Friday, February 12, 2010

Happenings according to Allan Kaprow

In the previous post, I described in my own words what a happening is. Here I will quote Allan Kaprow from my textbook The New Media Reader edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort.The following passages are from
"Happenings" in the New York Scene

In the words of Allan Kaprow "Happenings are events that, put simply happen. Though the best of them have a decided impact-- that is, how we feel, "here is something important" -- They appear to go nowhere and do not make any particular literary point. In contrast to the arts of the past, they have no structured beginning, middle, or end. Their form is open-ended and fluid; nothing obvious is sought and therefore nothing is won, except the certainty of a number of occurrences to which we are more than normally attentive. They exist for a single performance, or only a few, and are gone forever as new ones take their place" (Kaprow 85).

Kaprow continues by explaining how happenings are different from traditional theatrical performances. "First there is the context , the place of conception and enactment. The most intense and essential Happenings have been spawned in old lofts, basements, vacant stores, natural surroundings, and the street, where very small audiences, or groups of visitors, are commingled in some way with the event, flowing in and among its parts. There is no separation of audience and play (as there is even in round or pit theaters); the elevated picture-window view of most playhouses is gone, as are the expectations of curtain openings and tableaux vivantsand curtain closings..." (85).

Another key difference is "...that a Hapenning has no plot, no obvious "philosophy," and is materialized in an improviastory fashion, like jazz, and like much contemporary painting, where we do not know exactly what is going to happen next. The action leads itself any way it wishes, and the artist controls it only to the degree that it keeps on "shaking" right. A mmodern play rarely has such an impromtu basis, for plays are still first written. A Happening is generated in action by a headful of ideas or a flimsily jotted-down score of "root" directions" (86).

Lastly, Kaprow makes mention of the impermanence of Happenings. "Composed so that a premium is placed on the unforeseen, a Happening cnannot be reproduced. The few performances given of each work differ considerably from one another; and the work is over before habits begin to set in. The physical materials used to create the environment of Happenings are the most perishable kind: newspapers, junk, rags, old wooden crates knocked together, cardboard cartons cut up, real trees, food, borrowed machines, etc. They cannot last for long in whatever arrangement they are put. A Happening is thus fresh, while it lasts, for better or worse" (86).

I guess I wanted to quote specifically from my textbook in order to compare my mundane, slightly fuzzy version of what a Happening is in my own words to a clearer version, obviously composed by someone who knew what he was talking about.

In addition, I have provided a link to an article about recreation of some of Kaprow's most famous Happenings through an "art show" of sorts in a museum of all places. Link

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