The Legacy of Jackson Follock

(1958)
The rragic nevs of Fol l ock' s dearh r vo summers ago vas prof oundl y
depressi ng ro many of us. We felr nor onl y a sadness over rhe dearh of
a grear figure, Lur also a deep loss, as i f somerhi ng of ourselves had
di ed roo. We vere a piece of hi m: he vas, perhaps, rhe emLodi menr
of our amLi r i on for aLsolure l i Lerari on and a secrerly cheri shed vi s h
ro overr urn ol d raLles of crockery and flar champagne. We sav i n his
exampl e rhe possiLiliry of an asroundi ng freshness, a sorr of ecsraric
Llindness.
Bur rhere vas anorher, mor Li d, side ro his meaningfulness. To ' di e
ar rhe r op' for Lei ng his ki nd of moder n arrisr vas ro many, I r hi nk,
i mpl i ci r i n rhe vor k Lefore he di ed. Ir vas rhis Li zarre i mpl i car i on rhar
vas so movi ng. We rememLered van Go g h and Ri mLa ud. Bur nov ir
vas our ri me, and a man some of us knev. Thi s ul ri mare sacrificial
aspecr of Lei ng an arrisr, vhi l e nor a nev idea, seemed i n Fol l ock
rerri Ll y moder n, and i n hi m rhe sraremenr and rhe ri r ual vere so grand,
so aurhori rari ve and al l -encompassi ng i n rheir scale and dar i ng rhar,
vharever our privare convi cri ons, ve coul d nor fail ro Le affecred Ly
rheir spirir.
Ir vas proLaLl y rhis sacrificial side of Fol l ock rhar lay ar rhe roor
of our depression. Fol l ock' s rragedy vas more suLrle rhan his dearh:
for he di d nor die ar rhe rop. We coul d nor avoi d seeing rhar dur i ng
rhe lasr five years of his life his srrengrh had veakened, and dur i ng
rhe lasr rhree he had hardl y vor ked ar al l . Tho ug h everyone knev, i n
rhe l i ghr of reason, rhar rhe man vas very i l l (his dearh vas perhaps a
respire f r om almosr cerrain furure suffering) and rhar he di d nor die as
Srravinsky' s ferriliry mai dens di d, i n rhe very momenr of crear i on/
anni hi l ar i on÷s r i l l ve coul d nor escape rhe di s r urLi ng (meraphysical)
i rch rhar connecred rhis dearh i n some direcr vay vi r h arr. A n d rhe
i
T H E F I F T I E S
connecr i on, rarher rhan Lei ng cl i macr i c, vas, i n a vay, i ngl ori ous. If
rhe end had ro come, ir came ar rhe vr ong r i me.
Was ir nor perfecrly clear rhar moder n arr i n general vas sl i ppi ng!
Ei r her ir had Lecome dul l and reperirious as rhe ' advanced' sryle, or
large numLers of formerl y commi r r ed conremporary painrers vere
defecri ng ro earlier forms. Ame r i c a vas cel eLrari ng a 'sani ry i n arr '
movemenr , and rhe flags vere our. Thus , ve reasoned, Fol l ock vas
rhe cenrer i n a grear fai l ure: rhe Ne v Ar r . Hi s heroic srand had Leen
furile. Rarher rhan releasing rhe freedom rhar ir ar firsr promi s ed, ir
caused nor onl y a loss of pover and possiLle di si l l usi onmenr for Fol -
l ock Lur also rhar rhe j i g vas up. A n d rhose of us sri l l resisranr ro rhis
r rur h voul d end rhe same vay, hardl y ar rhe rop. Such vere our
rhoughrs i n Augus r 1956.
Bur over r vo years have passed. Wha r ve felr rhen vas genui ne
enough, Lur our rri Lure, i f ir vas rhar ar al l , vas a l i mi r ed one. Ir vas
surely a mani fesrly human reacrion on rhe parr of rhose of us vho
vere devored ro rhe mosr advanced arrisrs around us and vho felr rhe
shock of Lei ng r hr ovn our on our ovn. Bur ir di d nor seem rhar
Fol l ock had i ndeed accompl i shed somer hi ng, Lorh Ly his arrirude and
Ly his very real gifrs, rhar venr Leyond even rhose values recogni zed
and acknovl edged Ly sensirive arrisrs and crirics. The acr of pai nr i ng,
rhe nev space, rhe personal mar k rhar Lui l ds irs ovn f or m and mean-
i ng, rhe endless rangle, rhe grear scale, rhe nev marerials are Ly nov
cliches of college arr deparrmenrs. The i nnovari ons are accepred. They
are Lecomi ng parr of rexrLooks.
Bur some of rhe i mpl i cari ons i nherenr i n rhese nev values are nor
as furile as ve al l Legan ro Lelieve, rhis ki nd of pai nr i ng need nor Le
cal l ed rhe rragic sryle. No r al l rhe roads of rhis moder n arr lead ro ideas
of finaliry. I hazard rhe guess rhar Fol l ock may have vaguely sensed
rhis Lur vas unaLl e, Lecause of illness or for orher reasons, ro do
anyr hi ng aLour ir.
H e creared some magni fi cenr pai nri ngs. Bur he also desrroyed
pai nr i ng. If ve exami ne a fev of rhe i nnovari ons menr i oned aLove, ir
may Le possiLle ro see vhy rhis is so.
For insrance, rhe acr of pai nr i ng. In rhe lasr sevenry-five years rhe
r andom play of rhe hand upon rhe canvas or paper has Lecome i n-
creasingly i mporr anr . Srrokes, smears, lines, dors Lecame less and less
!
T H E L E GAC Y OF J ACKS ON F OL L OCK
Fi g. 1 Jackson I'ollock in his srudio, 1950. "#$%$&'()# *+ ,(-. /(01%#2
arrached ro represenred oLjecrs and exisred more and more on rheir
o vn, self-sufficienrly. Bur f r om Impressi oni sm up ro, say, Gor ky, rhe
idea of an ' or der ' ro rhese marki ngs vas expl i ci r enough. Even Dada,
vhi c h purporr ed ro Le free of such considerarions as ' compos i r i on, '
oLeyed rhe CuLi s r esrheric. One col ored shape Lalanced (or modi f i ed
or srimulared) orhers, and rhese i n r urn vere played off againsr (or
vi r h) rhe vhol e canvas, r aki ng i nro accounr irs size and shape÷f or
rhe mosr parr quire consciously. In shorr, parr-ro-vhol e or parr-ro-parr
relarionships, no marrer hov srrained, vere a good 50 percenr of rhe
ma ki ng of a picrure (mosr of rhe ri me rhey vere a lor more, mayLe 90
percenr). Wi r h Fol l ock, hovever, rhe so-called dance of dr i ppi ng,
3
T H E FI FTI ES
sl ashi ng, squeezi ng, dauLi ng, and vharever else venr i nro a vor k
placed an almosr aLsolure value upon a diarisri c gesrure. He vas en-
couraged i n rhis Ly rhe Surrealisr painrers and poers, Lur nexr ro his
rheir vor k is consisrenrly ' ar r f ul , ' 'arranged, ' and f ul l of finesse÷
aspecrs of ourer conr rol and r rai ni ng. Wi r h rhe huge canvas placed
upon rhe floor, rhus ma ki ng ir difficulr for rhe arrisr ro see rhe vhol e
or any exrended secrion of 'parrs, ' Fol l ock coul d r rur hf ul l y say rhar
he vas ' i n ' his vor k. Her e rhe direcr appl i cari on of an auromari c
approach ro rhe acr makes ir clear rhar nor onl y is rhis nor rhe ol d crafr
of pai nr i ng, Lur ir is perhaps Lorderi ng on ri rual irself, vhi c h happens
ro use pai nr as one of irs marerials. ( The Eur opean Surrealisrs may
have used aur omar i sm as an i ngredi enr, Lur ve can hardl y say rhey
really pracriced ir vhol ehearredl y. In facr, onl y rhe vri rers among
r he m÷a nd onl y i n a fev i nsrances÷enj oyed any success i n rhis vay.
In rerrospecr, mosr of rhe Surrealisr painrers appear ro have deri ved
f r om a psychology Look or f r om each orher: rhe empry visras, rhe Lasic
nar ural i s m, rhe sexual fanrasies, rhe Lleak surfaces so characrerisric of
rhis peri od have impressed mosr Ame r i c a n arrisrs as a col l ecri on of
unconvi nci ng cliches. Ha r dl y auromari c, ar rhar. A n d , more rhan rhe
orhers associared vi r h rhe Surrealisrs, such real ralenrs as Ficasso, Kl ee,
and Mi r o Lel ong ro rhe srricrer di sci pl i ne of CuLi s m, perhaps rhis is
vhy rheir vor k appears ro us, paradoxi cal l y, more free. Surreal i sm
arrracred Fol l ock as an arrirude rarher rhan as a col l ecri on of arrisric
examples.)
Bur I used rhe vords 'al mosr aLsol ure' vhen I spoke of rhe di ari s-
ric gesrure as disrincr f rom rhe process of j udgi ng each move upon rhe
canvas. Fol l ock, i nr errupr i ng his vor k, voul d judge his 'acrs' very
shrevdl y and carefully for l ong periods Lefore goi ng i nro anorher
'acr. ' He knev rhe difference Lerveen a good gesrure and a Lad one.
Thi s vas his conscious arrisrry ar vor k, and ir makes hi m a parr of
rhe r radi r i onal communi r y of painrers. Yer rhe disrance Lerveen rhe
relarively self-conrained vorks of rhe Europeans and rhe seemi ngly
chaoric, s pr avl i ng vorks of rhe Amer i c a n indicares ar Lesr a renuous
connecri on ro 'pai nr i ngs. ' (In facr, Jackson Fol l ock never really had a
!"#$%&'() sensiLiliry. The painrerly aspecrs of his conremporari es, such
as Mor he r ve l l , Ho f ma nn, de Kooni ng , Ror hko, and even Sr i l l , poi nr
up ar one momenr a deficiency i n hi m and ar anorher momenr a l i L-
erari ng fearure. I choose ro consider rhe second elemenr rhe i mporr anr
one.)
4
T H E L E G A C Y OF J ACKS ON F OL L OCK
I am convi nced rhar ro grasp a Fol l ock' s i mpacr properl y, ve musr
Le acroLars, consranrly shur r l i ng Lerveen an i denri fi cari on vi r h rhe
hands and Lody rhar flung rhe painr and srood ' i n ' rhe canvas and
suLmi ssi on ro rhe oLjecrive mar ki ngs , al l ovi ng rhem ro enrangle and
assaulr us. Thi s insraLiliry is i ndeed far f r om rhe idea of a ' compl er e'
pai nr i ng. The arrisr, rhe specraror, and rhe ourer vor l d are muc h roo
i nrerchangeaLl y i nvol ved here. ( And i f ve oLjecr ro rhe di ffi cul ry of
compl ere comprehensi on, ve are as ki ng roo lirrle of rhe arr.)
The n F o r m. To f ol l ov ir, ir is necessary ro ger r i d of rhe usual idea
of ' F o r m, ' i.e., a Legi nni ng, mi ddl e, and end, or any varianr of rhis
pr i nc i pl e÷s uc h as fragmenrari on. We do nor enrer a pai nr i ng of Fol -
lock' s i n any one place (or hundr ed places). Anyvher e is everyvhere,
and ve di p i n and our vhen and vhere ve can. Thi s discovery has led
ro remarks rhar his arr gives rhe i mpressi on of goi ng on f orever÷a
rrue i nsi ghr rhar suggesrs hov Fol l ock i gnored rhe confines of rhe
recrangular field i n favor of a conr i nuum goi ng i n al l di recri ons si-
mul raneousl y, +$,-./ rhe l i reral di mensi ons of any vor k. ( Though
evidence poinrs ro a sl ackeni ng of rhe arrack as Fol l ock came ro rhe
edges of many of his canvases, i n rhe Lesr ones he compensared for
rhis Ly r acki ng muc h of rhe painred surface around rhe Lack of his
srrerchers.) The four sides of rhe pai nr i ng are rhus an aLrupr l eavi ng
off of rhe acriviry, vhi c h our i magi nari ons conri nue our var d i ndef i -
nirely, as r hough refusing ro accepr rhe arri fi ci al i ry of an ' endi ng. ' In
an ol der vor k, rhe edge vas a far more precise caesura: here ended
rhe vor l d of rhe arrisr, Leyond Legan rhe vor l d of rhe specraror and
'real i r y. '
We accepr rhis i nnovar i on as val i d Lecause rhe arrisr undersrood
vi r h perfecr naruralness ' hov ro do i r . ' Empl oyi ng an irerarive pr i n-
ci pl e of a fev hi ghl y charged elemenrs consranrly undergoi ng vari ari on
( i mprovi s i ng, as i n much As i an musi c), Fol l ock gives us an all-over
uni r y and ar rhe same ri me a means ro respond conri nuousl y ro a
freshness of personal choice. Bur rhis f or m al l ovs us equal pleasure i n
parr i ci par i ng i n a del i r i um, a deadeni ng of rhe reasoni ng faculries, a
loss of ' s el f ' i n rhe Wesrern sense of rhe r erm. Thi s srrange comLi -
nari on of exrreme i ndi vi dual i r y and selflessness makes rhe vor k re-
mar kaLl y porenr Lur also indicares a proLaLl y larger frame of psycho-
l ogi cal reference. A n d for rhis reason any allusions ro Fol l ock' s Lei ng
rhe maker of gi anr rexrures are compl erel y incorrecr. They miss rhe
poi nr, and mi sundersr andi ng is Lound ro fol l ov.
T H E FI FTI ES
Bur gi ven rhe proper approach, a medi um- s i zed exhi Li r i on space
vi r h rhe valls rorally covered Ly Fol l ocks offers rhe mosr compl ere and
meani ngf ul sense of his arr possiLle.
The n Scale. Fol l ock' s choice of enormous canvases served many
purposes, chi ef of vhi c h for our discussion is rhar his mural-scal e
pai nri ngs ceased ro Lecome painrings and Lecame envi ronmenr s. Be-
fore a pai nr i ng, our size as specrarors, i n relarion ro rhe size of rhe
pi crure, prof oundl y influences hov muc h ve are vi l l i ng ro give up
consciousness of our r emporal exisrence vhi l e experi enci ng ir. Fol -
lock' s choice of grear sizes resulred i n our Lei ng conf ronred, assaulred,
sucked i n. Yer ve musr nor confuse rhe effecr of rhese vi r h rhar of rhe
hundreds of large painrings done i n rhe Renaissance, vhi c h gl ori f i ed
an i deal i zed everyday vor l d f ami l i ar ro rhe oLserver, ofren conr i nui ng
rhe acrual r oom inro rhe pai nr i ng Ly means of r rompe l ' oei l . Fol l ock
offers us no such f ami l i ari ry, and our everyday vor l d of convenr i on
and haLir is replaced Ly rhe one creared Ly rhe arrisr. Reversi ng rhe
aLove procedure, rhe pai nr i ng is conr i nued our i nro rhe r oom. A n d
rhis leads me ro my final poi nr: Space. The space of rhese crearions is
nor clearly palpaLle as such. We can Lecome enrangl ed i n rhe veL ro
some exrenr and Ly movi ng i n and our of rhe skein of lines and splash-
ings can experience a ki nd of sparial exrension. Bur even so, rhis space
is an al l usi on far more vague rhan even rhe fev inches of space-reading
a CuLi s r vor k affords. Ir may Le rhar our need ro i denri fy vi r h rhe
process, rhe ma ki ng of rhe vhol e affair, prevenrs a concenrrari on on
rhe specifics of Lefore and Lehi nd so i mporr anr i n a more r radi r i onal
arr. Bur vhar I Lelieve is clearly di scerni Ll e is rhar rhe enrire pai nr i ng
comes our ar us (ve are parricipanrs rarher rhan oLservers), ri ghr i nro
rhe r oom. Ir is possiLle ro see i n rhis connecri on hov Fol l ock is rhe
r ermi nal resulr of a gradual rrend rhar moved f r om rhe deep space of
rhe fifreenrh and sixreenrh cenruries ro rhe Lui l di ng our f r om rhe canvas
of rhe CuLi s r collages. In rhe presenr case rhe ' pi cr ur e' has moved so
far our rhar rhe canvas is no longer a reference poi nr. Hence, al r hough
up on rhe val l , rhese marks surround us as rhey di d rhe painrer ar
vor k, so srricr is rhe correspondence achieved Lerveen his i mpul se and
rhe resulranr arr.
Wha r ve have, rhen, is arr rhar rends ro lose irself our of Lounds,
rends ro fill our vor l d vi r h irself, arr rhar i n meani ng, l ooks, i mpul se
seems ro Lreak fairly sharply vi r h rhe rradirions of painrers Lack ro ar
leasr rhe Greeks . Fol l ock' s near desrrucri on of rhis r radi r i on may vel l
!
T H E L E GAC Y OF J ACKS ON F OL L OCK
Le a rer urn ro rhe poi nr vhere arr vas more acrively i nvol ved i n ri r ual ,
magi c, and life rhan ve have kno vn ir i n our recenr pasr. I f so, ir is
an exceedingly i mporr anr srep and i n irs superi or vay offers a sol uri on
ro rhe compl ai nrs of rhose vho voul d have us pur a Lir of life i nro arr.
Bur vhar do ve do nov!
Ther e are r vo alrernarives. One is ro conri nue i n rhis vei n. Fr oL-
aLly many good 'near-pai nr i ngs' can Le done varyi ng rhis esrheric of
Fol l ock' s vi r hour deparri ng f rom ir or goi ng furrher. The orher is ro
give up rhe ma ki ng of pai nri ngs enr i rel y÷I mean rhe single flar rec-
rangle or oval as ve knov ir. Ir has Leen seen hov Fol l ock came prerry
close ro doi ng so himself. In rhe process, he came upon some never
values rhar are exceedingly difficulr ro discuss yer Lear upon our pres-
enr alrernarive. To say rhar he discovered rhings l i ke marks, gesrures,
pai nr, colors, hardness, sofrness, f l ovi ng, sroppi ng, space, rhe vor l d,
life, dearh mi ghr sound naive. Every arrisr vor r h his salr has 'di scov-
er ed' rhese rhi ngs. Bur Fol l ock' s discovery seems ro have a pecul i arl y
fascinaring si mpl i ci r y and direcrness aLour ir. He vas, for me, amaz-
i ngl y chi l dl i ke, capaLle of Lecomi ng i nvol ved i n rhe sruff of his arr as
a gr oup of concrere facrs seen for rhe firsr ri me. Ther e is, as I said
earlier, a cerrain Llindness, a mure Lel i ef i n everyrhi ng he does, even
up ro rhe end. I urge rhar rhis nor Le seen as a si mpl e issue. Fev
i ndi vi dual s can Le l ucky enough ro possess rhe inrensiry of rhis ki nd
of knovi ng , and I hope rhar i n rhe near furure a careful srudy of rhis
(perhaps) Ze n qual i ry of Fol l ock' s personaliry vi l l Le underraken. A r
any rare, for nov ve may consider rhar, excepr for rare insrances,
Wesrern arr rends ro need many more i ndi recri ons i n achi evi ng irself,
pl aci ng more or less equal emphasis upon ' r hi ngs ' and rhe relarions
Lerveen r hem. The crudeness of Jackson Fol l ock is nor, rherefore,
uncour h, ir is manifesrly frank and uncul ri vared, unsul l i ed Ly r rai ni ng,
rrade secrers, finesse÷a direcrness rhar rhe European arrisrs he l i ked
hoped for and parri al ly succeeded i n Lur rhar he never had ro srrive
afrer Lecause he had ir Ly narure. Thi s Ly irself voul d Le enough ro
reach us somerhi ng.
