Chris Burden knows how to take his art to extremes. The Boston-born artist once had a friend shoot him in the arm in a gallery for his 1971 piece, aptly titled "Shoot". Three years later, Burden performed "Trans-fixed" where he was nailed to the back of a VW Beetle (as you do).
One of Burden"s latest offerings, "Metropolis II", is also car-related, though any personal distress that he has put himself through for this creation will simply have been down to the hours he has had to invest in, and the sheer scale of, what is being hailed as a mechanical masterpiece.
"Metropolis II" is an intense and a complex kinetic sculpture, modelled on a fast-paced, frenetic city that straddles the present and the future.
Steel beams form an eclectic grid interwoven with an elaborate system of 18 roadways, including one six-lane freeway, and HO scale rail tracks.
Miniature cars speed through the city along translucent roads at a scale equivalent speed of 386km/h (240mph). Every hour, the equivalent of approximately 100,000 cars circulate through the dense network of buildings made from glass, ceramics, wood and even Lego.
It took Burden and his chief engineer Zak Cook more than four years to create "Metropolis II" including research, development and construction in Burden"s California studio.
Burden confesses to no real interest in transport or urban planning – more toys in fact – but he wanted to embark on such a massive undertaking because he and Cook had spent so much time and effort on developing "Metropolis II"s forerunner.
"Metropolis I", which had a mere 80 toy cars bombing around on single-lane highways, was sold to a Japanese museum that exhibited it for six months before locking it away.
"Metropolis II", on the other hand, has been loaned to Los Angeles County Museum of Art for display over the next decade by a collector who bought the sculpture at the end of last year for millions of dollars.
Apart from the sheer size of the installation, there are intricate touches that reflect the detail and endeavour that has gone into designing the cars and the roads.
For example, traffic flow has been maximised and vehicular disasters minimised by using lane dividers that act as natural brakes for the cars on corners.
The cars have also been specially manufactured in China to Burden"s specifications, which include extra strong axles.
When the cars get to the bottom of a hill, magnets in the track catch on and pull them back up a slope to the top.
Despite all these refinements, "Metropolis II" still requires two full-time attendants while it"s running, one standing in the centre of it and one outside to monitor traffic flow.
"I"ve seen spectacular pile-ups involving cars that spill off the road and derail trains," says Burden of his creation. "Every hour, 100,000 cars circulate through the system, so you"re going to get some glitches. It"s not digitised."
In real life though, that is how Burden wishes all roads will be – digitised.
Indeed, "Metropolis II" is certainly no utopia; for a start green spaces are conspicuous by their absence and the landscape is more reminiscent of a city of the future conceived last century, rather than one thought up today (in fact, it is a little like that which features in the 1927 Fritz Lang film "Metropolis").
"Only in the speed of the cars is this the city of the future," says Burden. "The city of the future is that every car is going to be controlled. Rigidly controlled. Controlled by Google, not by a driver.
"It"s insane that somebody"s who"s drunk or having a heart attack or is a teenager on speed can drive a two-ton diesel projectile. It"s insane! My dream for the city of the future is that the cars go faster and be totally automated."
Burden adds: "Metropolis II is not about making a scale model of anything, it"s more to evoke the energy of a city, and the sound is a really important part of it. I love hearing that the cars are going at 230mph. It provides a tension, more than anything else. It"s not just seeing the cars go around, it"s the noise level.
"The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars, produces in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling city. We wanted to make it truly overwhelming. The noise and level of activity are both mesmerizing and anxiety provoking."
You can experience some of that noise and gain an excellent insight into the project by watching Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman"s documentary film (above) that followed the creation of "Metropolis II" in Burden"s studio.
For more information on Chris Burden"s work, please visit: www.lacma.org/video/directors-series-chris-burden