tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE's Reviews > Some Recent Happenings

Some Recent Happenings by Allan Kaprow
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it was amazing
bookshelves: art
Recommended for: static electricity

Happenings are probably my favorite form of performance & Kaprow is one of my favorites of the practitioners of the form. He begins this pamphlet w/ this definition:

"A Happening is an assemblage of events performed or perceived in more than one time and place. Its material environments may be constructed, taken over directly from what is available, or altered slightly; just as its activities may be invented or commonplace. A Happening, unlike a stage play, may occur at a supermarket, driving along a highway, under a pile of rags, and in a friend's kitchen, either at once or sequentially. If sequentially, time may extend to more than a year. The Happening is performed according to plan but without rehearsal, audience, or repetition. It is art but seems closer to life."

As I recall, the term "happenings" got attached to many people's work who didn't want it there. Jim Dine, maybe? & I'm sympathetic to resisting unwanted labels. However, for me personally, I like the term alot. Keeping the misuse of the term in mind, it shd also be noted that Kaprow's definition above wdn't apply to many, maybe even most, of the events customarily historified as Happenings. Take, eg, "an assemblage of events performed or perceived in more than one time and place" - that probably wasn't usually the case.

One of the many things that I like about Kaprow's version of Happenings is his emphasis on NO AUDIENCE. These events then become shared experiences in wch there's no passive receptivity. I also like Kaprow's emphasis on multiple places & extended times. Basically, the Happening provides a template for breaking one's habits OR, if the habits are the focus of the Happening, the habits can become recontextualized. As for the "art" aspect? That's completely disposable from my perspective.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 19, 2008 – Shelved
March 19, 2008 – Shelved as: art

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message 1: by Shaun (new)

Shaun Wow - I have a pamphlet from that series/publisher I should dig up on FLuxus writings. Kaprow, Fluxus, etc had a huge influence on me in college - much to the dismay of a lot of my teachers...


message 2: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 19, 2008 08:23PM) (new)

Nice response tENT! I took a few classes from Kaprow when I was an undergraduate at UCSD-- the sort of introspective approach that he encouraged exploring really had a great impact on me at the time-- & even years later, when I thought I'd forgotten about most of it, it came back to me in some really interesting ways. I'll attempt to narrate some of this & try to be a bit less abstract.

I remember having this very sort of reactive & indirect means of using artistic strategies as critique when I first started working with him. One of the incidents I recall with Allan was having this intense, heated debate about the significance of one of the "conceptual" pieces I had arranged. The museum of contemporary art in La Jolla had just done this show which I thought was very "orientalist"-- some sort of pan-pacific-asian theme that I took as politically problematic in its construction of east versus west. So I organized a parodic Fu Man Chu drawing contest & sent the results along with a ironic & witty explanation concerning how it fit into the museum's project & why & how they should run it as a show. I recall arguing with Allan that it was a sort of "negative happening"-- negative because the museum could never let it "happen" under their given aesthetics, because of the anonymous nature of the participants, because of the obviously "low-cultural" context to which it referred & in which it was created. He was very adamant-- & I remember his words-- that I was engaging in a "game with no possible winning solution"-- that if they did show the piece, it would be art by virtue of its inclusion in a museum-- that for him was a "loss"-- that if they didn't show it-- or even get it-- it was a waste of time because I had an intended audience which refused to acknowledge the piece. I kept arguing that I had created this piece which engaged the museum on the level of idea & pretty much forced the curator to acknowledge the museum's inability to transcend some very antiquated ideas concerning the decorative nature of art, the importance of authorship, saleability, etc. Allan would have none of it.

Looking back on it, I can see that the real argument between us was that I kept insisting that all art should be discursive & Allan-- at least this was my take-- was trying to get away from that particular form of shared experience-- he was more interested in the phenomenology of having an experience-- raw maybe, without the cultural baggage of discourse-- to consider how that might become a way of communicating and sharing perception, thought, & idea.

I didn't reject the approach entirely-- I even experimented breifly with zazen sitting at the zen temple Allan used to practice at-- but what I found, even there, was that all of this "experiential practice & engagment" was itself a discourse-- I couldn't buy all of the "Life is Suffering" nonsense at the zen center-- no matter how much I wanted to appreciate this idea of engaging the moment.

It wasn't until years later that I realized that I'd kind of modified Allan's ideas into an ongoing practice of experiencing the world-- questioning each expereince from within the moment of its occurrence-- am I doing this from habit?-- am I really living in it?-- am I constructing it now or just drifting in the ether of expectation, repetition, & expected reward?

The full import of Allan's ideas didn't really hit me until 1999-- in the midst of my first psychotic break-- when I made this profound connection between performance as happening & everything that happens-- all the time-- if one is open to it. Somehow those ideas became actively incorporated into my own sense of being in shamanic vision quest- everything was this vast disjunctive & interwoven happening-- literally months of it- 24 hours a day because I had a sense that my dreams were as much a part of the entire experience as anything else. So I'd walk & perform in the streets of NYC & environs-- I remember thinking of Allan & associating him with all of these bearded guys I'd meet on the streets-- usually pushing shopping carts. & in this sort of visionary & delusional state I'd engage each of thes guys in conversation about the happening-- this gigantic happening-- & my experience of all of these conversations was quite profound-- I learned a lot about street culture from it-- & beyond that a lot about human experience, courage, fear, liminal existence. Why not wade into the east river in the middle of winter? Interesting question-- so I'd try it out & actually experience why that might not be such a good idea. What is art? Maybe a series of twenty-two five foot sculptures constructed of blocks of ice placed in front of a sign directing traffic to the museum of the moving image-- & I'd see that this was a pretty terrific piece & go from there.

So I turned my madness into a happening & then from there realized that the rest of my life should continue in that vein-- inside or outside of madness. Living the world-- that's what I learned from Allan-- & the conviction to inspire that process among the folks I work with today.

My critical-discursvive bent is still there-- but I don't see it as oppositional to the idea of living life as happening anymore-- the contradiction is not longer apparent to me.

Maybe it never was for Allan-- maybe he was merely playing the part of socratic interlocutor.

He certainly is missed-- but I still embrace a part of him in everyone I encounter with the courage to push a shopping cart outside the limits of the local grocery store.




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