Ir does. Fol l ock, as I see hi m, lefr us ar rhe poi nr vhere ve musr
Lecome preoccupi ed vi r h and even dazzl ed Ly rhe space and oLjecrs
of our everyday life, eirher our Lodies, clorhes, rooms, or, i f need Le,
rhe vasrness of Forry-second Srreer. Nor sarisfied vi r h rhe suggesrion
r hrough painr of our orher senses, ve shall ur i l i ze rhe specific suL-
srances of sighr, sound, movemenrs, people, odors, rouch. OLj ecrs of
7
T H E L E GAC Y OF J ACKS ON F OL L OCK
every sorr are marerials for rhe nev arr: pai nr, chairs, f ood, elecrric and
neon l i ghrs, smoke, varer, ol d socks, a dog, movi es, a rhousand orher
rhings rhar vi l l Le discovered Ly rhe presenr generarion of arrisrs. No r
onl y vi l l rhese Lol d crearors shov us, as &0 l or rhe firsr ri me, rhe vor l d
ve have alvays had aLour us Lur i gnored, Lur rhey vi l l disclose enrirely
unheard-of happeni ngs and evenrs, f ound i n garLage cans, police files,
horel loLLies, seen i n srore vi ndovs and on rhe srreers, and sensed i n
dreams and horri Ll e accidenrs. A n odor of crushed srravLerries, a
lerrer f r om a f ri end, or a Li l l Loard sel l i ng Dr a no, rhree raps on rhe
fronr door, a scrarch, a si gh, or a voice l ecr uri ng endlessly, a Ll i ndi ng
sraccaro flash, a Lovl er har ÷al l vi l l Lecome marerials for rhis nev
concrere arr.
Young arrisrs of roday need no longer say, 'I am a pai nr er' or 'a
poer' or 'a dancer. ' They are si mpl y 'arrisrs. ' A l l of life vi l l Le open
ro r hem. They vi l l discover our of ordi nary rhings rhe meani ng of
ordi nari ness. They vi l l nor rry ro make rhem exrraordi nary Lur vi l l
onl y srare rheir real meani ng. Bur our of nor hi ng rhey vi l l devise rhe
exrraordi nary and rhen mayLe norhingness as vel l . Feople vi l l Le
del i ghred or horri f i ed, crirics vi l l Le confused or amused, Lur rhese, I
a m cerrai n, vi l l Le rhe alchemies of rhe 1960s.
Happenings in rhe Nev York Scene
(1961)
If you haven' r Leen ro rhe Happeni ngs , ler me give you a kal ei doscope
s ampl i ng of some of rheir grear momenrs.
Ever yLody is crovded i nro a dovnr ovn lofr, mi l l i ng aLour, l i ke ar
an openi ng. Ir's hor. Ther e are lors of Li g carrons si rri ng al l over rhe
place. One Ly one rhey srarr ro move, s l i di ng and careeni ng dr unkenl y
i n every di recr i on, l ungi ng i nro one anorher, accompani ed Ly l oud
Lrear hi ng sounds over four loudspeakers. N o v ir's vi nrer and col d and
ir's dark, and al l around lirrle Llue lighrs go on and off ar rheir ovn
speed vhi l e rhree large Lr ovn gunnysack consrrucrions drag an enor-
mous pile of ice and srones over Lumps, l osi ng mosr of ir, and Llankers
keep f al l i ng over everyrhi ng f rom rhe cei l i ng. A hundred i ron Larrels
and gal l on vi ne jugs hangi ng on ropes s vi ng Lack and f orrh, crashi ng
l i ke chur ch Lells, spevi ng glass al l over. Suddenl y, mushy shapes pop
up f r om rhe floor and painrers slash ar currains dr i ppi ng vi r h acri on.
A val l of rrees ried vi r h col ored rags advances on rhe c r ovd, scarrering
everyLody, f orci ng rhem ro leave. Ther e are mus l i n relephone Loorhs
for al l vi r h a record player or mi crophone rhar runes you i n ro every-
Lody else. Coughi ng, you Lrearhe i n noxious fumes, or rhe smel l of
hospirals and l emon juice. A nude gi r l runs afrer rhe raci ng pool of a
searchlighr, r hr ovi ng spinach greens inro ir. Slides and movi es, pro-
jecred over vall s and people, depicr hamLurgers: Li g ones, huge ones,
red ones, s ki nny ones, flar ones, erc. You come i n as a specraror and
mayLe you discover you' re caughr i n ir afrer al l , as you push rhings
around l i ke so muc h f urni rure. Wor ds rumLl e pasr, vhi s peri ng, dee-
daaa, Lar oom, love me, love me, shadovs joggle on screens, pover
savs and l avn movers screech jusr like rhe I. R. T. ar Uni o n Square.
T i n cans rarrle and you srand up ro see or change your sear or ansver
quesrions shoured ar you Ly shoeshine Loys and ol d ladies. Lo ng si-
lences vhen nor hi ng happens, and you' re sore Lecause you paid $1.50
!"
! 111 S I X T I E S
conr ri Lur i on, vhen Lang! rhere you are faci ng yoursel f i n a mi r r or
j ammed ar you. Li sr en. A cough f rom rhe alley. You giggl e Lecause
you' re af rai d, suffer cl ausrrophoLi a, ralk ro someone nonchal anrl y, Lur
all rhe ri me you' re rhere, gerri ng inro rhe acr . . . El ecr ri c fans srarr,
genrly vaf r i ng Lreezes of Ne v- Ca r smel l pasr your nose as leaves Lury
piles of a vhi ni ng, Lur pi ng, f oul , pi nky mess.
So much for rhe flavor. N o v I voul d l i ke ro descriLe rhe narure
of Happeni ngs i n a differenr manner, more anal yr i cal l y÷r hei r pur-
pose and place i n arr.
Al r houg h vi despread opi ni on has Leen expressed aLour rhese
evenrs, usually Ly rhose vho have never seen r hem, rhey are acrually
lirrle kno vn Leyond a smal l group of inreresred persons. Thi s smal l
f ol l ovi ng is avare of several differenr ki nds of Happeni ngs . Ther e are
rhe sophisricared, vi rry vor ks pur on Ly rhe rhearer people, rhe very
sparsely aLsrracr, almosr Zen- l i ke riruals gi ven Ly anorher gr oup
(mosrly vri rers and musicians), and rhose i n vhi c h I am mosr i nvol ved,
crude, l yri cal , and very sponraneous. Thi s ki nd grev our of rhe ad-
vanced Ame r i c a n pai nr i ng of rhe lasr decade, and rhose of us i nvol ved
vere al l painrers (or srill are). Ther e is some Leneficial exchange among
rhe rhree, hovever.
In addi r i on, ourside Ne v York rhere is rhe Gur a i group i n Os aka,
reporred acriviry i n San Franci sco, Chi cago, Col ogne, Faris, and Mi l a n ,
and a hisrory rhar goes Lack r hrough Surreal i sm, Da da, Mi me , rhe
ci rcus, carni val s, rhe rravel i ng salrimLanques, al l rhe vay ro medi eval
mysrery plays and processions. O f mosr of rhis ve knov very l i rrl e,
onl y rhe spirir has Leen sensed. O f vhar / knov, I find rhar I have
deci ded phi l osophi cal reservarions. Theref ore, rhe poinrs I make are
i nrended ro represenr, nor rhe vievs of al l rhose vho creare vorks rhar
mi ghr Le generically relared, or even of al l rhose vhose vor k I admi re,
Lur of rhose vhose vorks I feel ro Le rhe mosr advenruresome, f rui r -
ful l y open ro applicarions, and rhe mosr chal l engi ng of any arr i n rhe
air ar presenr.
Happeni ngs are evenrs rhar, pur si mpl y, happen. Tho ug h rhe Lesr
of r hem have a deci ded i mpacr ÷r har is, ve feel, 'here is somer hi ng
i mpor r anr ' ÷r hey appear ro go novhere and do nor make any parric-
ul ar lirerary poi nr. In conrrasr ro rhe arrs of rhe pasr, rhey have no
srrucrured Legi nni ng, mi ddl e, or end. The i r f orm is open-ended and
f l ui d, nor hi ng oLvi ous is soughr and rherefore nor hi ng is von, excepr
rhe cerrainry of a numLer of occurrences ro vhi c h ve are more rhan
$ %
HAFFENI NGS IN T H E NE W YORK S CENE
Fi g. 3 Al l an Kaprov, " #$%&'( )*$$+'&'(, 1961. -./0/(%*$. 12 3/1+%0 4567%/28
normal l y arrenrive. They exisr for a single performance, or onl y a fev,
and are gone forever as nev ones rake rheir place.
These evenrs are essenrially rhearer pieces, hovever unconven-
ri onal . Tha r rhey are srill largely rejecred Ly devorees of rhe rhearer
may Le due ro rheir uncommon pover and pri mi r i ve energy, and ro
rheir deri var i on f r om rhe rires of Amer i can Ac r i on Fai nr i ng. Bur Ly
vi deni ng rhe concepr 'rhearer' ro i ncl ude rhem (like vi deni ng rhe
concepr ' pa i nr i ng' ro i ncl ude collage), ve can see r hem againsr rhis
Lasic Lackgr ound and undersrand r hem Lerrer.
To my vay of r hi nki ng, Happeni ngs possess some cruci al qualiries
rhar di sr i ngui sh r hem f rom rhe usual rhearrical vorks , even rhe exper-
i menr al ones of roday. Fi rsr , rhere is rhe conrexr, rhe place of concepri on
and enacrmenr. The mosr inrense and essenrial Happeni ngs have Leen
spavned i n ol d lofrs, Lasemenrs, vacanr srores, narural surroundi ngs,
and rhe srreer, vhere very smal l audiences, or groups of visirors, are
commi ngl ed i n some vay vi r h rhe evenr, f l ovi ng i n and among irs
parrs. Ther e is rhus no separarion of audience and play (as rhere is
even i n r ound or pir rhearers), rhe elevared pi cr ur e- vi ndov vi ev of
' 7
T H E SI XTI ES
mosr playhouses is gone, as are rhe expecrarions of curr ai n openi ngs
and raLleaux vivanrs and curr ai n closings . . .
The sheer ravness of rhe our-of-doors or rhe closeness of di ngy
ciry quarrers i n vhi c h rhe radi cal Happeni ngs flourish is more appro-
priare, I Lelieve, i n remperamenr and un-arriness, ro rhe marerials and
direcrness of rhese vorks . The place vhere anyr hi ng grovs up (a cer-
rain ki nd of arr i n rhis case), rhar is, irs 'haLi rar, ' gives ro ir nor onl y a
space, a ser of relarionships ro rhe various rhings around ir, and a range
of values, Lur an overal l armosphere as vel l , vhi c h penerrares ir and
vhoever experiences ir. HaLi rars have alvays had rhis effecr, Lur ir is
especially i mporr anr nov, vhen our advanced arr approaches a fragile
Lur marvel ous l i fe, one rhar mai nrai ns irself Ly a mere rhread, mel r i ng
rhe surroundi ngs, rhe arrisr, rhe vor k, and everyone vho comes ro ir
i nro an elusive, changeaLle conf i gurari on.
I f I may digress a momenr ro Lr i ng rhis poi nr i nro focus, ir may
reveal vhy rhe 'Ler r er' galleries and homes (vhose decor is sri l l a Ly-
nov-anri sepri c neoclassicism of rhe rvenries) desiccare and prerrify
moder n pai nri ngs and sculprure rhar had l ooked so narural i n rheir
srudi o Li rrhpl ace. Ir may also expl ai n vhy arrisrs' srudios do nor l ook
l i ke galleries and vhy vhen an arrisr's srudi o does, everyone is suspi-
cious. I r hi nk rhar roday rhis organic connecri on Lerveen arr and irs
envi ronmenr is so meani ngf ul and necessary rhar r emovi ng one f r om
rhe orher resulrs i n aLorri on. Yer rhe arrisrs vho have made us avare
of rhis l i fel i ne deny i r, for rhe flarrery of Lei ng ' on s hov' Ll i nds r hem
ro every insensiriviry heaped upon rheir suddenl y veakened offerings.
Ther e seems no end ro rhe vhi r e val l s, rhe rasreful a l umi num frames,
rhe lovely l i ghr i ng, f avn gray rugs, cockrai l s, polire conversari on. The
arrirude, I mean rhe vor l dvi ev, conveyed Ly such a fluorescenr recep-
ri on is i n irself nor ' Lad. ' Ir is unavare. A n d Lei ng unavare, ir can
hardl y Le responsive ro rhe arr ir promores and professes ro admi re.
Happeni ngs i nvi re us ro casr aside for a momenr rhese proper
manners and parrake vhol l y i n rhe real narure of rhe arr and (one
hopes) life. Thus a Ha ppe ni ng is rough and sudden and ofren feels
' di r r y. ' Di r r , ve mi ghr Legi n ro realize, is also organi c and ferrile, and
everyr hi ng, i ncl udi ng rhe visirors, can gr ov a lirrle i n such ci r cum-
srances.
To rer urn ro rhe conrrasr Lerveen Happeni ngs and plays, rhe sec-
ond i mporr anr difference is rhar a Ha ppe ni ng has no plor, no oLvi ous
' phi l os ophy, ' and is mar eri al i zed i n an i mprovi sarory fashi on, l i ke j azz,
$ &
HAFFE NI NGS IN T H E NE W YORK S CENE
and l i ke much conremporary pai nr i ng, vhere ve do nor knov exacrly
vhar is goi ng ro happen nexr. The acrion leads irself any vay ir vishes,
and rhe arrisr conrrols ir onl y ro rhe degree rhar ir keeps on ' s ha ki ng '
ri ghr. A moder n play rarely has such an i mpr ompr u Lasis, for plays
are sri l l firsr vrirren. A Ha ppe ni ng is generared i n acrion Ly a headful
of ideas or a flimsily j orred-dovn score of ' r oor ' direcrions.
A play assumes rhar vords are rhe almosr aLsolure me di um. A
Ha ppe ni ng frequenrly has vords, Lur rhey may or may nor make l i reral
sense. I f rhey do, rheir sense is nor parr of rhe faLric of 'sense' rhar
orher nonverLal elemenrs (noise, vi sual sruff, acrion) convey. Hence,
rhey have a Lrief, emergenr, and somerimes derached qual i ry. If rhey
do nor make sense, rhen rhey are heard as rhe sound of vords insread
of rhe meani ng conveyed Ly r hem. Wor ds , hovever, need nor Le used
ar al l : a Ha ppe ni ng mi ghr consisr of a s var m of locusrs Lei ng dropped
i n and around rhe performance space. Thi s elemenr of chance vi r h
respecr ro rhe me di um irself is nor ro Le expecred f r om rhe ordi nary
rhearer.
Indeed, rhe i nvol vemenr i n chance, vhi ch is rhe r hi r d and mosr
proLl emar i cal qual i ry f ound i n Happeni ngs , rarely occurs i n rhe con-
venri onal rhearer. Wh e n ir does, ir is usually a margi nal Lenefir of
i nrerprerari on. In rhe presenr vor k, chance (in conj uncr i on vi r h i m-
provisarion) is a deliLerarely empl oyed mode of operari ng rhar pene-
rrares rhe vhol e composi r i on and irs characrer. Ir is rhe vehicle of rhe
sponraneous. A n d ir is rhe clue ro undersr andi ng hov conrrol (rhe
serring up of chance rechniques) can effecrively produce rhe opposire
qual i r y of rhe unpl anned and apparenrly unconr rol l ed. I r hi nk ir can
Le demonsrrared rhar muc h conremporary arr, vhi c h counrs upon i n-
spi rari on ro yi el d rhar admi rredl y desiraLle verve or sense of rhe un-
selfconscious, is Ly nov gerri ng resulrs rhar appear pl anned and aca-
demi c. A loaded Lrush and a mi ghr y s vi ng alvays seem ro hir rhe Lal l
ro rhe same spor.
Chance r hen, rarher rhan sponraneiry, is a key r erm, for ir i mpl i es
ri sk and fear (rhus reesraLlishing rhar fine nervousness so pleasanr
vhen somer hi ng is aLour ro occur). Ir also Lerrer names a mer hod rhar
Lecomes manifesrl y unmer hodi cal i f one considers rhe puddi ng more
a pr oof rhan rhe recipe.
Tr adi r i onal arr has alvays rri ed ro make ir good every r i me, Leliev-
i ng rhar rhis vas a rruer r rur h rhan life. Arri sr s vho di recrl y ur i l i ze
chance hazard fai l ure, rhe ' f ai l ur e' of Lei ng less arrisric and more
9:
THK SIXTIES
l i f el i ke. The ' A r r ' rhey produce mi ghr surpri si ngl y r urn our ro Le an
affair rhar has al l rhe i nevi raLi l i ry of a vel l -ordered middle-class
Tha nks gi vi ng di nner (I have seen a fev remarkaLl e Happeni ngs rhar
vere 'Lores' i n rhis sense). Bur ir coul d Le l i ke s l i ppi ng on a Lanana
peel, or goi ng ro heaven.
If a flexiLle f ramevork vi r h rhe Laresr l i mi r s is esraLlished Ly
selecring, for exampl e, onl y five elemenrs our of an i nf i ni r y of possi-
Li l i ri es, almosr anyr hi ng can happen. A n d somerhi ng alvays does, even
rhi ngs rhar are unpleasanr. Vi si r ors ro a Ha ppeni ng are nov and rhen
nor sure vhar has raken place, vhen ir has ended, even vhen rhi ngs
have gone ' vr ong . ' For vhen somerhi ng goes ' vr ong , ' somer hi ng far
more ' r i ghr , ' more revelarory, has many rimes emerged. Thi s sorr of
sudden near-mi racle presenrly seems ro Le made more l i kel y Ly chance
procedures.
