747 | 2011 | Grand Theft Auto IV | 0:33


Chris Burden’s 747 (1973) reenacted in Grand Theft Auto IV.

Critical Discourse

“Another GTA-based machinima foregrounding the impossibility of eliciting specific reactions within an algorithmic system is Clint Enns’ 2011 video 747, which reenacts a 1973 Chris Burden performance of the same name. Where Roxby Smith shows the player character’s inability to break out of game-dictated violent interactions, Enns’ piece is based on provoking a violent response from GTA. However, the machinima performs a provocation which the game’s AI cannot understand, and the violent response is therefore never issued. In Burden’s original performance, the artist fired a hand- gun at a passenger plane taking off from LAX and documented the act photographically. The reenactment is staged in GTA IV’s Liberty City, where Enns’ player character fixes a passenger plane in the crosshairs of a shotgun (sharing the perspective with the viewer) and fires at it. Burden’s original quixotic gesture helped foment the artist’s position as a radical artist-terrorist. It simultaneously performed power and powerlessness in the face of rigid rule systems, and problematized the ways in which life under the rule of law flattens the critical difference between agency and futility to the point where it becomes difficult to distinguish between aggression and inertia. Reenacting (and mocking) art historical traditions of radical intervention, Burden provoked the rule-enforcing legal apparatus: shooting at flying planes is a crime virtually anywhere in the world. At the same time, he safely remained in a speculative domain, since his action failed to yield any “results” beyond unverifiable photographic documentation. As Daniel Cottom has noted, Burden’s pistol is pointed critically at the concept of performance art itself, and at the simulacrum of “high art.”

In Enns’ piece, the shotgun that has replaced Burden’s pistol is additionally pointed at the algorithmic regime that enforces the rule system to which Liberty City adheres. While this regime appears to strive for realism, designed to pun- ish violations of its order often with the player character’s death, it simply cannot recognize Enns’ intervention. The aggressive act of shootng at the plane remains unacknowledged and un-reified; it is not followed by the expected violent response. Following from the way in which audiences and critics have doubted that Burden’s intervention was “real,” one might ask about the meaning of Enns’ in-game gesture in relation to the algorithmic system at which it takes aim. The system cannot recognize it, and it fails to trigger in-game reification-through-violent-death. Does this mean that algorithmic logic is outsmarted through the performance of a gesture that cannot be meaningfully interpret- ed, and if so, is this a successful virtual survival tactic? Enns has suggested that he is hesitant to characterize his version of 747 as a performance work. I would propose that such a description is at least a fitting approximation: use of an avatarthat serves as a surrogate for the artist represents a strong dramatic stance and gestures towards an embodied performance with all its requisite associations. In this sense, it is important to consider Enns’ 747 as a performance work because it points to the potentially limited operability of performance art concepts as part of critical interventions staged in highly structured algorithmic game environments which, by design, will only permit predetermined sets of interactions.” – Martin Zeilinger, “Survival Interventions in GTA: On the Limits of Performance in Virtual Environments,” Video Game Art Reader 2.1 (Fall 2018): 15-27.


747 shown as part of Replay at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California.

November 14, 2017. Replay, UCLA Game Art Festival, The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, California. Curated by Matteo Bittanti.

June 8, 2012. Kill Your Idols, Deep Leep Microcinema, Heaven Gallery, Chicago, Illinois. Curated by Jesse Malmed.

March 14, 2012. Kill Your Idols, Deep Leep Microcinema, Microscope Gallery, Brooklyn, New York (curated by Jesse Malmed) 

October 14 – December 8, 2011. As the Sidewalk Bleeds, Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan. Curated by J.J. Kegan McFadden.