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Thomas Woolner, c. 1880s by Unknown

Tennyson's Enoch Arden was inspired by a story that Thomas Woolner passed on to him – but whose story and of whom?

Video still from Documentation of Selected Works, 1971-74 by Chris Burden.

I didn’t ever meet the American artist Chris Burden but about 20 years ago I wrote to him. Before the internet, and maybe he didn’t have a fax number, I was after the loan of some photographic prints of his most famous art-performance: in a controlled situation he arranged for a friend to fire a bullet so it would graze his arm.

Chris Burden routinely placed himself in danger in the name of art. In the early 1970s in Los Angeles and New York City he incorporated electricity and water into edgy performances. He isolated himself from human interaction for days and weeks.

Art provided ‘a free spot in society’, he said. He wanted to ‘stimulate’ peoples’ imagination. At the time, performance artists wanted to challenge the authority of art museums, they wanted to expose society’s expectations of how men and women should act.

Chris Burden’s extreme acts also called on the most basic human survival skills – reliance and trust. I am fascinated by how he exerted such strong focused mental energy over his physical body.

In the exhibition Tough and tender Chris Burden describes in a video compilation what’s happening in his early performance pieces. While Chris’ voice-over is calm, soft and gentle; we’re watching him push his body to its limits.


A remarkable drawing by Edward Lear (1812–88) blends natural history and whimsy, assembling 'beestes' such as kangaroos 'in their proper propperportions', a 'greate blacke Deville' and a wombat with a very small 'i'.

Lady Ellen Stirling, c. 1828 by Thomas Phillips

I have been thinking quite a lot about an oddly widespread trope that crops up regularly in many British sources roughly stretching from the 1760s until the late Regency:

’Tis a very fine portrait, and very like.


Reflections on portraiture

'Postcards' are reflections on portraiture by Portrait Gallery Director, Angus Trumble, and others.