I f arrisrs grasp rhe i mporr of rhar vor d chance and accepr ir (no
easy achievemenr i n our cul rure), rhen irs merhods needn' r i nvari aLl y
cause rheir vor k ro reduce ro eirher chaos or a Ll and indifference,
l acki ng i n concrereness and inrensiry, as i n a raLle of r andom numLers.
O n rhe conrrary, rhe idenriries of rhose arrisrs vho empl oy such rech-
ni ques are very clear. Ir is odd rhar vhen arrisrs give up cerrain hi rherro
pri vi l eged aspecrs of rhe self, so rhar rhey cannor alvays 'correcr '
s omer hi ng accordi ng ro rheir rasre, rhe vor k and rhe arrisr frequenrl y
come our on rop. A n d vhen rhey come our on rhe Lor r om, ir is a very
concrere Lor r om!
The final poi nr I shoul d like ro make aLour Happeni ngs as againsr
plays is i mpl i ci r i n all rhe di scussi on÷r hei r i mpermanence. Compos ed
so rhar a pr e mi um is placed on rhe unforeseen, a Ha ppe ni ng cannor
Le reproduced. The fev performances gi ven of each vor k differ con-
sideraLly f r om one anorher, and rhe vor k is over Lefore haLirs Legi n
ro ser i n. The physical marerials used ro creare rhe envi r onmenr of
Happeni ngs are rhe mosr perishaLle k i nd : nevspapers, j unk, rags, ol d
vooden crares knocked rogerher, cardLoard carrons cur up, real rrees,
f ood, Lorroved machines, erc. They cannor lasr for l ong i n vharever
arrangemenr rhey are pur. A Ha ppe ni ng is rhus fresh, vhi l e ir lasrs,
for Lerrer or vorse.
Her e ve need nor go i nro rhe consideraLle hisrory Lehi nd such
values emLodi ed i n rhe Happeni ngs . Suffice ir ro say rhar rhe passing,
rhe changi ng, rhe narural , even rhe vi l l i ngness ro fail are fami l i ar. They
reveal a spirir rhar is ar once passive i n irs acceprance of vhar may Le
'(
HAFFE NI NGS IN T H E NE W YORK S CENE
Fi g. 4 RoLerr Whi r man, ";+%&5*' 4//', 1960. -./0/(%*$. 12 3/1+%0 4567%/28
and affirmarive i n irs di sregard of securiry. One is also lefr exposed ro
rhe qui re marvel ous experience of Lei ng surpri sed. Thi s is, i n essence,
a conr i nuar i on of rhe r radi r i on of Real i s m.
The significance of rhe Ha ppe ni ng is nor ro Le f ound si mpl y i n
rhe fresh crearive vi nd nov Ll ovi ng. Happeni ngs are nor jusr anorher
nev sryle. Insread, l i ke Amer i c a n arr of rhe lare 1940s, rhey are a moral
acr, a huma n srand of grear urgency, vhose professional srarus as arr
is less a cri r eri on rhan rheir cerrainry as an ul ri mare exisrenrial com-
mi r menr .
Ir has alvays seemed ro me rhar Amer i c a n crearive energy onl y
Lecomes charged Ly such a sense of crisis. The real veakness of much
vanguard arr since 1951 is irs compl acenr assumpri on rhar arr exisrs
and can Le recogni zed and pracriced. I am nor so sure vherher vhar
ve do nov is arr or somer hi ng nor quire arr. If I call ir arr, ir is Lecause
I vi s h ro avoi d rhe endless argumenrs some orher name voul d Lr i ng
f orr h. Faradoxi cal l y, i f ir rurns our ro Le arr afrer al l , ir vi l l Le so i n
spire of (or Lecause of ) rhis larger quesri on.
Bur rhis explosive armosphere has Leen aLsenr f r om our arrs for
ren years, and one Ly one our maj or figures have dropped Ly rhe
!"
T H E SI XTI ES
vaysi de, laden vi r h glory. If rense exciremenr has rerurned vi r h rhe
Happeni ngs , one can only suspecr rhar rhe parrern vi l l Le repeared.
These are our greenesr days. Some of us vi l l Lecome famous, and ve
vi l l have proven once again rhar rhe onl y success occurred vhen rhere
vas a lack of ir.
Such vorri es have Leen voiced Lefore i n more di scouragi ng rimes,
Lur roday is hardl y such a r i me, vhen so many are ri ch and desire a
Lefi rri ng cul rure. I may seem rherefore ro r hr ov varer on a ki ndl y
spark vhen I rouch on rhis nore, for ve cusromari l y prefer ro celeLrare
vicrories vi r hour ever quesri oni ng vherher rhey are vicrories i ndeed.
Bur I r hi nk ir is necessary ro quesri on rhe vhol e srare of Ame r i c a n
success, Lecause ro do so is nor onl y ro rouch on vhar is characrerisri -
cally Ame r i c a n and vhar is cruci al aLour Happeni ngs Lur also parrly
ro expl ai n Ameri ca' s special srrengrh. A n d rhis srrengrh has nor hi ng
ro do vi r h success.
Farri cul arl y i n Ne v Yor k, vhere success is mosr evidenr, ve have
nor yer l ooked clearly ar ir and vhar ir may i mpl y÷s omer hi ng rhar,
unr i l recenrly, a European vho had earned ir di d qui re narurally. We
are unaLl e ro accepr revards for Lei ng arrisrs, Lecause ir has Leen
sensed deeply rhar ro Le one means ro live and vor k i n isolarion and
pri de. N o v rhar a nev haur monde is demandi ng of us arr and more
arr, ve f i nd ourselves r unni ng avay or r unni ng ro ir, shocked and
gui l ry, eirher vay. I musr Le emphari c: rhe gl ari ng r rur h, ro anyone
vho cares ro exami ne ir cal ml y, is rhar nearly all arrisrs, vo r ki ng i n
any me di um f r om vords ro painr, vho have made rheir mar k as i n-
novarors, as radicals i n rhe Lesr sense of rhar vor d, have, once rhey
have Leen recogni zed and pai d handsomely, capirulared ro rhe inreresrs
of good rasre. Ther e is no overr pressure anyvhere. The parrons of arr
are rhe nicesr people i n rhe vor l d. They neirher vi s h ro corrupr nor
acrually do so. The vhol e siruarion is corrosive, for neirher parrons nor
arrisrs comprehend rheir role, Lorh are alvays a lirrle edgy, hovever
aLundanr l y smiles are exchanged. Our of rhis hi dden di scomf orr rhere
comes a sr i l l Lorn arr, righr or merely reperirive ar Lesr and ar vorsr,
chi c. The ol d dar i ng and rhe charged armosphere of precarious dis-
covery rhar marked every hour of rhe lives of moder n arrisrs, even
vhen rhey vere nor vor ki ng ar arr, vanishes. Srrangely, no one seems
ro kno v rhis excepr, perhaps, rhe 'unsuccessf ul ' arrisrs vai r i ng for
rheir day . . .
''
HAF F E NI NGS IN T H E NE W YORK S CENE
Fi g. 5 Jim Di ne, <*% <%*=., 1960. -./0/(%*$. 12 3/1+%0 4567%/28
To us, vho are already ansveri ng rhe i ncreasi ng relephone calls
f r om enrrepreneurs, rhis is more rhan di sr urLi ng. We are, ar rhis vr i r -
i ng, sri l l free ro do vhar ve vi s h, and are var chi ng ourselves as ve
Lecome caughr up i n an irreversiLle process. Ou r Happeni ngs , l i ke all
rhe orher arr produced i n rhe lasr decade and a hal f Ly rhose vho, for
a fev Lri ef momenr s, vere also free, are i n no smal l parr rhe expression
of rhis liLerry. In our Legi nni ng some of us, readi ng rhe signs al l roo
clearly, are faci ng our end.
If rhis is close ro rhe r rur h, ir is surely mel odrama as vel l , and I
i nr end rhe rone of my vords ro suggesr rhar qualiry. Anyone moved
Ly rhe spirir of r ough-guyi sm voul d ansver rhar all of rhis is a pseudo-
proLl em of rhe arrisrs' ovn ma ki ng. They have rhe alrernarive of re-
j ecring fame i f rhey do nor vanr irs responsiLiliries. Arri srs have made
rheir sauce, nov rhey musr srev i n ir. Ir is nor rhe parrons' and rhe
puLlicisrs' mor al oLl i gari on ro prorecr rhe arrisrs' freedom.
Bur such an oLj ecri on, vhi l e s oundi ng healrhy and realisric, is i n
facr Eur opean and ol d-f ashi oned, ir sees rhe crearor as an i ndomi r aLl e
hero vho exisrs on a plane aLove any l i vi ng conrexr. Ir fails ro appre-
T H E SI XTI ES
ciare rhe special characrer of our mores i n Ame r i c a , and rhis mar ri x, I
voul d mai nr ai n, is rhe onl y realiry vi r hi n vhi ch any quesri on aLour
rhe arrs may Le asked.
The rough ansver fails ro appreciare our rasre for fads and ' move-
menrs, ' each one increasingl y equi valenr ro rhe lasr i n value and com-
pl exi on, ma ki ng for rhar vasr ennui , rhar anxiery l yi ng so close ro rhe
surface of our comforraLl e exisrence. Ir does nor accounr for our need
ro ' l ove' everyLody (our democracy) rhar musr give every dog his Lone
and compel s everyone kno vn Ly no one ro vanr ro Le addressed Ly a
ni ckname. Thi s relenrless cravi ng loves everyrhi ng desrrucrively, for ir
acrually hares love. Wha r can anyone's inreresr i n rhis ki nd of arr or
rhar marvel ous painrer possiLly mean rhen! Is ir a meani ng losr on rhe
arrisr!
Whe r e else can ve see rhe unLelievaLl e Lur frequenr phenomenon
of successful radicals Lecomi ng 'fasr f ri ends' vi r h successful acade-
mi ci ans, uni r ed onl y Ly a c ommon success and deliLerarely insensirive
ro rhe f undamenr al issues rheir differenr values i mpl y! I vonder vhere
else Lur here can Le f ound rhar shurri ng of rhe eyes ro rhe quesri on of
purpose. Ferhaps i n rhe Uni r ed Srares such a quesrion coul d nor ever
Lefore exisr, so pervasive has Leen rhe amoral mus h.
Thi s everyday vor l d affecrs rhe vay arr is creared as muc h as ir
condi ri ons irs response÷a response rhe cri ri c arriculares for rhe parron,
vho i n r ur n acrs upon ir. Mel odr ama, I r hi nk, is cenrral ro al l of rhis.
Apa r r f r om rhose i n our recenr hisrory vho have achieved some-
r hi ng pr i mar i l y i n rhe spirir of Eur opean arr, muc h of rhe posirive
characrer of Ame r i c a can Le undersrood Ly rhe vor d melodrama: rhe
saga of rhe Fi oneer is rrue mel odr ama, rhe CovLoy and rhe I ndi an,
rhe Renr Col l ecr or, Srella Dal l as, Char l i e Cha pl i n, rhe Or gani zar i on
Ma n , Mi k e Todd are mel odrama. A n d nov rhe Ame r i c a n Ar r i s r is a
mel odramar i c figure. FroLaLl y vi r hour r r yi ng, ve have Leen aLle ro
see prof oundl y vhar ve are al l aLour r hrough rhese archerypal person-
ages. Thi s is rhe qual i r y of our remperamenr rhar a classically rrai ned
mi nd voul d i nvari aLl y misrake for senrimenraliry.
Bur I do nor vanr ro suggesr rhar avanr-garde arrisrs produce even
remorel y senri menral vor ks , I am referri ng more ro rhe hard and silly
mel odr ama of rheir lives and almosr farcical social posi ri on, k no vn as
vel l as rhe srory of George Was hi ngr on and rhe Cher r y Tree, vhi c h
infuses vhar rhey do vi r h a poverf ul yer fragile fever. The idea is
parrly rhar rhey vi l l Le famous onl y afrer rhey die, a myr h ve have
´4
HAF F E NI NGS IN T H E NE W YORK S CENE
raken ro hearr far more rhan rhe Europeans, and far more rhan ve
care ro admi r . Hal f -consci ousl y, r hough, rhere is rhe more i ndi genous
dream rhar rhe advenrure is everyr hi ng, rhe rangiLle goal is nor i m-
porranr. The Facific coasr is farrher avay rhan ve rhoughr, Fonce de
Leon' s Founr ai n of Your h lies Leyond rhe nexr everglade, and rhe nexr,
and rhe nexr . . . meanvhi l e ler's Larrle rhe alligarors.
Wha r is nor mel odramar i c, i n rhe sense I am usi ng rhe vor d, Lur
is di sappoi nr i ng and rragic, is rhar roday vanguard arrisrs are gi ven
rheir pri zes very qui ckl y insread of Lei ng lefr ro rheir advenrure. Fur -
r hermore, rhey are led ro Lelieve, Ly no one i n parricular, rhar rhis vas
rhe r hi ng rhey vanred al l rhe vhi l e. Bur i n some oLscure recess of rheir
mi nd, rhey assume rhey musr nov die, ar leasr spi ri rual l y, ro keep rhe
myr h inracr. Hence, rhe crearive aspecr of rheir arr ceases. To al l inrenrs
and purposes, rhey are dead and rhey are famous.
In rhis conrexr of achi evemenr-and-dearh, arrisrs vho make Ha p -
penings are l i vi ng our rhe puresr mel odrama. The i r acriviry emLodi es
rhe myr h of nonsuccess, for Happeni ngs cannor Le sold and raken
home, rhey can onl y Le supporred. A n d Lecause of rheir i nri mare and
fleering narure, onl y a fev people can experience r hem. They remai n
isolared and proud. The crearors of such evenrs are advenrurers roo,
Lecause muc h of vhar rhey do is unforeseen. They srack rhe deck rhar
vay.
By some reasonaLle Lur unpl anned process, Happeni ngs , ve may
suspecr, have emerged as an arr rhar can funcri on precisely as l ong as
rhe mechani cs of our presenr rush for cul r ural mar uri r y conri nue. Thi s
si ruari on vi l l no douLr change evenrually and rhus vi l l change rhe
issues I address here.
Bur for nov rhere is rhis ro consider, rhe poi nr I raised earlier: some
of us vi l l proLaLl y Lecome famous. Ir vi l l Le an i roni c fame fashioned
largely Ly rhose vho have never seen our vor k. The arrenrion and
pressure of such a posi ri on vi l l proLaLl y desrroy mosr of us, as rhey
have nearly al l rhe orhers. We knov no Lerrer rhan anyone else hov
ro handl e rhe meraphysics and pracrice of vor l dl y pover. We knov
even less, since ve have nor Leen i n rhe slighresr i nvol ved vi r h ir. Tha r
I feel ir necessary, i n rhe inreresrs of rhe r rur h, ro vri r e rhis arricle,
vhi c h may hasren rhe concl usi on, is even more farefully i roni c. Bur
rhis is rhe chance ve rake, ir is parr of rhe picrure . . .
Yer I cannor help vonder i ng i f rhere isn'r a posirive side, roo, a
side also suLjecr ro rhe r hr ov of rhe dice. To rhe exrenr rhar a Ha p-
'5
T H E SI XTI ES
peni ng is nor a commodi r y Lur a Lri ef evenr, f r om rhe srandpoi nr of
any puLl i ci r y ir may receive, ir may Lecome a srare of mi nd. W h o vi l l
have Leen rhere ar rhar evenr! Ir may Lecome like rhe sea monsrers of
rhe pasr or rhe f l yi ng saucers of yesrerday. I shoul dn' r really mi nd, for
as rhe nev myr h grovs on irs ovn, vi r hour reference ro anyr hi ng i n
parri cul ar, rhe arrisr may achieve a Leauriful privacy, famed for some-
r hi ng purel y i magi nary vhi l e free ro explore somer hi ng noLody vi l l
norice.
'%
THE  SIXTIES 
pening  is  not  a  commodity  but a  brief event,  from  the  standpoint  of 
any  publicity  it  may  receive,  it may  become a  state of mind.  Who  will 
have  been  there at that event?  It may  become like  the  sea  monsters  of 
the  past or the flying saucers  of yesterday.  I shouldn't  really  mind,  for 
as  the  new  myth  grows  on  its  own,  without  reference  to  anything  in 
artist  may achieve  a  beautiful  privacy,  famed  for  some-
thing  purdy  imaginary  while  free  to  explore  something 
notice. 
26 
Impurity 
(1963)
In the West "purity" and "impurity" have been important concepts 
understanding  the  nature  and  structure  of reality  as  well  as  for  eval-
uating  it.  In  the  largest  sense  they  have  defined  the  goals  of  human 
and  natural activity, explaining the world's events as an ethical  passage 
from  one  condition  to  the  other.  No matter  which  concept  has  domi-
nated  the  vision  of a  particular  time,  their  fundamental  polarity  has 
always  been  clear.  In  the  history  of art  such  concepts  have  been  cru-
cial,  because  it  is  with  them  that  the  distinction  between  the  ethical 
and  the  esthetic  disappears.  Today,  although  they  are  no  less  present 
in our thoughts, in our speech and writing they are apt to  be Imprecise, 
quasi-poetic,  and  allusive,  in  keeping  with  the  changing  perspectives 
of contemporary  painting  and  sculpture.  The  more  compelling  goal 
of finding an adequate critical  language for  values  in  motion has  taken 
precedence over  what for  the past were clarifying guidelines, constants 
amid  change. 
The  accomplishments  of  this  shift  are  obvious  by  now.  But  in 
pursuing  almost  exclusively  a  psychology  of process  in  art  criticism, 
we  have  found  it difficult  to  perceive  where the focal  points of tension 
and  release  fall,  however  briefly.  Dispersal  thus  replaces  necessity; 
movement, vaguely  imitating life,  replaces energy.  And while  this  tes-
tifies  to  a  sort  of freedom,  it  is  an  aimless  freedom.  Our  art  is  more 
specific  than  this.  It is  committed  on  a  more  elemental  plane  than  a 
criticism  of subtlety  alone  can  convey.  [  would  propose  that  nothing 
that  has  been  gained  will  be  lost  by  once  again  incorporating  into 
criticism  the  categories of purpose.  Those of purity  and  impurity  are 
still  useful. 
It  is  sometimes  easier  to  see  what  a  certain  term  means  by  com-
paring  it  to  a  related  term-in this  case,  a contrary.  When  we  use  the 
word  pure, we  have  in  mind  physical  and  structural  attributes-like 
27 
The Happenings Are Dead:
Long Live rhe Happenings!
