All the Submarines of the United States of America
Chris Burden ( American, 1946 - 2015 )
Chris Burden’s gallery-sized installation consists of 625 identical cardboard models that represent the entire United States submarine fleet dating from the late 1890s, when submarines entered the navy’s arsenal, to the late 1980s. The wall behind them lists the names of each submarine in black sans-serif type. Burden designed this installation as an amalgam of elements rather than as a discrete project. He suspended the cardboard models from the ceiling, placing them at various heights so that as a group they appear, quite aptly, to be a school of fish swimming through the ocean of the gallery space. In its scale and impact, All the Submarines of the United States of America follows in the line of Burden’s other installation work. Visually spectacular, this piece neither celebrates nor condemns military might, but presents in physical form the full range and history of an essential component of the United States’ power that, when this work was created, was still pitched in cold war struggle with the Soviet Union. Burden’s work can be seen either as a reassuring statement about the United States’ naval superiority, or as a questioning of the need for such an extensive yet mostly submerged and invisible arsenal. This work intrigues and delights while raising a host of questions and thoughts about security, politics, warfare, and history that become all the more resonant by Burden’s refusal of any easy polemical stance.