.