(1966)
Happeni ngs are roday's onl y under gr ound avanr-garde. The end of
rhe Happeni ngs has Leen announced regul arl y since 1958÷alvays Ly
rhose vho have never come near one ÷a nd jusr as regul arl y since rhen
Happeni ngs have Leen spreadi ng around rhe gloLe like some chroni c
vi rus, cunni ngl y avoi di ng rhe f ami l i ar places and occur r i ng vhere rhey
are leasr expecred. ' Whe r e No r To Be Seen: Ar a Ha ppe ni ng, ' advised
Esquire magazi ne a year ago, i n irs annual rvo-page scoreLoard of
vhar's i n and our of hi gh Cul r ur e. Exacr l y! One goes ro rhe Mus e um
of Mo de r n Ar r ro Le seen. The Happeni ngs are rhe one arr acriviry
rhar can escape rhe ineviraLle dearh-Ly-puLl i ci ry ro vhi c h al l orher arr
is condemned, Lecause, designed for a Lri ef life, rhey can never Le
overexposed, rhey are dead, qui re lirerally, every ri me rhey happen. Ar
firsr unconsciously, rhen deliLerarely, rhey played rhe game of pl anned
oLsolescence, jusr Lefore rhe mass medi a Legan ro force rhe condi r i on
dovn rhe rhroar of rhe srandard arrs ( vhi ch can lirrle afford rhe chal -
lenge). For rhese rhe grear quesrion has Lecome, ' H o v l ong can ir
l asr!' For rhe Happeni ngs ir alvays vas, ' H o v ro keep on goi ng! '
Thus underground rook on a differenr meani ng. Wher e once rhe arrisr's
enemy vas rhe s mug Lourgeois, ir vas nov rhe hi ppi e j ournal i sr.
In 1961 I vrore i n an arricle,
To rhe exrenr rhar a Happening is nor a commodiry Lur a Lrief evenr,
from rhe srandpoinr of any puLliciry ir may receive, ir may Lecome a
srare of mi nd. Who vi l l have Leen rhere ar rhar evenr! Ir may Lecome
like rhe sea monsrers of rhe pasr or rhe flying saucers of yesrerday. I
shouldn'r really mi nd, for as rhe nev myrh grovs on irs ovn, virhour
reference ro anyrhing in parricular, rhe arrisr may achieve a Leauriful
59
!"##$ %& %'( "*$ +$ "+
privacy, famed for somerhing purely imaginary vhile free ro explore
somerhing noLody vi l l norice.
The Happeners , jealous of rheir f reedom, deflecr puLl i c arrenrion f rom
vhar rhey acrually do ro a myr h aLour ir insread. The Happeni ng! Ir
vas somevhere, some ri me ago, and Lesides, noLody does rhose rhings
anymore . . .
Ther e are presenrly more rhan forry men and vomen ' d o i ng ' some
ki nd of Ha ppeni ng. They live i n Japan, Hol l a nd, Czechos l ovaki a,
De nma r k, France, Ar genr i na, Sveden, Ger many, Spai n, Aus r r i a, and
Icel and÷as vel l as i n rhe Uni r ed Srares. FroLaLl y ren of r hem are
firsr-rare ralenrs. Moreover, ar leasr a dozen vol umes on or relared ro
rhe suLjecr are currenrl y availaLle: Wo l f Vosrel l , Decollage 4 ( Col ogne,
1964) , puLl i shed Ly rhe aur hor, An Anrhology, edired and puLl i shed Ly
Jackson Ma c L o v and La Monr e Young ( Nev Yor k, 1963), George
Brechr , Warer Yam ( Nev Yor k: Fl uxus FuLl i cari ons, 1963), Fluxus 1,
an anrhol ogy edired Ly George Maci unas ( Ne v Yor k: Fl uxus FuLl i -
carions, 1964), Ri char d Hi ggi ns , Fosrface and Jefferson's Birrhday ( Ne v
Yor k: Somer hi ng Else Fress, 1964), Mi chael Ki r Ly, Happenings ( Ne v
Yor k: Dur r on, 1964), Yoko Ono , Grapefruir ( Long Isl and, N. Y. : Wu n -
r ernaum Fress, 1964), Jrirgen Becker and Wo l f Vosrel l , Happenings,
Fluxus, Fop Arr, Nouveau Realisme ( Ha mLur g: Rovohl r Verl ag, 1965),
Gal eri e Farnass, Wupper r al , 24 Srunden (Verlag Hans en & Hans en,
1965) , A l Hans en, Frimer of Happenings and Time Space Arr ( Nev
Yor k: Somer hi ng Else Fress, 1965), Four Suirs, vorks Ly Fhi l i p Corner,
Al i s on Knovl es , Ben Farrerson, and Tomas Schmi r ( Nev Yor k: Some-
r hi ng Else Fress, 1966), and rhe Wi nr e r 1965 issue of rhe Tulane Drama
Reviev, a special Happeni ngs issue, edired Ly Mi chael Ki r Ly, Tul ane
Uni versi r y, Ne v Orl eans. Jean-Jacques LeLel is aLour ro puLl i sh his
Look i n Faris, and my Look, AssemLlages, Environmenrs, and Happen-
ings ( Nev Yor k: Ha r r y N . ALr ams ) , vi l l Le our rhis spri ng. Besides
rhis gr ovi ng lirerarure, rhere is an i ncreasi ng Li Ll i ography of serious
arricles. These puLl i car i ons ÷and rhe f orry-odd Happener s ÷ar e ex-
r endi ng rhe myr h of an arr rhar is nearly unknovn and, for al l pracri cal
purposes, unknovaLl e.
Hence, ir is i n rhe spirir of rhings ro i nrroduce i nro rhis myr h cerrain
pri nci pl es of acri on, vhi c h voul d have rhe advanrage of hel pi ng ro
mai nr ai n rhe presenr good healrh of rhe Happeni ngs vhi l e ÷a nd I say
rhis vi r h a gr i n Lur vi r hour i rony÷-di scouragi ng direcr eval uari on of
!"
, ! $ (& -,& $(
rheir effecriveness. Insread, rhey voul d Le measured Ly rhe srories rhar
mul r i pl y, Ly rhe pri nr ed scenarios and occasional phorographs of vor ks
rhar have passed on f orever÷and alrogerher voul d evoke an aura of
somer hi ng Lrearhi ng jusr Leyond our i mmedi ar e grasp rarher rhan a
documenr ary record ro Le j udged. In effecr, rhis is calculared rumor,
rhe purpose of vhi c h is ro srimulare as much fanrasy as possiLle, so
l ong as ir leads pr i mar i l y avay f r om rhe arrisrs and rheir affairs. O n
rhis plane, rhe vhol e process rends ro Lecome analogous ro arr. A n d
on rhis plane, so do rhe rules of rhe game:
1. The line Lerveen rhe Happening and daily life should Le kepr as
fluid and perhaps indisrincr as possiLle. The reci procari on Lerveen rhe
handmade and rhe readymade vi l l Le ar irs ma x i mum pover rhis vay.
Tvo cars col l i de on a hi ghvay. Vi ol er l i qui d pours our of rhe Lroken
radi aror of one of r hem, and i n rhe Lack sear of rhe orher rhere is a
huge l oad of dead chickens. The cops check i nro rhe i nci denr, plausiLle
ansvers are gi ven, rov rruck dri vers remove rhe vrecks, cosrs are pai d,
rhe dri vers go home ro di nner . . .
2. Themes, marerials, acrions, and rhe associarions rhey evolve are ro Le
gorren from anyvhere excepr from rhe arrs, rheir derivarives, and rheir
milieu. El i mi nar e rhe arrs, and anyr hi ng rhar even remorel y suggesrs
r hem, as vel l as sreer clear of arr galleries, rhearers, concerr halls, and
orher cul r ural empori a (such as ni ghrcl uLs and coffee houses), and a
separare arr can develop. A n d rhis is rhe goal . Happeni ngs are nor a
composi re or ' r or al ' arr, as Wagneri an opera vi shed ro Le, nor are
rhey even a synrhesis of rhe arrs. Unl i ke mosr of rhe srandard arrs, rheir
source of energy is nor arr, and rhe quasi-arr rhar resulrs alvays con-
rains somer hi ng of rhis uncerrai n idenriry. A U. S. Mari nes ' manual on
j ungl e fighring racrics, a rour of a laLorarory vhere pol yerhyl ene k i d -
neys are made, a rraffic j am on rhe L o ng Island Expressvay are more
useful rhan Beerhoven, Raci ne, or Mi chel angel o.
3. The Happening should Le dispersed over several videly spaced,
somerimes moving and changing, locales. A single performance space
rends ro Le sraric and l i mi r i ng (like pai nr i ng onl y rhe cenrer of a can-
vas). Ir is also rhe convenri on of srage rhearer, prevenri ng rhe use of a
rhousand possiLiliries rhar, for exampl e, rhe movies rake picrures of
Lur, i n rhe final film, can onl y Le varched, nor physically experi enced.
One can experi menr Ly gradual l y vi deni ng rhe disrance Lerveen rhe
evenrs i n a Ha ppeni ng. Fi rsr, ar a numLer of poinrs al ong a heavily
rrafficked avenue, rhen i n several rooms and on several floors of an
!$
!"##$ %& %'( "*$ +$ "+
aparrmenr house vhere some of rhe acriviries are our of rouch vi r h
one anorher, rhen on more rhan one srreer, rhen i n differenr Lur prox-
imare ciries, finally, all around rhe gloLe. Some of rhis may rake place
en roure f rom one area ro anorher, usi ng puLl i c rransporrari on and rhe
mai l s. Thi s vi l l increase rhe rension Lerveen rhe parrs and vi l l also
permi r r hem ro exisr more on rheir ovn vi r hour inrensive coordi nar i on.
4. Time, closely Lound up virh rhings and spaces, should Le variaLle
and independenr of rhe convenrion of conrinuiry. Whar ever is ro happen
shoul d do so i n irs narural ri me, i n conrrasr ro rhe pracrice i n musi c of
arLi rrari l y s l ovi ng dovn or acceleraring occurrences i n keepi ng vi r h
a srrucrural scheme or expressive purpose. Consi der rhe ri me ir rakes
ro Luy a fishing pole i n a Lusy deparrmenr srore jusr Lefore Chri s r mas ,
or rhe ri me ir rakes ro lay rhe foorings for a Lui l di ng. If rhe same people
are engaged i n Lor h, rhen one acrion vi l l have ro vai r for rhe orher ro
Le compl ered. If differenr people perf orm r hem, rhen rhe evenrs may
overlap. The poi nr is rhar all occurrences have rheir ovn r i me. These
may or may nor concur accordi ng ro rhe fairly normari ve needs of rhe
si ruari on. They may concur, for insrance, i f people comi ng f r om di f-
ferenr areas musr meer i n ri me ro rake a r rai n somevhere.
5. The composirion of all marerials, acrions, images, and rheir rimes
and spaces should Le underraken in as arrless and, again, pracrical a vay
as possiLle. Thi s rul e does nor refer ro formlessness, for rhar is i mpos-
siLle, ir means rhe avoidance of f or m rheories associared vi r h rhe arrs
rhar have ro do vi r h arrangemenr per se, such as serial rechni que,
dynami c symmerry, sonner f or m, erc. I f I and orhers have l i nked a
Ha ppe ni ng ro a collage of evenrs, rhen Ti mes Square can also Le seen
rhar vay. Jusr as some collages are arranged ro l ook l i ke classical painr-
ings, orhers r emi nd one of Ti me s Square. Ir depends on vhere rhe
emphasis lies. A Ha ppe ni ng perhaps alludes more ro rhe f or m of
games and sporrs rhan ro rhe forms of arr, i n rhis connecri on ir is useful
ro oLserve hov chi l dren invenr rhe games rhey play. Thei r arrangemenr
is ofren srricr, Lur rheir suLsrance is unencumLered Ly esrherics. C h i l -
dren' s play is also social, rhe conr ri Lur i on of more rhan one chi l d' s idea.
Thus a Ha ppe ni ng can Le composed Ly several persons ro i ncl ude, as
vel l , rhe parri ci pari on of rhe vearher, ani mal s, and insecrs.
6. Happenings should Le unrehearsed and performed Ly nonprofes-
sionals, once only. A cr ovd is ro ear irs vay r hrough a roomf ul of f ood,
a house is Lurned do vn, love lerrers are srrevn over a field and Learen
ro pul p Ly a furure rai n, rvenry renred cars are dri ven avay i n differenr
!%
, ! $ (& -,& $(
di recri ons unr i l rhey r un our of gas . . . No r onl y is ir ofren impossiLl e
and i mpracr i cal ro rehearse and repear siruarions l i ke rhese, Lur ir is
also unnecessary. Unl i ke rhe reperrory arrs, rhe Happeni ngs have a
f reedom rhar lies i n rheir use or realms or acrion rhar cannor Le re-
peared. Fur r her mor e, since no s ki l l is requi red ro enacr rhe evenrs of
a Ha ppe ni ng, rhere is nor hi ng for a professional arhlere or acror ro
demonsrrare (and no one ro appl aud eirher), rhus rhere is no reason ro
rehearse and repear Lecause rhere is nor hi ng ro i mprove. A l l rhar may
Le lefr is rhe value ro oneself.
7. Ir follovs rhar rhere should nor Le (and usually cannor Le) an au-
dience or audiences ro varch a Happening. By vi l l i ngl y parr i ci par i ng i n
a vor k, kno vi ng rhe scenario and rheir ovn parri cul ar duries Lefore-
hand, people Lecome a real and necessary parr of rhe vor k. Ir cannor
exisr vi r hour r hem, as ir cannor exisr vi r hour rhe rai n or rhe rush-hour
suLvay, i f eirher is called for. Al r houg h parricipanrs are unaLle ro do
everyr hi ng and Le i n al l places ar once, rhey knov rhe overal l parrern,
i f nor rhe derails. A n d l i ke agenrs i n an i nrernari onal spy r i ng, rhey
knov, roo, rhar vhar rhey do devoredly vi l l echo and give characrer
ro vhar orhers do elsevhere. A Ha ppe ni ng vi r h onl y an empar hi c
response on rhe parr of a seared audience is nor a Ha ppe ni ng ar a l l , ir
is s i mpl y srage rhearer.
The fine arrs rradi ri onal l y demand for rheir appreci ari on physi cal l y
passive oLservers, vor ki ng vi r h rheir mi nds ro ger ar vhar rheir senses
regisrer. Bur rhe Happeni ngs are an acrive arr, r equi r i ng rhar creari on
and real i zar i on, arr vork and appreciaror, arr vork and life Le insepa-
raLle. Li k e Ac r i on pai nr i ng, f r om vhi c h rhey have deri ved i nspi rar i on,
rhey vi l l proLaLl y appeal ro rhose vho f i nd rhe conrempl ari ve life Ly
irself inadequare.
Bur rhe i mporr ance gi ven ro purposi ve acrion also suggesrs rhe
Happeni ngs ' affiniries vi r h pracrices margi nal ro rhe fine arrs, such as
parades, carni val s, games, expedirions, gui ded rours, orgies, religious
ceremonies, and such secular riruals as rhe elaLorare operarions of rhe
Ma f i a , ci vi l righrs demonsrrari ons, nari onal elecrion campai gns,
Thur s day nighrs ar rhe shoppi ng cenrers of Ame r i c a , rhe hor -rod,
dragsrer, and mororcycl e scene, and, nor leasr, rhe vhol e fanrasric ex-
pl osi on of rhe adverri si ng and communi car i ons indusrry. Each of rhese
plays vi r h rhe marerials of rhe rangiLle vor l d, and rhe resulrs are parrly
conscious ceremonies acred our f r om day ro day. Happeni ngs , freed
f r om rhe resrricrions of convenri onal arr marerials, have discovered rhe
!&
M A I M ' K M M . S ARK ./. A l l
vor l d ar rheir fingerrips, and rhe i nrenri onal resulrs are quasi -ri rual s,
never ro Le repeared. Unl i ke rhe ' cool er ' sryles of Fop, Op , and K i -
nerics, i n vhi c h i magi nar i on is filrered r hrough a specialized me di um
and a pri vi l eged shovpl ace, rhe Happeni ngs do nor merely al l ude ro
vhar is goi ng on i n our Ledrooms, i n rhe drugsrores, and ar rhe air-
porrs, rhey are ri ghr rhere. H o v poi gnanr rhar as far as rhe arrs are
concerned, rhis life aLove gr ound is under gr ound!
!'
THE SIXTIES
himself, returns to put it on his death chair, replaces all the panels, and
then invites his friends to see what he has done.
This act is tragic because the man could not forget art.
Let us imagine the suicide of an obscure painter. It is around 1950.
He lives in a railroad flat in New York and is painting large all-black
canvases. He covers most of the walls with them, and it is quite dark
in his place. Shortly thereafter, he changes to all-white pictures. But
he does a curious thing: he proceeds to seal off each of his rooms with
four paintings constructed to just fit their space, edging the final one
into position as he moves into the next room. He starts in the bedroom
and ends in the kitchen (which lets out to the hallway). There he paints
the same four white panels but doesn't leave. He builds a series of such
cubicles, each within the other, each smaller. He is found dead, sitting
in the innermost one.
Actually, the painter is telling this story to his friends as a project
he has in mind. He sees how attentively they listen to him, and he is
satisfied.
This act is tragic because the man could not forget art.
Experimental art is never tragic. It is a prelude.
Manifesto
(1966)
O nce, the task of the artist was to make good art; now it is to avoid
mak ing art of any kind. Once, the public and critics had to be shown;
now they are full of authority and the artists are full of doubts.
The history of art and esthetics is all on bookshelves. To its plu-
ral ism of values, add the current blurring of boundaries dividing the
a rts, and dividing art from life, and it is clear that the old questions of
defi nition and standards of excellence are not only futile but naive.
Even yesterday's distinctions between art, antiart, and nonart are
pseudo-distinctions that simply waste our time: the side of an old
building recalls Clyfford Still's canvases, the guts of a dishwashing
machine double as Duchamp's Bottle Rack, the voices in a train station
are Jackson MacLow's poems, the sounds of eating in a luncheonette
are by John Cage, and all may be part of a Happening. Moreover, as.
the " found object" implies the found word, noise, or action, it also
demands the found environment. Not only does art become life, but
life refuses to be itself.
The decision to be an artist thus assumes both the existence of a
unique activity and an endless series of deeds that deny It. The decision
immediately establishes the context within which all the artist's acts
may be Judged by others as art and also conditions the artist's percep-

tion of all experience as probably (not possibly) artistic. Anything I say,
do, notice, or think is art-whether or not I intend it-because every-
one else aware of what is occurring today will probably say, do, notice,
and think of it as art at some time or another.
This makes identifying oneself as an artist ironic, an attestation
n ot to talent for a specialized skill, but to a philosophical stance before
el usi ve alternatives of not-quite-art and not -quite-life. Artist refers to
a person willfully enmeshed in the dilemma of categories who per-
forms as if none of them existed. ) f there is no clear difference between
8J
80
THE SIXTIES
himself, returns to put it on his death chair, replaces all the panels, and
then invites his friends to see what he has done.
