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Higgins - The Origin of Happening

Higgins - The Origin of Happening

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Published by: Kovalev Andrey on Oct 09, 2010
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The Origin of HappeningAuthor(s): Dick HigginsSource:
American Speech,
Vol. 51, No. 3/4 (Autumn - Winter, 1976), pp. 268-271Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 08/10/2010 19:03
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MISCELLANY
THEORIGINOF HAPPENING
NTHELATE
1950s all the avant garde arts tended increasingly tofuse,asartistsexplorednew media.Visualartists such asAllanKaprowmadeextensivecollages, usingmachines,mirrorsthatreflected thespectators,and,ultimately,liveperformers.Kaprowrealized he needed atermtodescribewhatwasobviouslydevelopinginto a newartform,andhe calleditahappening,because,as he latertold me whenIasked aboutit,"Ididn't know what else to callit,andmypiecewassomethingthat wasjust supposedtohappennaturally."Preciselywhenthetermwas first usedisunclear-probablyit wasemployedinApril1957,whenKaprowgavea demonstration of one ofhiscollage performancesforagroupof fellowartists,students,andcritics at thefarm of thesculptorGeorgeSegalnear NewBrunswick,NewJersey.The firstpublicuseoftheterm,however,wasintheWinter1958issue ofAnthologist,theundergraduate literarymagazineofRutgersUniversity,whereKaprowwasteachingat thetime. Init,someofKaprow'sstudentspublishedthescenario for averyambitious(andstillunperformed)happening,"TheDemiurge,"above the textof whichappearsthecaption: "Somethingtotakeplace:ahappening."NotlongthereafterKaprowbecameinvolvedinsettingupacooperativeartgalleryin NewYork,the ReubenGallery,mostmembersof whichhadalreadybecome knownthroughtheirassocia-tionswith the earlier HansaGallery.Manyof theseartists,onceKaprowhad blazedthetrail,wentontodohappeningsthemselves-notablyJamesDine,RobertWhitman, and, later,ClaesOldenburg.Kaprow'sfirsthappeningin the newspace,"18HappeningsinSixParts,"described in MichaelKirby'sbookHappenings(NewYork:Dutton,1965),causedasensationintheartworld,and theformwaswidelyimitatedbysuchdiverse artistsasJean-JacquesLebel inFrance,Wolf Vostell andJoseph BeuysinGermany,and T. Kubo inJapan.Otherscomingfrom differentbackgroundssawhowKaprow'stermat leastpartiallydescribedtheirwork andso,eventhoughtheydid not use visual-artscollagesor environments for theirperfor-mances,did not hesitate(toKaprow'sdelight)to use the term.Thus ithappenedthatmusicalcomposerssuch asBenjaminPatterson,NamJunePaik(nowbest knownfor hisvideo-synthesizer sculptures),and
Icalledwhat we didhappenings,at leastfor a while. Other artistsdidanalogousworks,but used differentterms inorder todifferentiate
 
MISCELLANY269themselvesfromtheircolleagues: orgiastic mysticaltheater(Her-mannNitsch),kinetic theater events(CarrolleeSchneemann),totaltheater(BenVautier).But thepublicquicklycame tocall all suchperformances happenings.Thetermalsobegantoappearinoddplaces.Jack Kerouac referstome inoneof hiswritingsofthe time as"theHappeningsman."Someoff-off-Broadwayheaterproductionstookadvantageofwhat seemedto beafaddishnew termbypromot-ingthemselvesashappenings.Becausesomanyartistsof variouskinds weredoinghappenings,thereappearedto beahappeningsmovement,andcareless writersthroughoutthe 1960s tried todefineone.However,thedifferencesamonghappeningsartistswereasstrikingastheirsimilarities.Within thehappeningsformatthere was roomfor theultrapreciseand controlledworksthat Idid,forthelyricalbut stillverycontrolledimagistic styleofKaprowandthevisualartists,and for the almostunboundedimagisticimprovisationofJean-JacquesLebelandAlHansen.Thislastkindofworkcaughtthejournalisticeye;thus thepubliccame tothinkofallhappeningsaswild,irrational free-for-alls,so thatbythemid 1960smosthappeningsartistshad eithertoqualifytheiruse ofthe termor to findanotherone.Acompletebibliographyfromtheheydayofhappeningswouldbequiteextensive,but theprimarytextscanbementionedbriefly.MybookPostface(NewYork:SomethingElsePress,1964)wasthefirst,followedbyMichaelKirby'sHappenings(1965).Kirby,nowthe headofthe SchoolofPerformingArts at NewYorkUniversity,also editedahappeningsissueoftheTulaneDrama Review(Winter1965).Hisbook dealsonlywithhappeningsbyvisualartistsassociatedwiththeReubenGallery,butthemagazineincludesother sortsofhappening,especially"events"(agenreofmini-happenings pioneeredby GeorgeBrecht,BobWatts,andothers associatedwiththeFluxusgroupofexperimentalartists).The nextmajor happeningsbookswereAlHansen'sPrimerof HappeningsandTime/SpaceArt(NewYork:SomethingElsePress,1965),a sortofdo-it-yourselfpopularizationthat hadmuchtodowith themodishnessofhappeningsin thelate1960s,and Wolf VostellandJiurgenBecker'sHappeningsundPopArt(Reinbek,Germany:Rowohlt,1966),the firstinternationalan-thologyandstillthebestoverallsource,thoughpublishedonlyinGerman.Finally,HannsSohmand HaraldSzeemann'smassivehap-pening&fluxus(Cologne:K6lnischerKunstverein,1970)isachronologyandbibliography,profuselyillustrated,ofthehappenings
and Fluxus artists.

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