This act is tragic because the man could not forget art.
Let us imagine the suicide of an obscure painter. It is around 1950.
He lives in a railroad flat in New York and is painting large all-black
canvases. He covers most of the walls with them, and it is quite dark
in his place. Shortly thereafter, he changes to all-white pictures. But
he does a curious thing: he proceeds to seal off each of his rooms with
four paintings constructed to just fit their space, edging the final one
into position as he moves into the next room. He starts in the bedroom
and ends in the kitchen (which lets out to the hallway). There he paints
the same four white panels but doesn't leave. He builds a series of such
cubicles, each within the other, each smaller. He is found dead, sitting
in the innermost one.
Actually, the painter is telling this story to his friends as a project
he has in mind. He sees how attentively they listen to him, and he is
satisfied.
This act is tragic because the man could not forget art.
Experimental art is never tragic. It is a prelude.
Manifesto
(1966)
O nce, the task of the artist was to make good art; now it is to avoid
mak ing art of any kind. Once, the public and critics had to be shown;
now they are full of authority and the artists are full of doubts.
The history of art and esthetics is all on bookshelves. To its plu-
ral ism of values, add the current blurring of boundaries dividing the
a rts, and dividing art from life, and it is clear that the old questions of
defi nition and standards of excellence are not only futile but naive.
Even yesterday's distinctions between art, antiart, and nonart are
pseudo-distinctions that simply waste our time: the side of an old
building recalls Clyfford Still's canvases, the guts of a dishwashing
machine double as Duchamp's Bottle Rack, the voices in a train station
are Jackson MacLow's poems, the sounds of eating in a luncheonette
are by John Cage, and all may be part of a Happening. Moreover, as.
the " found object" implies the found word, noise, or action, it also
demands the found environment. Not only does art become life, but
life refuses to be itself.
The decision to be an artist thus assumes both the existence of a
unique activity and an endless series of deeds that deny It. The decision
immediately establishes the context within which all the artist's acts
may be Judged by others as art and also conditions the artist's percep-

tion of all experience as probably (not possibly) artistic. Anything I say,
do, notice, or think is art-whether or not I intend it-because every-
one else aware of what is occurring today will probably say, do, notice,
and think of it as art at some time or another.
This makes identifying oneself as an artist ironic, an attestation
n ot to talent for a specialized skill, but to a philosophical stance before
el usi ve alternatives of not-quite-art and not -quite-life. Artist refers to
a person willfully enmeshed in the dilemma of categories who per-
forms as if none of them existed. ) f there is no clear difference between
8J
80
THF SIXTIES
an Assemblage with sound and a "Hoise" concert with sights, then
there is no clear difference between an artist and a junkyard dealer.
Although it is commonplace to bring such acts and thoughts to the
gallery, museum, concert hall, stage, or serious bookshop, to do so
bl unts the power inherent in an arena of paradoxes. It restores the
sense of esthetic certainty these milieux once proclaimed in a philistine
society, just as much as it evokes a history of cultural expectations that
run counter to the poignant and absurd nature of art today. Conflict
with the past automatically ensues.
But this is not the issue. Contemporary artists are not out to sup-
plant recent modern art with a better kind; they wonder what art
might be. Art and life are not simply commingled; the identity of each
is uncertain. To pose these questions in the form of acts that are neither
artlike nor lifelike while locating them in the framed context of the
conventional showplace is to suggest that there really are no uncer-
tainties at all: the name on the gallery or stage door assures us that
whatever is contained within is art, and everything else is life.
Speculation: Professional philosophy in the twentieth century, hav-
ing generally removed itself from problems of human conduct and
purpose, plays instead art's late role as professionalistic activity; it could
aptly be called philosophy for philosophy's sake. Existentialism for this
reason is assigned a place closer to social psychology than to philosophy
per se by a majority of academicians, for whom ethics and metaphysics
are a definitional and logical inquiry at best. Paul Valery, acknowledg-
ing the self-analytic tendency of philosophy, and wishing to salvage
from it something of value, suggests that even if Plato and Spinoza
can be refuted, their thoughts remain astonishing works of art. Now,
as art becomes less art, it takes on philosophy's early role as critique of
life. Even if its beauty can be refuted, it remains astonishingly thought-
ful. Precisely because art can be confused with life, it forces attention
upon the aim of its ambiguities, to "reveal" experience.
Philosophy will become steadily more impotent in its search for
verbal knowledge so long as it fails to recognize its own findings: that
only a small fraction of the words we use are precise in meaning; and
only a smaller proportion of these contain meanings in which we are
vitally interested. When words alone are no true index of thought, and
when sense and nonsense rapidly become allusive and layered with
implication rather than description, the use of words as tools to pre-
cisely delimit sense and nonsense may be a worthless endeavor. LSD
82
MAN IFESTO
and LBJ invoke different meaning clusters, but both partake of a need
for code; and code performs the same condensing function as symbol
in poet ry. TV "snow" and Muzak in restaurants are accompaniments
to conscious activity whose sudden withdrawal produces a feeling of
void in the human situation. Contemporary art, which tends to "think"
in multimedia, intermedia, overlays, fusions, and hybridizations, more
closely parall els modern mental life than we have realized. Its judg-
ments, therefore, may be accurate. Art may soon become a meaningless
word. In its place, "communications programming" would be a more
imaginative label, attesting to our new jargon, our technological and
managerial fantasies, and our pervasive electronic contact with one
anot her.
83
THF SIXTIES
an Assemblage with sound and a "Hoise" concert with sights, then
there is no clear difference between an artist and a junkyard dealer.
Although it is commonplace to bring such acts and thoughts to the
gallery, museum, concert hall, stage, or serious bookshop, to do so
bl unts the power inherent in an arena of paradoxes. It restores the
sense of esthetic certainty these milieux once proclaimed in a philistine
society, just as much as it evokes a history of cultural expectations that
run counter to the poignant and absurd nature of art today. Conflict
with the past automatically ensues.
But this is not the issue. Contemporary artists are not out to sup-
plant recent modern art with a better kind; they wonder what art
might be. Art and life are not simply commingled; the identity of each
is uncertain. To pose these questions in the form of acts that are neither
artlike nor lifelike while locating them in the framed context of the
conventional showplace is to suggest that there really are no uncer-
tainties at all: the name on the gallery or stage door assures us that
whatever is contained within is art, and everything else is life.
Speculation: Professional philosophy in the twentieth century, hav-
ing generally removed itself from problems of human conduct and
purpose, plays instead art's late role as professionalistic activity; it could
aptly be called philosophy for philosophy's sake. Existentialism for this
reason is assigned a place closer to social psychology than to philosophy
per se by a majority of academicians, for whom ethics and metaphysics
are a definitional and logical inquiry at best. Paul Valery, acknowledg-
ing the self-analytic tendency of philosophy, and wishing to salvage
from it something of value, suggests that even if Plato and Spinoza
can be refuted, their thoughts remain astonishing works of art. Now,
as art becomes less art, it takes on philosophy's early role as critique of
life. Even if its beauty can be refuted, it remains astonishingly thought-
ful. Precisely because art can be confused with life, it forces attention
upon the aim of its ambiguities, to "reveal" experience.
Philosophy will become steadily more impotent in its search for
verbal knowledge so long as it fails to recognize its own findings: that
only a small fraction of the words we use are precise in meaning; and
only a smaller proportion of these contain meanings in which we are
vitally interested. When words alone are no true index of thought, and
when sense and nonsense rapidly become allusive and layered with
implication rather than description, the use of words as tools to pre-
cisely delimit sense and nonsense may be a worthless endeavor. LSD
82
MAN IFESTO
and LBJ invoke different meaning clusters, but both partake of a need
for code; and code performs the same condensing function as symbol
in poet ry. TV "snow" and Muzak in restaurants are accompaniments
to conscious activity whose sudden withdrawal produces a feeling of
void in the human situation. Contemporary art, which tends to "think"
in multimedia, intermedia, overlays, fusions, and hybridizations, more
closely parall els modern mental life than we have realized. Its judg-
ments, therefore, may be accurate. Art may soon become a meaningless
word. In its place, "communications programming" would be a more
imaginative label, attesting to our new jargon, our technological and
managerial fantasies, and our pervasive electronic contact with one
anot her.
83
Finpoinring Happenings
(1967)
F r o m nov on, rhose vho voul d vri r e or speak i nrel l i genrl y aLour
Happeni ngs musr declare vhar sorr of phenomenon rhey are ref erri ng
ro. Happening is a househol d vor d, yer ir means almosr anyr hi ng ro
rhe households rhar hear ir and use ir. Cons i der rhe f ol l ovi ng:
A fev seasons ago, an issue of rhe Nev RepuLlic virh a lead arricle
on rhe polirical campaign of BoLLy Kennedy, announced on rhe
cover: 'BoLLy Kennedy Is a Happening. '
Hovard Moody, a minisrer ar Nev York's Judson Church, senr me
a reprinr of an excellenr sermon called 'Chrisrmas Is a Happeni ng. '
Disc jockey Murray The K once puncruared his hyped-up delivery
virh 'Ir's vhar's happening, LaLy!' In his nev joL, virh his nov
carefully modulared voice, he grooms rhe call-lerrers of W O R - F M ,
' The Happening Srarion.'
A cosmerics commercial, composed of a svirl of gimmicky, sugges-
rive noises leading ro rhe name of rhe producr, ends sexily, 'Thar vas
a Happeni ng÷Ly Revlon.'
Manharran's former parks commissioner, inauguraring rhe Grear
Year of rhe Spirirual Thav, sponsored painr-ins, reserved rhe park
for cyclisrs on Sundays, flev kires in Sheep Meadov, had a varer
splash on rhe lake, demonsrrared some fancy ice skaring, made snov-
Lall rhroving official, invired rhe puLlic ro a srargazing, and rhrough-
our gave rhe ciry a phrase ro explain ir all: 'Hoving' s Happenings.'
Hi ppi e groups, discorheques, FTA meerings, Rorary Cl uL ourings,
a popular rock-and-roll Land, a hir record Ly rhe Supremes, a parry
game kir, and ar leasr rvo regular-run movies÷all are called Hap-
penings.
!"
!" #!$" #%" #& ()! ! * #" #&+
The Sarurday "#$%#& asked recenrly in a fearure arricle i f Ameri -
can hisrory vas nor a Happening, rhere vas even a nevs analysr lasr
vinrer vho cynically judged our var in Viernam as 'a Happening
gone our of conrrol.'
Bur everyrhing came rogerher one Sunday in January. In rhe Nev
Yorf[ Times Magazine, a piece on furnirure design vas rirled '1966
Was a Happening. ' Ir summed up an enrire year of our lives. The
clear implicarion vas rhar life irself is a Happening. And in a special
sense perhaps ir is, alrhough vhar rhis sense is vi l l have ro come larer.
Wha r do rhe fifry or so Happeners around rhe vor l d r hi nk a Ha ppe n-
i ng is! W i r h r hem, roo, rhe variery of opi ni on is di sconcerri ng. Mos r ,
i ncl udi ng myself, have rri ed ro ger r i d of rhe vor d Happening, Lur rhis
seems furile Ly nov. Gr a nr i ng a cerrain amounr of oversi mpl i f i car i on,
roughl y six direcrions appear prevalenr. Amo n g r hem rhere is a fair
amounr of overl appi ng and a conri nuous recomLi nar i on. As di ffi cul r
as ir may Le ro find a pure Ha ppeni ng of each sorr, hovever, furure
crirics vi l l find ir useful ro idenrify as nearly as possiLle rhe ki nd of
vor k rhey are r al ki ng aLour. ( There is as much difference Lerveen
some Happeni ngs as rhere is Lerveen Beerhoven and Hershey' s choc-
olare Lars.)
Fi rs r rhere is rhe Nighr CluL or Cocl[ Fighr or Focker Drama sryle,
i n vhi c h smal l audiences meer i n cellars, rooms, or srudios. They press
close around rhe performers and are occasionally dr avn i nro rhe acri on
i n some si mpl e vay. Jazz may Le pl ayed, a coupl e may make love, food
may Le cooked, a film may Le proj ecred, furni rure may Le Larrered ro
Lirs or paper rorn ro shreds, dancel i ke movemenrs may occur, lighrs
may change color, poerry or vords of all ki nds may pour forrh f r om
loudspeakers, perhaps superi mposed or i n unusual order. Thr oughour ,
a mood of inrense i nri macy prevails.
A n exrension of rhis rype of Ha ppeni ng is rhe Exrravaganza. Fre-
senred on srages and i n arenas ro large audiences, ir rakes rhe f or m of
a fairly l avi sh compendi um of rhe moder n ar r s ÷vi r h dancers, acrors,
poers, painrers, musi ci ans, and so f orrh al l conr ri Lur i ng ralenrs. In Lasic
concepr (proLaLly unconsciously) rhe Exr ravaganza is an updared
Wagner i an opera, a GesamrJ(unsrverf(. Irs characrer and merhods, hov-
ever, are usually more l i ghrhearred, resemLl i ng rhree-ri ng circuses and
vaudevi l l e revievs i n rhe vay rhar rhese vere developed Ly Da da and
Surrealisr anrecedenrs. Thi s Ha ppeni ng is rhe onl y ki nd vi r h vhi c h
% ( * +" ,%" *+
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,-(.(/)01- 23 4(&0)* 560/7809
rhe puLl i c has any f ami l i ari ry and, i nci denral l y, vi r h vhi c h ir feels
some degree of comf orr. War ered dovn, ir has emerged as rhe srock-
i n-rrade of rhe discorheque and psychedelic scene.
The n rhere is rhe Evenr, i n vhi c h an audience, again usually seared
i n a rhearer, varches a Lri ef occurrence such as a single l i ghr goi ng on
and off or a r rumper soundi ng vhi l e a Lal l oon emerges f r om irs Lel l
unr i l ir Lursrs. Or rhere is a prol ongar i on of a uni rary acrion such as a
man va l ki ng Lack and forrh across rhe srage for r vo hours. Mos r
frequenrly, deadpan vi r joins, or alrernares vi r h, di sci pl i ned arrenrive-
ness ro smal l or normal l y uni mporr anr phenomena.
Nexr is rhe Guided Tour or Fied Fiper ki nd of Ha ppeni ng. A
selecred group of people is led r hrough rhe counrrysi de or around a
ciry, r hr ough Lui l di ngs, Lackyards, parks, and shops. The y oLserve
rhi ngs, are gi ven i nsrrucri ons, are lecrured ro, discover rhi ngs happen-
!$
!" #!$" #%" #& ()! ! * #" #&+
i ng ro r hem. In rhis mode, rhe i nrended focus upon a mi xr ure of rhe
commonpl ace and rhe fanrasric makes rhe j ourney a moder n equi val enr
ro Danre' s spi ri rual one. The crearor of rhis Ha ppeni ng, more rhan a
mere cicerone, is i n effecr a Vi r g i l vi r h a message.
The fifrh is almosr enri rely menr al . Ir is Idea arr or lirerary Sug-
gesrion vhen ir is vri r r en dovn i n irs usual f or m of shorr nores. 'Ir's
r ai ni ng i n Tokyo' , ' F i l l a glass of varer for r vo days', ' Ove r rhere',
and ' Re d l i ghr on rhe Br ookl yn Br i dge' are examples. They may Le
enacred Lur need nor Le (and ofren are nor). They f ol l ov rhe Duc ha mp-
i an i mpl i car i on rhar arr is vhar is i n rhe mi nd of rhe Leholder, vho
can make arr or nonarr ar vi l l , a rhoughr is as valuaLle as an acri on.
The mere nor i on rhar rhe vor l d is f ul l of ready-made acriviries permi rs
one qui re seriously ro ' s i gn' rhe vhol e earrh, or any parr of ir, vi r hour
acrually doi ng a r hi ng. The responsiLiliry for such quasi-arr is rhus
r hr ovn enrirely upon rhe shoulders of any i ndi vi dual vho cares ro
accepr ir. The resr is pr i mar i l y conrempl ari ve Lur may lead i n ri me ro
meani ngf ul acri on.
The si xrh and lasr ki nd of Ha ppe ni ng is rhe Acriviry rype. Ir is
di recrl y i nvol ved i n rhe everyday vor l d, ignores rhearers and audiences,
is more acrive rhan medi rari ve, and is close i n spirir ro physi cal sporrs,
ceremonies, fairs, mounr ai n cl i mLi ng, var games, and pol i ri cal dem-
onsrrarions. Ir also parrakes of rhe unconscious dai l y riruals of rhe
supermarker, suLvay ride ar rush hour, and r oor hLrushi ng every mor n-
i ng. The Acr i vi r y Ha ppe ni ng selecrs and comLi nes siruarions ro Le
parri ci pared i n, rarher rhan varched or jusr rhoughr aLour.
O f rhe six caregories of Ha ppeni ng, rhe lasr appears ro me mosr com-
pel l i ng, i f i ndeed mosr risky. Ir is rhe leasr encumLered Ly arrisric
precedenrs and rhe leasr professionalisric, ir is free, rherefore, ro con-
fronr rhe quesri on raised earlier, vherher life is a Ha ppe ni ng or a
Ha ppe ni ng is an arr of life. As k i ng rhe quesrion seems preferaLle ro
def endi ng rhe Ha ppe ni ng f r om rhe very srarr as an arr f or m. The
Acr i vi r y rype is risky Lecause ir easily loses rhe clariry of irs paradoxi cal
posi ri on of Lei ng arr-life or life-arr. HaLi r may lead Happeners ro
depend on cerrain favored siruarions and ro perfecr r hem i n rhe manner
of convenri onal arrisrs. Or rheir choices may Lecome so i ndi s r i ngui s h-
aLle f r om dai l y evenrs rhar parri ci pari on degenerares i nro rouri ne and
E @
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indifference. Ei r her vay, rhey vi l l have losr rhe handshake Lerveen
rhemselves, rheir co-parricipanrs, and rhe envi ronmenr .
Ir is possiLle nov ro consider rhe difference Lerveen rhe Ha ppe ni ng
and an adverri si ng campai gn, a commur er rrai n ri de, rhe srock ex-
change. Or i f rhese seem roo pros ai c÷nor vi r hs r andi ng rhe del i Ler-
arely prosaic qual i ry of some Happeni ngs ÷r her e is rhe recenr Al as ka
earrhquake, rhe Candy Mossi er mur der r ri al , rhe Buddhi s r monk vho
Lurned hi ms el f i n Sai gon, and, for pi quanr relief, rhe Ma d Li r r er Lug
vho peri odi cal l y covers several ciry Ll ocks i n Ne v Yor k vi r h paper
curours.
Cl ear l y none of rhese examples vas i ni r i al l y a Happeni ng. Yer any
of r hem could Le i f some Happener vi shed ro i ncl ude r hem. The
di sr i ncr i on is si mpl y rhar of assigning a nev or mul r i pl e ser of funcrions
ro a si ruari on normal l y Lound Ly convenr i on, ar rhe very leasr, ir is rhe
consciousness of rhis possiLiliry. We mi ghr i magi ne rhar Ca ndy Mossi er
vas a female i mpersonaror vhose every appearance i n rhe nevspapers
caused rhose i n rhe Ha ppeni ng ro dress as she di d and pri varely rape-
record rheir rhoughrs. These vere larer senr ro ' Mr s . ' Mossi er, signed
vi r h her name and address.
A Ha ppe ni ng is alvays a purposi ve acriviry, vherher ir is gamel i ke,
ri rual i sri c, or purel y conrempl ari ve. (Ir may even have as irs purpose
no purpose.) Ha v i ng a purpose may Le a vay of payi ng arrenri on ro
vhar is commonl y nor nori ced. Furpose i mpl i es a selecrive operari on
for every Ha ppeni ng, l i mi r i ng ir ro cerrain siruarions our of counrless
opri ons. The selecrions i ndi vi dual Happeners make are as personal as
rhei r influence upon lesser figures is oLvious. The expressive characrer
of rhe selecrion of image-siruarions may Le asserrive or passive, Lur rhe
choice irself suggesrs value: vhar is presenred is vor r hvhi l e i n some
vay. Wha r is lefr our, Ly virrue of irs very excl usi on, is less vor r hvhi l e
for rhe ri me Lei ng: ir is vi r hhel d f r om our arrenrion. If life can Le a
Ha ppe ni ng, ir is onl y a smal l porr i on of life rhar can Le apprehended
as one, and onl y a Happener vi l l make rhe decision ro so apprehend
ir. I f ve vere speaki ng of pai nr i ng or musi c, vhar I am saying voul d
seem rrui sri c. Bur rhe vasr and gi ddy nonsense aLour vhar Happeni ngs
are makes ir necessary ro poi nr ro some of rheir acrual characrerisrics.
Li ke muc h social endeavor, and l i ke al l crearive endeavor, Ha p -
penings are mor al acriviry, i f onl y Ly i mpl i car i on. Mor a l i nrel l i gence,
i n conrrasr ro mor al i s m or s er moni zi ng, comes alive i n a field of press-
!!
!" #!$" #%" #& ()! ! * #" #&+
i ng alrernarives. Mo r a l cerrainry rends ro Le ar Lesr pious and senri-
menr al , and ar vorsr pierisric. The Happeni ngs i n rheir various modes
resemLle rhe Lesr efforrs of conr emporary i nqui ry i nro i denri ry and
meani ng, for rhey rake rheir srand ami d rhe moder n i nf ormar i on del -
uge. In rhe face of such a pl erhora of choices, rhey may Le among rhe
mosr responsiLle acrs of our ri me.
!%
The Shape of the  Art Environment 
(1968) 
Robert  Morris's  article  "An t i  Form"  (Art/orum 6,  no.  8lI968],  33-35) 
identifies  some  formal  problems  that  remain  unresolved.  The  first  is 
suggested  by  the  tide itself.  Despite its  dramatic promi se,  there  is  noth -
ing  militant  in  Morris's  words  or  in  his  works,  nothing  that  could  be 
construed  as  taking  a  stand  against form.  So  it  is  not  clear  what  is 
meant  by  antiform, unless  it  means  "nonform,"  and  if  that  quieter 
term  is  what  is  implied,  it  should  be  obvious  that  although  someone 
might  be  against  form  from  an  ideological  standpoint,  the  nonformal 
alternative  is  no  less  formal  than  the  formal  enemy.  Literal  nonform, 
like  chaos,  is  impossible.  [n  fact  it  is  inconceivable.  The  structure  of 
the  cerebral  cortex  and  all  our  biological  functions  permit  us  only 
patterned  responses  and  thoughts  of one  kind  or another.  For cultural 
and  personal  reasons,  we  may  prefer  this  pattern  to  that  one-say  a 
pile  of shit  to  a  series  of cubes-but  they  are  equally  formal ,  equally 
anal yzable.  . 
Thus  Morris's  pile  of felt  batting  (which  I  hasten  to  say  I  like  very 
much) is  an arrangement of uniformly colored,  uniformly  toned  pieces 
of similar  material  (Fig.  12).  In  its  loops  and  folds  the  distribution  of 
gentle  curves  and  hairpin  turns  is  about  the  same  throughout.  The 
extent  to  which  Morris caused  the  felt  to  assume  these  forms  or simply 
let  the  felt  arrange  itself out  of its  own  physical  nature  does  not  alter 
its  evident form.  What matters here is  that there is  an observable theme 
and  variation  at  work,  occurring.  however,  in  the  absence  of  strin 
hierarchies  as  developed  by  the  all -over  tradition  of  the  last  twenty 
years.  Furthermore,  the  whole  configuration,  viewed  in  the  photo-
graph,  is  an  approximately  symmetrical  bat-like  shape  with  an  A-B-
A  division  at  the  top,  or  wall,  zone.  It  appears, also,  that  the  length  of 
this upper zone closely echoes that of the zone on  (he Aoor.  Consistency 
9

THE.  SHAP E  O F  T H E  ART  ENVllt ON ME. NT 
Fig.  12  Robert  Morris.  Untilled. 1967-68.  Felt  pieces .  Ph olOgmph COUriesy Leo
Casulli Gallery, New York·
prevails, and  prevails, and prevails; there is  neither pretense to antiform 
nor  nonform. 
It  can  be  argued  that  this  analysis  is  not  holistic  enough  for  our 
new  sensibilities,  that  it  is  a  relational  analysis  superimposed  on  the 
sculpture.  But  the  answer  to  that  argument  must  be  that  no  one  can 
see  this  sculpture  in  any  other  way  than  through  its  formal  relation-
ships  because of how  it  was originally  made, and  how  it  is  now shown 
in  a  magazine  reproduction.  The  reasons  for  this  constraint  follow. 
9! 
The Shape of the  Art Environment 
(1968) 
Robert  Morris's  article  "An t i  Form"  (Art/orum 6,  no.  8lI968],  33-35) 
identifies  some  formal  problems  that  remain  unresolved.  The  first  is 
suggested  by  the  tide itself.  Despite its  dramatic promi se,  there  is  noth -
ing  militant  in  Morris's  words  or  in  his  works,  nothing  that  could  be 
construed  as  taking  a  stand  against form.  So  it  is  not  clear  what  is 
meant  by  antiform, unless  it  means  "nonform,"  and  if  that  quieter 
term  is  what  is  implied,  it  should  be  obvious  that  although  someone 
might  be  against  form  from  an  ideological  standpoint,  the  nonformal 
alternative  is  no  less  formal  than  the  formal  enemy.  Literal  nonform, 
like  chaos,  is  impossible.  [n  fact  it  is  inconceivable.  The  structure  of 
the  cerebral  cortex  and  all  our  biological  functions  permit  us  only 
patterned  responses  and  thoughts  of one  kind  or another.  For cultural 
and  personal  reasons,  we  may  prefer  this  pattern  to  that  one-say  a 
pile  of shit  to  a  series  of cubes-but  they  are  equally  formal ,  equally 
anal yzable.  . 
Thus  Morris's  pile  of felt  batting  (which  I  hasten  to  say  I  like  very 
much) is  an arrangement of uniformly colored,  uniformly  toned  pieces 
of similar  material  (Fig.  12).  In  its  loops  and  folds  the  distribution  of 
gentle  curves  and  hairpin  turns  is  about  the  same  throughout.  The 
extent  to  which  Morris caused  the  felt  to  assume  these  forms  or simply 
let  the  felt  arrange  itself out  of its  own  physical  nature  does  not  alter 
its  evident form.  What matters here is  that there is  an observable theme 
and  variation  at  work,  occurring.  however,  in  the  absence  of  strin 
hierarchies  as  developed  by  the  all -over  tradition  of  the  last  twenty 
years.  Furthermore,  the  whole  configuration,  viewed  in  the  photo-
graph,  is  an  approximately  symmetrical  bat-like  shape  with  an  A-B-
A  division  at  the  top,  or  wall,  zone.  It  appears, also,  that  the  length  of 
this upper zone closely echoes that of the zone on  (he Aoor.  Consistency 
9

THE.  SHAP E  O F  T H E  ART  ENVllt ON ME. NT 
Fig.  12  Robert  Morris.  Untilled. 1967-68.  Felt  pieces .  Ph olOgmph COUriesy Leo
Casulli Gallery, New York·
prevails, and  prevails, and prevails; there is  neither pretense to antiform 
nor  nonform. 
It  can  be  argued  that  this  analysis  is  not  holistic  enough  for  our 
new  sensibilities,  that  it  is  a  relational  analysis  superimposed  on  the 
sculpture.  But  the  answer  to  that  argument  must  be  that  no  one  can 
see  this  sculpture  in  any  other  way  than  through  its  formal  relation-
ships  because of how  it  was originally  made, and  how  it  is  now shown 
in  a  magazine  reproduction.  The  reasons  for  this  constraint  follow. 
9! 
THE SIXTIES
They  point  directly  ro  the  second,  major,  formal  problem:  how  to  get 
free  of the  rectangle. 
Morris's  new  work,  and  that  of  the  other  artists  illustrating  his 
article,  was  made  in  a  rectangular  studio,  to  be  shown  in  a  rectangular 
gallery,  reproduced  in  a  rectangular  magazine,  in  rectangular  photo-
graphs, all  aligned  according to  rectangular axes,  for  rectangular  read -
ing  movements  and  rectangular  thought  patterns.  (It  is  for  good  and 
sufficient  reason  that  we  are  all  "squares.")  Morris's  works,  Pollock's, 
Oldenburg's, and  so  forth,  function  strictly  in  contrast  to,  or  now  and 
then  in  conflict  with,  their enframing spaces.  Ruled  lines  and  measur-
able  corners  in  such  spaces  tell  us  how  far,  how  big,  how  soft,  how 
atmospheric, indeed  how "amorphous" an artwork is  within these  lines 
and  corners.  Rectilinearity,  by  definition,  is  relational;  and  so  long  as 
we  live  in  a  world  dominated  by  this  and  other  part-to-whole  geo-
metrical  figures,  we  cannot  talk  about  antiform  or  non form  except as 
one  type  of form  in  relation  ro  another  (rectilinear)  type. 
Morris  may  not  have  been  in  New  York  during the  mid-fifties  and 
early  sixties  to  see  the  Environments  and  environmental  settings  for 
Happenings made by  Dine, Oldenburg, Whitman, and me. These were 
akin  to  his  present  interests,  except  that  they  employed  a  great  variety 
of  media.  Following  shortly  on  the  sprawling,  limitless  impulses  of 
Abstract  Expressionism,  they  were  composed  of a  preponderance  of 
fragile,  soft,  and  irregular  materials  such  as  wire  mesh,  plastic  film, 
cardboard, straw,  rags,  newspapers,  rubber  sheets,  tin  foil,  and  a  good 
amount of plain debris. Such materials  immediately led  to casual, loose 
arrangements.  Oldenburg's current sculpture has its  roots  in  his  floppy 
carton board,  papier-macht, and  gunnysack figures  of those  days. 
Unlike  sculpture,  however,  which  has  a  relieving  space  around  it, 
these Environments tended to fill,  and often actually did fill,  thei r entire 
containing areas,  nearly  obliterating  the  ruled  definition of the  rooms. 
And  although  the  artists  may  have  had  concerns  more  pressing  than 
that of keeping  their  activities  from  being subordinated  to an architec-
tu ral  enclosure,  the  thought  was  in  the  air  and  the  treatment  of room 
surfaces  was  pretty carefree. The im portant fact  was  that almost eve ry-
thing  was  built  into  the  space  it  was  shown  in,  not  transported  from 
studio  to  showcase.  This allowed  a  far  more  thorough  transformation 
of a  particular  loft or  storefront, and  it  doubtless encouraged  a  greater 
familiarity  with  the  effects  of  materials  and  environment  upon  each 
other.  Nevertheless,  it  was apparent from  conversations at the time that 
9

THE SH.'\PE OF TilE ,\RT ENVIRONMf: N T
no  matter how casual  and  organic  the  arrangemen t of material s  might 
be, a  house, a  wall, a  floor,  a  ceiling, a  pavement, a city  block  was  there 
first  and  last. 
Most  humans,  it  seems,  still  put  up  fences  around  their  acts  and 
t houghts-even  when  these  are  piles  of shit-for  they  have  no  other 
way of delimiting  them.  Contrast  Paleolithic  cave  paintings,  in  which 
animals and  magical  markings are overlayed  with no differentiation or 
sense of framing.  But when some of us  have worked  in  natural settings, 
say  in  a  meadow,  woods,  or  mountain  range,  our cultural  training  has 
been so deeply ingrained that we have simply carried a mental rectangle 
wi t h  us  to drop  around  whatever  we  were doing.  This  made  us  feel  at 
home.  (Even  aerial  navigation  is  plotted  geometrically,  thus giving  the 
air  a  "shape.") 
It  will  be  a  while  before  anyone  will  be  able  to  work  equally  with 
or  without geometry as  a  defining  mechanism.  That is,  I  see  no  neces-
sity  to  give  up  one  in  favor  of  the  other;  amplification  of  different 
possibilities  would  seem  more  desirable.  The  notion  of antiform  now 
may  mean  only  antigeometry,  a  rephrasing  of  the  formlessness  that 
preoccupied  the ancients from  the Egyptians onward. As such, Morris's 
interest is  part of a long tradition. That his new work is  first-rate should 
not  obscure  the  im plications  this  trad ition  holds  out for  contem porary 
art.  Ar tists  really  pursuing  the  palpable experience  of the  measureless, 
the  indeterminate,  the  use  of  nonrigid  materials,  process,  the  deem-
phasis of formal  esthetics,  would find  it  very  difficult  to  do so  in  gallery 
and  museum  boxes or their equivalents. For these  would only  maintain 
t he  conventional  dualism  of the  stable  versus  the  unstable,  the  closed 
versus  the  open,  the  regular  versus  the  organic,  the  ideal  versus  the 
real, and  so  on. 
F inally,  besides  the  structure  of the  room,  there  is  one  other  im-
port:lI1t  physical  component  of  the  art  environment :  the  spectator(s). 
T heir  particular  shape,  color,  number,  proximity  to  the  painting(s)  or 
sc ulpture(s),  and  relation  to  each  other  when  there  is  more  than  one 
person  wi ll  markedly  affect  the  appearance  and  "feel"  of the  work(s) 
in  question . This  is  not  just  a  matter  of shifting  amounts  of reflected 
colo red  light and  cast  shadows;  it  is  that people, like  anything else  in  a 
room of artworks, are  additional elements  within  the  field  of anyone's 
vision.  At  best,  they  are  censored  out  imperfectly.  Yet  far  from  being 
independent  of  the  art  and  gallery,  the  movements  and  responses  of 
the  spectator(s)  are  subject  to  the  shape  and  scale  of that gallery. They 
93 
THE SIXTIES
They  point  directly  ro  the  second,  major,  formal  problem:  how  to  get 
free  of the  rectangle. 
Morris's  new  work,  and  that  of  the  other  artists  illustrating  his 
article,  was  made  in  a  rectangular  studio,  to  be  shown  in  a  rectangular 
gallery,  reproduced  in  a  rectangular  magazine,  in  rectangular  photo-
graphs, all  aligned  according to  rectangular axes,  for  rectangular  read -
ing  movements  and  rectangular  thought  patterns.  (It  is  for  good  and 
sufficient  reason  that  we  are  all  "squares.")  Morris's  works,  Pollock's, 
Oldenburg's, and  so  forth,  function  strictly  in  contrast  to,  or  now  and 
then  in  conflict  with,  their enframing spaces.  Ruled  lines  and  measur-
able  corners  in  such  spaces  tell  us  how  far,  how  big,  how  soft,  how 
atmospheric, indeed  how "amorphous" an artwork is  within these  lines 
and  corners.  Rectilinearity,  by  definition,  is  relational;  and  so  long  as 
we  live  in  a  world  dominated  by  this  and  other  part-to-whole  geo-
metrical  figures,  we  cannot  talk  about  antiform  or  non form  except as 
one  type  of form  in  relation  ro  another  (rectilinear)  type. 
Morris  may  not  have  been  in  New  York  during the  mid-fifties  and 
early  sixties  to  see  the  Environments  and  environmental  settings  for 
Happenings made by  Dine, Oldenburg, Whitman, and me. These were 
akin  to  his  present  interests,  except  that  they  employed  a  great  variety 
of  media.  Following  shortly  on  the  sprawling,  limitless  impulses  of 
Abstract  Expressionism,  they  were  composed  of a  preponderance  of 
fragile,  soft,  and  irregular  materials  such  as  wire  mesh,  plastic  film, 
cardboard, straw,  rags,  newspapers,  rubber  sheets,  tin  foil,  and  a  good 
amount of plain debris. Such materials  immediately led  to casual, loose 
arrangements.  Oldenburg's current sculpture has its  roots  in  his  floppy 
carton board,  papier-macht, and  gunnysack figures  of those  days. 
Unlike  sculpture,  however,  which  has  a  relieving  space  around  it, 
these Environments tended to fill,  and often actually did fill,  thei r entire 
containing areas,  nearly  obliterating  the  ruled  definition of the  rooms. 
And  although  the  artists  may  have  had  concerns  more  pressing  than 
that of keeping  their  activities  from  being subordinated  to an architec-
tu ral  enclosure,  the  thought  was  in  the  air  and  the  treatment  of room 
surfaces  was  pretty carefree. The im portant fact  was  that almost eve ry-
thing  was  built  into  the  space  it  was  shown  in,  not  transported  from 
studio  to  showcase.  This allowed  a  far  more  thorough  transformation 
of a  particular  loft or  storefront, and  it  doubtless encouraged  a  greater 
familiarity  with  the  effects  of  materials  and  environment  upon  each 
other.  Nevertheless,  it  was apparent from  conversations at the time that 
9

THE SH.'\PE OF TilE ,\RT ENVIRONMf: N T
no  matter how casual  and  organic  the  arrangemen t of material s  might 
be, a  house, a  wall, a  floor,  a  ceiling, a  pavement, a city  block  was  there 
first  and  last. 
Most  humans,  it  seems,  still  put  up  fences  around  their  acts  and 
t houghts-even  when  these  are  piles  of shit-for  they  have  no  other 
way of delimiting  them.  Contrast  Paleolithic  cave  paintings,  in  which 
animals and  magical  markings are overlayed  with no differentiation or 
sense of framing.  But when some of us  have worked  in  natural settings, 
say  in  a  meadow,  woods,  or  mountain  range,  our cultural  training  has 
been so deeply ingrained that we have simply carried a mental rectangle 
wi t h  us  to drop  around  whatever  we  were doing.  This  made  us  feel  at 
home.  (Even  aerial  navigation  is  plotted  geometrically,  thus giving  the 
air  a  "shape.") 
It  will  be  a  while  before  anyone  will  be  able  to  work  equally  with 
or  without geometry as  a  defining  mechanism.  That is,  I  see  no  neces-
sity  to  give  up  one  in  favor  of  the  other;  amplification  of  different 
possibilities  would  seem  more  desirable.  The  notion  of antiform  now 
may  mean  only  antigeometry,  a  rephrasing  of  the  formlessness  that 
preoccupied  the ancients from  the Egyptians onward. As such, Morris's 
interest is  part of a long tradition. That his new work is  first-rate should 
not  obscure  the  im plications  this  trad ition  holds  out for  contem porary 
art.  Ar tists  really  pursuing  the  palpable experience  of the  measureless, 
the  indeterminate,  the  use  of  nonrigid  materials,  process,  the  deem-
phasis of formal  esthetics,  would find  it  very  difficult  to  do so  in  gallery 
and  museum  boxes or their equivalents. For these  would only  maintain 
t he  conventional  dualism  of the  stable  versus  the  unstable,  the  closed 
versus  the  open,  the  regular  versus  the  organic,  the  ideal  versus  the 
real, and  so  on. 
F inally,  besides  the  structure  of the  room,  there  is  one  other  im-
port:lI1t  physical  component  of  the  art  environment :  the  spectator(s). 
T heir  particular  shape,  color,  number,  proximity  to  the  painting(s)  or 
sc ulpture(s),  and  relation  to  each  other  when  there  is  more  than  one 
person  wi ll  markedly  affect  the  appearance  and  "feel"  of the  work(s) 
in  question . This  is  not  just  a  matter  of shifting  amounts  of reflected 
colo red  light and  cast  shadows;  it  is  that people, like  anything else  in  a 
room of artworks, are  additional elements  within  the  field  of anyone's 
vision.  At  best,  they  are  censored  out  imperfectly.  Yet  far  from  being 
independent  of  the  art  and  gallery,  the  movements  and  responses  of 
the  spectator(s)  are  subject  to  the  shape  and  scale  of that gallery. They 
93 
THE SIXTIES
can walk only so far from a sculpture anJ no farther; and they will
govern their walking by a nearly conscious alignment with the art
object's axial ties to the gallery. This can be readily verified by obser-
vation. Any casual meanderings on their part will thus be the formal
equivalent within the exhibition floor area of, say, Pollock's drips within
the canvas area. The rectangle maintains its primacy in all cases.
If we commonly understand that environmental factors affect per-
sonality formation as well as society as a whole, we should also expect
them to have an impact on the form of an artwork. As a patch of given
color changes its identity, or "form," on different grounds, an artwork
changes according to the shape, scale, and contents of its envelope.
Additional considerations of psychological and sociological factors,
namely the thoughts and attitudes viewers bring with them to the work
of an, although outside the immediate scope of this essay, are extremely
important because they, too, contribute to the formal structure of the
smallest statue.
It may be proposed that the social context and surroundings of an
are more potent, more meaningful, more demanding of an artist's at-
tention than the art itselfl Put differently, it's not what artists touch
that counts most. It's what they don't touch.
PART THREE
THE SEVENTIES
94
THE SIXTIES
can walk only so far from a sculpture anJ no farther; and they will
govern their walking by a nearly conscious alignment with the art
object's axial ties to the gallery. This can be readily verified by obser-
vation. Any casual meanderings on their part will thus be the formal
equivalent within the exhibition floor area of, say, Pollock's drips within
the canvas area. The rectangle maintains its primacy in all cases.
If we commonly understand that environmental factors affect per-
sonality formation as well as society as a whole, we should also expect
them to have an impact on the form of an artwork. As a patch of given
color changes its identity, or "form," on different grounds, an artwork
changes according to the shape, scale, and contents of its envelope.
Additional considerations of psychological and sociological factors,
namely the thoughts and attitudes viewers bring with them to the work
of an, although outside the immediate scope of this essay, are extremely
important because they, too, contribute to the formal structure of the
smallest statue.
It may be proposed that the social context and surroundings of an
are more potent, more meaningful, more demanding of an artist's at-
tention than the art itselfl Put differently, it's not what artists touch
that counts most. It's what they don't touch.
PART THREE
THE SEVENTIES
94
TilE SEVENTIES
archs, who was asked what it felt like to be enlightened. His answer
was, "I found out that I was just as miserable as ever." Considering
Duchamp's work specifically, the Large Glass, though a major piece of
art and a summary of his early interests as a painter, is nevertheless
not particularly helpful for the present. It is a late Symbolist conceit
over which academics hover, seeking linguistic riddles and cabalistic
import (both are there, along with the latest racing poop sheet). But it
remains a hermetic exercise, a picture, in the old sense, of a world
contained within itself. The best part of the Glass is that it is a win-
dowpane to look through; its actual configurations are forced into
accord with the visible environment beyond them, for instance, a
chocolate-grinder diagram superimposed on a kid picking his nose.
His Readymades, however, are radically useful contributions to the
current scene. If simply calling a snow shovel a work of art makes it
that, the same goes for all of New York City, or the Vietnam war, or
a pedantic article on Marcel Duchamp. All the environmental pieces,
Activities, slice-of-life video works, Information pieces, and Art-Tech
shows we've become accus[Omed to owe their existence [0 Duchamp's
idea about a snow shovel.
Conversely, sInce any nonan can be art after the appropriate cer-
emonial announcement, any art, theoreti ca lly, can be de-arted ("Use a
Rembrandt for an ironing board"-Duchamp). This, it turns out, is a
bit difficult. Duchamp's gesture in this direction, his L.H.OOQ., didn't
alter the Mona Lisa; it simply added one more painting to the mu-
seums. Replacing the meaning and function of the history of the arts
with some other criteria seems to interest us much less than discover ing
art where art wasn't.
Beyond these identity games, the implication that life can be beau-
tiful is rather salutary, if overwhelming. In the process, the word art
ceases [0 refer [0 specific things or human events and becomes a device
for getting the attention of key people, who, having been gotten to,
realize that the world is a work of art. Art as such, as it used [0 be, is
reduced to a vestigial specialization on its way out; only the title re-
mains, like the military epaulets on a doorman's uniform.
As an addition [0 the history of thought, the Readymade is a par-
adigm of the way humans make and unmake culture. Better than
"straight" philosophy and social science, a good Readymade can "em-
body" the ironic limits of the traditional theory that says reality is
nothing but a projection of a mind or minds. Duchamp, a cool sub-
128
D OCTOR MD
scriber to that tradition, knew, I suspect, that metaphysics, theology,
science, and art were "useful fictions" (Hans Vaihinger's phrase). The
intel lectual or artist merely needs a persuasive consensus [0 launch an
idea into the world. "All in all, the creative act is not performed by
the artist alone," Duchamp said in a speech in 1957. Otherwise, the
fi.ction will be useless, only a fiction and not a reality. The Readymade
is thus both exposure meter and confidence game.
According [0 some of my friends, the freeways of Los Angeles are
great theater, modern theater, with no beginning or end, full of chance
excitements and plenty of the son of boredom we all love. I pass that
observation on here. Their future as Readymade art depends on the
reader. That is, I am engaging in gossip. Duchamp's generous reminder
to his posterity is how fragile public relations are.
12
9
TilE SEVENTIES
archs, who was asked what it felt like to be enlightened. His answer
was, "I found out that I was just as miserable as ever." Considering
Duchamp's work specifically, the Large Glass, though a major piece of
art and a summary of his early interests as a painter, is nevertheless
not particularly helpful for the present. It is a late Symbolist conceit
over which academics hover, seeking linguistic riddles and cabalistic
import (both are there, along with the latest racing poop sheet). But it
remains a hermetic exercise, a picture, in the old sense, of a world
contained within itself. The best part of the Glass is that it is a win-
dowpane to look through; its actual configurations are forced into
accord with the visible environment beyond them, for instance, a
chocolate-grinder diagram superimposed on a kid picking his nose.
His Readymades, however, are radically useful contributions to the
current scene. If simply calling a snow shovel a work of art makes it
that, the same goes for all of New York City, or the Vietnam war, or
a pedantic article on Marcel Duchamp. All the environmental pieces,
Activities, slice-of-life video works, Information pieces, and Art-Tech
shows we've become accus[Omed to owe their existence [0 Duchamp's
idea about a snow shovel.
Conversely, sInce any nonan can be art after the appropriate cer-
emonial announcement, any art, theoreti ca lly, can be de-arted ("Use a
Rembrandt for an ironing board"-Duchamp). This, it turns out, is a
bit difficult. Duchamp's gesture in this direction, his L.H.OOQ., didn't
alter the Mona Lisa; it simply added one more painting to the mu-
seums. Replacing the meaning and function of the history of the arts
with some other criteria seems to interest us much less than discover ing
art where art wasn't.
Beyond these identity games, the implication that life can be beau-
tiful is rather salutary, if overwhelming. In the process, the word art
ceases [0 refer [0 specific things or human events and becomes a device
for getting the attention of key people, who, having been gotten to,
realize that the world is a work of art. Art as such, as it used [0 be, is
reduced to a vestigial specialization on its way out; only the title re-
mains, like the military epaulets on a doorman's uniform.
As an addition [0 the history of thought, the Readymade is a par-
adigm of the way humans make and unmake culture. Better than
"straight" philosophy and social science, a good Readymade can "em-
body" the ironic limits of the traditional theory that says reality is
nothing but a projection of a mind or minds. Duchamp, a cool sub-
128
D OCTOR MD
scriber to that tradition, knew, I suspect, that metaphysics, theology,
science, and art were "useful fictions" (Hans Vaihinger's phrase). The
intel lectual or artist merely needs a persuasive consensus [0 launch an
idea into the world. "All in all, the creative act is not performed by
the artist alone," Duchamp said in a speech in 1957. Otherwise, the
fi.ction will be useless, only a fiction and not a reality. The Readymade
is thus both exposure meter and confidence game.
According [0 some of my friends, the freeways of Los Angeles are
great theater, modern theater, with no beginning or end, full of chance
excitements and plenty of the son of boredom we all love. I pass that
observation on here. Their future as Readymade art depends on the
reader. That is, I am engaging in gossip. Duchamp's generous reminder
to his posterity is how fragile public relations are.
12
9
Video Art: Old Wine, New Bottle
(1974)
The use of television as an art medium is generally considered exper-
imental. rn the sense that it was rarely thought of that way by artists
before the early sixties , it must be granted a certain novelty. But so far,
in my opinion, it is only marginally experimental. The hardware is
new, to art at least, but the conceptual framework and esthetic attitudes
around most video as an art are quite lame.
The field has customarily been divided into three main areas: taped
art performance, environmental closed-circuit video, and documentary
or political video. In the first, some artistic event performed by the
artist and friends or by electronically generated shapes is condensed,
stored, and reproduced on standard-length tapes for replay later on.
In the second, people, machines, nature, and environments interact,
communicate, and perhaps modify each other's behavior in real time.
Although tapes are sometimes produced to document what has oc-
curred, they are not integral to it. But tapes can be used to alter time
and file away prior activities for representation in the carrying out of
the process.
In the third area, events deemed socially important are recorded
on portable equipment (or, more rarely, are transmitted live over cable)
for the enlightenment of a public that normally has no access to this
material on network TV or via other news media. I discount this third
group as socially important rather than simply artistic, because al-
though it has been made welcome in art when no one else wants it , its
legitimate work must be done in the real world and not in the art
world. It is a hunch that this use of video could bring about valuable
human experiments. But to include it in a discussion of art just because
it has made the art world its crash pad is to limit its utility to a small
intelligentsia and to defuse its critical intent by a pretense to esthetics.
I'll confine my comments, then, to the first two areas. There are,
14
8
VI DEO ART
of course, overlaps between them and sometimes additions of other
means such as radios and telephones, telegrams, films, and slides-
but in general this division helps to locate the artists' principal concerns.
N ow, more than a dozen years after Paik and Vostcll used TV sets as
props in their Environments and Happenings, a tentative evaluation
of the field is possible.
It is clear to everyone that the more popular of the twO modes is
video art tapes-for all the obvious financial reasons. Taped perfor-
mances of an artist doing something or of abstract color patterns doing
something are, after all, theatrical arts. They evoke comparisons with
T V commercials, comedy routines, product demonstrations, promo-
tional and educational TV, and the most dreary abstract animated films
of thirty-odd years ago. Thus although only a few performances are
unique as theater pieces and fewer still involve experiences with video
per se-J'm thinking of tapes by Acconci, Joan Jonas, and Wolfgang
Stoerchle-most of them are just more or less adequate recordings of
the performances or are compositions of "special effects" that could
have been done just as well or better as film. Videotape is simply
cheaper and faster.
Moreover, this traditionalism is encouraged by galleries and mu-
seums that display and merchandise the tapes as the equivalent of
editions of prints . Collectors purchase them as art objects, and audi-
ences view them as chic home movies. The accumulated weight of art
history and current gallery-induced preciosity are brought to bear on
every tape that's shown. Given these conventional sources, formats,
contests, and modes of consumption, the tapes contain only minor
"discoveries"; they are not experimental.
. r pass over live performances, which continue to incorporate video
as a prop, as in the work of Jonas and Stoerchle, or which use it as
the equivalent of a performer, as in Ned Bobkoff's substitution of a
video tape recorder (VTR) for the audio recorder in Samuel Beckett's
Krapp's Last Tape . These performances are straightforward theater,
retaining the usual physical conditions of the art : an enclosed time!
space with an audience and an actor"animate or otherwise. When these
structural elements are constant from one era to another, any internal
changes are merely changes in details. This unchanging theatrical
structure is worth mentioning in the context of video art tapes, because
they are presented to the public as if in a pocket movie theater.
The closed-circuit, environmental videographers, in contrast, are
149
Video Art: Old Wine, New Bottle
(1974)
The use of television as an art medium is generally considered exper-
imental. rn the sense that it was rarely thought of that way by artists
before the early sixties , it must be granted a certain novelty. But so far,
in my opinion, it is only marginally experimental. The hardware is
new, to art at least, but the conceptual framework and esthetic attitudes
around most video as an art are quite lame.
The field has customarily been divided into three main areas: taped
art performance, environmental closed-circuit video, and documentary
or political video. In the first, some artistic event performed by the
artist and friends or by electronically generated shapes is condensed,
stored, and reproduced on standard-length tapes for replay later on.
In the second, people, machines, nature, and environments interact,
communicate, and perhaps modify each other's behavior in real time.
Although tapes are sometimes produced to document what has oc-
curred, they are not integral to it. But tapes can be used to alter time
and file away prior activities for representation in the carrying out of
the process.
In the third area, events deemed socially important are recorded
on portable equipment (or, more rarely, are transmitted live over cable)
for the enlightenment of a public that normally has no access to this
material on network TV or via other news media. I discount this third
group as socially important rather than simply artistic, because al-
though it has been made welcome in art when no one else wants it , its
legitimate work must be done in the real world and not in the art
world. It is a hunch that this use of video could bring about valuable
human experiments. But to include it in a discussion of art just because
it has made the art world its crash pad is to limit its utility to a small
intelligentsia and to defuse its critical intent by a pretense to esthetics.
I'll confine my comments, then, to the first two areas. There are,
14
8
VI DEO ART
of course, overlaps between them and sometimes additions of other
means such as radios and telephones, telegrams, films, and slides-
but in general this division helps to locate the artists' principal concerns.
N ow, more than a dozen years after Paik and Vostcll used TV sets as
props in their Environments and Happenings, a tentative evaluation
of the field is possible.
It is clear to everyone that the more popular of the twO modes is
video art tapes-for all the obvious financial reasons. Taped perfor-
mances of an artist doing something or of abstract color patterns doing
something are, after all, theatrical arts. They evoke comparisons with
T V commercials, comedy routines, product demonstrations, promo-
tional and educational TV, and the most dreary abstract animated films
of thirty-odd years ago. Thus although only a few performances are
unique as theater pieces and fewer still involve experiences with video
per se-J'm thinking of tapes by Acconci, Joan Jonas, and Wolfgang
Stoerchle-most of them are just more or less adequate recordings of
the performances or are compositions of "special effects" that could
have been done just as well or better as film. Videotape is simply
cheaper and faster.
Moreover, this traditionalism is encouraged by galleries and mu-
seums that display and merchandise the tapes as the equivalent of
editions of prints . Collectors purchase them as art objects, and audi-
ences view them as chic home movies. The accumulated weight of art
history and current gallery-induced preciosity are brought to bear on
every tape that's shown. Given these conventional sources, formats,
contests, and modes of consumption, the tapes contain only minor
"discoveries"; they are not experimental.
. r pass over live performances, which continue to incorporate video
as a prop, as in the work of Jonas and Stoerchle, or which use it as
the equivalent of a performer, as in Ned Bobkoff's substitution of a
video tape recorder (VTR) for the audio recorder in Samuel Beckett's
Krapp's Last Tape . These performances are straightforward theater,
retaining the usual physical conditions of the art : an enclosed time!
space with an audience and an actor"animate or otherwise. When these
structural elements are constant from one era to another, any internal
changes are merely changes in details. This unchanging theatrical
structure is worth mentioning in the context of video art tapes, because
they are presented to the public as if in a pocket movie theater.
The closed-circuit, environmental videographers, in contrast, are
149
Till'.  SEVENTIES 
trying  to  make  use  of  what  in  the  medium  is  not like  film  or  other 
art.  The  most  experimental  feature  of  their  work,  it  seems  to  me,  is 
its  emphasis  upon situational  processes  rather  than  some act canned  as 
a  product  for  later  review.  Products  do,  of course,  provide  new  expe-
rience  and  influence  thought.  Hallucinogenic  drugs,  water  skis,  even 
TV  sets  are  examples.  But  art  products  tend  to  elicit  stereotypical 
responses;  very  little  fresh  experience  or  thought  comes  about  from 
them. 
Among  those  working  in  closed-circuit  video  are  Douglas  Davis, 
Juan  Downey,  Frank  Gillette,  Bruce  Nauman,  the  Pulsa  group,  Ira 
Schneider,  and  Keith  Sonnier.  Video  for  these  artists  is  a  system  of 
echoes,  communications,  reflections,  and  dialogues  linking  the  self 
with  what  is  outside  the  self and  back  again.  This  hardware  linkage 
proposes  to  alter  positively  the  behavior  of  human  and  nonhuman 
participants  alike,  as  if it  were  some  infinitely  readjustable  ecology.  (I 
am intentionally  using hyperbole  here to emphasize a certain grandeur, 
or  high  seriousness,  in  these  projects.) 
Some  works  include  real-time  communiques  between  the  public 
and  TV  stations,  using  telephone  and  other  rapid-message  technolo-
gies,  all  of them  fed  back  into  the  TV output  to  be,  in  turn,  modified 
and commented  upon by  the  participating public. Other works involve 
elaborately  constructed  displays,  with  many  monitors  and  cameras, 
that  visitors  pass  to  see  their  own  images  in  different  views  and  in 
delayed  time. Such  mirrors of the  individual may also  be collaged  with 
pre taped  and  electronically  generated  material. 
Still  other  works are assemblages of concentric or serially  arranged 
stacks  of monitors  and  cameras  that  show  simultaneous  views  of the 
cosmos, nature, a city, and microcosmic life.  And  there are  room-filling 
environments  achieved  solely  with  video  projectors  that  blow  up  the 
small  scale  of the  normal  monitor  and  fill  the  walls  with  deserts,  sub-
ways,  and  one's  own  real  self. 
Arising  from  the  opposite  point  of view  are  the  spare  contempla-
tive  environments of a  few  bare  walls  (sometimes  physically  constric-
tive),  one  or  two  fixed  cameras,  and  a  monitor  showing  a  motionless 
section  of blank  wall  or doorway.  They  resemble  those  security  mon-
itors  in  expensive  apartment  houses:  one  waits  for  a  thief to  cross  the 
camera's  path-and, of course, that "thief" is  the visitor to  the exhibit. 
Intriguing as  these  works are, they are also discouraging.  The level 
15° 
Vl n EO ART
of critical  thought  in  them,  their  built-in  assumptions  about  people, 
the  indifference  to  the  spaces  into  which  the  hardware  is  put,  and  the 
constant  reliance  on  the  glitter  of  the  machines  to  carry  the  fantasy 
strike  me  as  simpleminded  and  sentimental.  For  instance,  there  is  the 
notion,  introduced  by  the  Italians  before  1914  and  worn threadbare by 
the  sixties,  that there  is  something vital about an all-at-once  rapid  Row
of indiscriminate  information,  sensations, and  activity  between  people 
and  surroundings-a notion  that  ignores  the  selective  way  people  and 
surroundings  receive  and  exchange  messages.  There  is  the  science-
fi ction assumption that electronic communications technology can  pro-
vide  a  global  and  even  cosmic  consciousness,  when  nothing  in  the 
world's  extensive  use  of that technology  to  date  suggests  that that  is  so 
or,  if it  is  so,  that  we  apprehend  and  apply  such  beatitude.  Moreover, 
it cannot answer to our clear need for  privacy. The minimal, meditative 
environments  where extremely subtle body  sensations and  feelings  are 
stimulated  rest  on  the  assumption  that  meditation  and  privacy  are 
possible  in  a  gallery  situation;  but  it  should  be  obvious  nowadays  that 
everyone  entering a  gallery  is  immediately  on  display  as  a  work  of art. 
One  cannot  be  alone.  A  gallery  is  not  a  retreat.  Everything  becomes 
art, not  self-awareness. 
There  is  the  utopian  conviction,  the  last  one  with  its  roots  in  pro-
gressive  education, that if people are given a  privileged  place  and some 
sophisticated  toys  to  play  with,  they  will  naturally  do  something 
enlightening,  when  in  fact  they  usually  don't.  For  example,  Frank 
G illette  and  Ira  Schneider  designed  a  collaborative  Environment  at 
Antioch College  in  1969.  It  was a  room  with four  persons, seated  back-
to-back,  facing  four  walls,  two  mirrors,  four  remote-control  cameras, 
and  a  single  monitor.  As  the  artists  describe  it,  "after  an  initial  period 
of  self-consciousness,  the  subjects  began  to  generate  their  own  enter-
tainment.  During  the  session,  the  subjects  played  with  their  mirrors 
and  cameras,  read  poetry,  drew,  rapped,  did  sommersaults"  (Radical
Software 2,  no. 5).  Playing  around?  Poetry'  Rapping?  Sommersaults? 
All  that  expensive  technology,  care,  and  work  for  behavior  that  has 
been  predictable  in  every  so-called  experience  chamber since  the  eigh-
teenth  century!  That is  hardly  experimental. 
But Gillette  and Schneider are gifted  artists  with very  good  minds, 
whose  work  interests  me  very  much.  I  single  out  the  Antioch  piece 
because  it  points  up  the  frequent  lapses  in  critical  judgment  among 
15
1
Till'.  SEVENTIES 
trying  to  make  use  of  what  in  the  medium  is  not like  film  or  other 
art.  The  most  experimental  feature  of  their  work,  it  seems  to  me,  is 
its  emphasis  upon situational  processes  rather  than  some act canned  as 
a  product  for  later  review.  Products  do,  of course,  provide  new  expe-
rience  and  influence  thought.  Hallucinogenic  drugs,  water  skis,  even 
TV  sets  are  examples.  But  art  products  tend  to  elicit  stereotypical 
responses;  very  little  fresh  experience  or  thought  comes  about  from 
them. 
Among  those  working  in  closed-circuit  video  are  Douglas  Davis, 
Juan  Downey,  Frank  Gillette,  Bruce  Nauman,  the  Pulsa  group,  Ira 
Schneider,  and  Keith  Sonnier.  Video  for  these  artists  is  a  system  of 
echoes,  communications,  reflections,  and  dialogues  linking  the  self 
with  what  is  outside  the  self and  back  again.  This  hardware  linkage 
proposes  to  alter  positively  the  behavior  of  human  and  nonhuman 
participants  alike,  as  if it  were  some  infinitely  readjustable  ecology.  (I 
am intentionally  using hyperbole  here to emphasize a certain grandeur, 
or  high  seriousness,  in  these  projects.) 
Some  works  include  real-time  communiques  between  the  public 
and  TV  stations,  using  telephone  and  other  rapid-message  technolo-
gies,  all  of them  fed  back  into  the  TV output  to  be,  in  turn,  modified 
and commented  upon by  the  participating public. Other works involve 
elaborately  constructed  displays,  with  many  monitors  and  cameras, 
that  visitors  pass  to  see  their  own  images  in  different  views  and  in 
delayed  time. Such  mirrors of the  individual may also  be collaged  with 
pre taped  and  electronically  generated  material. 
Still  other  works are assemblages of concentric or serially  arranged 
stacks  of monitors  and  cameras  that  show  simultaneous  views  of the 
cosmos, nature, a city, and microcosmic life.  And  there are  room-filling 
environments  achieved  solely  with  video  projectors  that  blow  up  the 
small  scale  of the  normal  monitor  and  fill  the  walls  with  deserts,  sub-
ways,  and  one's  own  real  self. 
Arising  from  the  opposite  point  of view  are  the  spare  contempla-
tive  environments of a  few  bare  walls  (sometimes  physically  constric-
tive),  one  or  two  fixed  cameras,  and  a  monitor  showing  a  motionless 
section  of blank  wall  or doorway.  They  resemble  those  security  mon-
itors  in  expensive  apartment  houses:  one  waits  for  a  thief to  cross  the 
camera's  path-and, of course, that "thief" is  the visitor to  the exhibit. 
Intriguing as  these  works are, they are also discouraging.  The level 
15° 
Vl n EO ART
of critical  thought  in  them,  their  built-in  assumptions  about  people, 
the  indifference  to  the  spaces  into  which  the  hardware  is  put,  and  the 
constant  reliance  on  the  glitter  of  the  machines  to  carry  the  fantasy 
strike  me  as  simpleminded  and  sentimental.  For  instance,  there  is  the 
notion,  introduced  by  the  Italians  before  1914  and  worn threadbare by 
the  sixties,  that there  is  something vital about an all-at-once  rapid  Row
of indiscriminate  information,  sensations, and  activity  between  people 
and  surroundings-a notion  that  ignores  the  selective  way  people  and 
surroundings  receive  and  exchange  messages.  There  is  the  science-
fi ction assumption that electronic communications technology can  pro-
vide  a  global  and  even  cosmic  consciousness,  when  nothing  in  the 
world's  extensive  use  of that technology  to  date  suggests  that that  is  so 
or,  if it  is  so,  that  we  apprehend  and  apply  such  beatitude.  Moreover, 
it cannot answer to our clear need for  privacy. The minimal, meditative 
environments  where extremely subtle body  sensations and  feelings  are 
stimulated  rest  on  the  assumption  that  meditation  and  privacy  are 
possible  in  a  gallery  situation;  but  it  should  be  obvious  nowadays  that 
everyone  entering a  gallery  is  immediately  on  display  as  a  work  of art. 
One  cannot  be  alone.  A  gallery  is  not  a  retreat.  Everything  becomes 
art, not  self-awareness. 
There  is  the  utopian  conviction,  the  last  one  with  its  roots  in  pro-
gressive  education, that if people are given a  privileged  place  and some 
sophisticated  toys  to  play  with,  they  will  naturally  do  something 
enlightening,  when  in  fact  they  usually  don't.  For  example,  Frank 
G illette  and  Ira  Schneider  designed  a  collaborative  Environment  at 
Antioch College  in  1969.  It  was a  room  with four  persons, seated  back-
to-back,  facing  four  walls,  two  mirrors,  four  remote-control  cameras, 
and  a  single  monitor.  As  the  artists  describe  it,  "after  an  initial  period 
of  self-consciousness,  the  subjects  began  to  generate  their  own  enter-
tainment.  During  the  session,  the  subjects  played  with  their  mirrors 
and  cameras,  read  poetry,  drew,  rapped,  did  sommersaults"  (Radical
Software 2,  no. 5).  Playing  around?  Poetry'  Rapping?  Sommersaults? 
All  that  expensive  technology,  care,  and  work  for  behavior  that  has 
been  predictable  in  every  so-called  experience  chamber since  the  eigh-
teenth  century!  That is  hardly  experimental. 
But Gillette  and Schneider are gifted  artists  with very  good  minds, 
whose  work  interests  me  very  much.  I  single  out  the  Antioch  piece 
because  it  points  up  the  frequent  lapses  in  critical  judgment  among 
15
1
THE SEVENTIES
those who get seduced by fancy hardware. They become indifferent to
the cliches passed on in the name of modernity.
Actually, their environment as described and diagramed seems to
me much more ritualistic and hieratic than the human response to it.
The problem came about because the artists felt free to program the
physical surroundings but held off giving their subjects a program
appropriate to those surroundings. This may have been a misplaced
fear of manipulating people, even though the room was designed to
elicit responses and that can be construed as a manipulation. Whatever
the reason, Gillette and Schneider didn't follow through holistically.
In general, when participatory art is shown in an exhibition context,
both artist and viewer unconsciously expect it to be, and act like, a
picture-discrete and kept at a distance. When viewers are urged to
become part of the art without further help or preparation, they feel
put upon and become stereotypes.
I might add to the list of stereotypes the video artists' relentless
fondness for time-lag devices. These are the exact counterpart to echo
effects in earlier Musique Concrete. The idea im plied here is that
repetitive recall of the immediate past is an effective denial of the
future, hence proof of an eternal present. Perhaps, too, there is a popu-
laristic appeal to the same experience from drugs. In any event, this is
not exactly a brand new philosophical discovery or one that illuminates
a world accustomed to forgetting its yesterdays and ignoring its to-
morrows without the benefit of video environments. (Ironically, I find
tape art, which is relatively conservative, especially the kind that simply
records a theatrical performance, much less trivial on a conceptual
level. Undistracted by either the mystique or the technical problems
of gadgetry, videotape artists may spend more time in thought and
fantasy.)
In the last analysis, environmental (tapeless) video, whose only
prod ucts are heightened consciousness and the enlargement of useful
experience, seems to me the only interesting video art. But it is still a
lavish form of kitsch. Like so much Art Tech of recent years, video
environments resemble world's fair "futurama" displays with their
familiar nineteenth-century push-button optimism and didacticism.
They are part fun house, part psychology lab. Such associations, and a
sponsorship by art museums and galleries that have a tradition of
hands-off, silent respect for what they show, practically guarantee a
15
2
vnn:o ART
superficial and cautious participation in what is supposed to be involv-
ing.
Participation is a key word here, but in this most experimental
branch of video, we succumb to the glow of the cathode-ray tube while
our minds go dead . Until video is used as indifferently as the telephone,
it will remain a pretentious curiosity.
153
III
THE SEVENTIES
those who get seduced by fancy hardware. They become indifferent to
the cliches passed on in the name of modernity.
Actually, their environment as described and diagramed seems to
me much more ritualistic and hieratic than the human response to it.
The problem came about because the artists felt free to program the
physical surroundings but held off giving their subjects a program
appropriate to those surroundings. This may have been a misplaced
fear of manipulating people, even though the room was designed to
elicit responses and that can be construed as a manipulation. Whatever
the reason, Gillette and Schneider didn't follow through holistically.
In general, when participatory art is shown in an exhibition context,
both artist and viewer unconsciously expect it to be, and act like, a
picture-discrete and kept at a distance. When viewers are urged to
become part of the art without further help or preparation, they feel
put upon and become stereotypes.
I might add to the list of stereotypes the video artists' relentless
fondness for time-lag devices. These are the exact counterpart to echo
effects in earlier Musique Concrete. The idea im plied here is that
repetitive recall of the immediate past is an effective denial of the
future, hence proof of an eternal present. Perhaps, too, there is a popu-
laristic appeal to the same experience from drugs. In any event, this is
not exactly a brand new philosophical discovery or one that illuminates
a world accustomed to forgetting its yesterdays and ignoring its to-
morrows without the benefit of video environments. (Ironically, I find
tape art, which is relatively conservative, especially the kind that simply
records a theatrical performance, much less trivial on a conceptual
level. Undistracted by either the mystique or the technical problems
of gadgetry, videotape artists may spend more time in thought and
fantasy.)
In the last analysis, environmental (tapeless) video, whose only
prod ucts are heightened consciousness and the enlargement of useful
experience, seems to me the only interesting video art. But it is still a
lavish form of kitsch. Like so much Art Tech of recent years, video
environments resemble world's fair "futurama" displays with their
familiar nineteenth-century push-button optimism and didacticism.
They are part fun house, part psychology lab. Such associations, and a
sponsorship by art museums and galleries that have a tradition of
hands-off, silent respect for what they show, practically guarantee a
15
2
vnn:o ART
superficial and cautious participation in what is supposed to be involv-
ing.
Participation is a key word here, but in this most experimental
branch of video, we succumb to the glow of the cathode-ray tube while
our minds go dead . Until video is used as indifferently as the telephone,
it will remain a pretentious curiosity.
153
III
Formalism: Flogging a Dead Horse
(1974)
There is a medieval definition of God, later quoted by Descartes or
Pascal, that says, "God is a circle whose center is everywhere and
circumference is nowhere." Center and circumference have often been
exchanged in the retelling, but the definition remains a formal one.
Much earlier, Aristotle introduced into Western thought a complex
idea of the form of things that even today we have not forgotten.
Things, he wrote, have not only an obvious shape, like that of a hand,
but also a unity or wholeness of parts. In addition, they possess an
essential or conceptual form, which is the ideal state toward which
they strive. I n this rich notion, as in most other aspects of Aristotle's
philosophy, the physical world is analyzable, measurable, and reason-
able, but it also seems to contain Platonic, vaguely mystical attributes
apprehensi ble, not by the senses, but by intelligence and intuition.
Together, the two examples evoke a reality that is apparently know-
able yet increasingly intangible the more one knows. Hence in the
movement from a hand to God, the form becomes more and more
regular, yet less and less clear.
At its best, formalist practice in the art of the last hundred years
resembles these views. Clarity, essentiality, measurability, control,
unity, and often a taste for some kind of geometry prevail; but at the
same time there is always a mystery and paradox; there lurks a per-
vas ive faith that such a way of making art is a truer, deeper revelation
of reality than other ways that are only apparently true.
Thus a Malevich painting of a wh itened square tilted on its axis
and set into an off-white field may seem only minimally engaging to
the untrained viewer, but that artistic poverty, so to speak, is superficial.
Malevich's art intends our thoughts to be directed to a transcendent,
superior state of being.
154
FO RM.'\ 1.I SM
r Ig. 14 Bucket and dirt. Photograph by Robert Cook·
155
Formalism: Flogging a Dead Horse
(1974)
There is a medieval definition of God, later quoted by Descartes or
Pascal, that says, "God is a circle whose center is everywhere and
circumference is nowhere." Center and circumference have often been
exchanged in the retelling, but the definition remains a formal one.
Much earlier, Aristotle introduced into Western thought a complex
idea of the form of things that even today we have not forgotten.
Things, he wrote, have not only an obvious shape, like that of a hand,
but also a unity or wholeness of parts. In addition, they possess an
essential or conceptual form, which is the ideal state toward which
they strive. I n this rich notion, as in most other aspects of Aristotle's
philosophy, the physical world is analyzable, measurable, and reason-
able, but it also seems to contain Platonic, vaguely mystical attributes
apprehensi ble, not by the senses, but by intelligence and intuition.
Together, the two examples evoke a reality that is apparently know-
able yet increasingly intangible the more one knows. Hence in the
movement from a hand to God, the form becomes more and more
regular, yet less and less clear.
At its best, formalist practice in the art of the last hundred years
resembles these views. Clarity, essentiality, measurability, control,
unity, and often a taste for some kind of geometry prevail; but at the
same time there is always a mystery and paradox; there lurks a per-
vas ive faith that such a way of making art is a truer, deeper revelation
of reality than other ways that are only apparently true.
Thus a Malevich painting of a wh itened square tilted on its axis
and set into an off-white field may seem only minimally engaging to
the untrained viewer, but that artistic poverty, so to speak, is superficial.
Malevich's art intends our thoughts to be directed to a transcendent,
superior state of being.
154
FO RM.'\ 1.I SM
r Ig. 14 Bucket and dirt. Photograph by Robert Cook·
155
THE SEVENTI ES
A Frank Stella painting of parallel stripes in the shape of an an-
gular U, which in turn shapes the canvas as a U, or, reading in reverse,
a U-shaped canvas that is echoed throughout by stripes parallel to the
border, is not simply repetitious; it can be taken as a bluntly elegant
exercise in "thingness." That is to say, if a stripe refers to another SHipe
next to it, and to another and another, and also refers to the material
object on which it is painted, a sort of internally consistent, self-
declaring monologue occurs. The eye swings between immaterial
stripe and thick support projecting from the wall, each lending the
other simultaneous flatness and density. As a metaphor of a difficult
idea, the canvas "for and of itself" alludes to age-old questions about
the possibility of individuality and free will ...
At its worst formalism has justified routine and dreary formulas
for making tasteful art without any of the blurry but necessary meta-
physical considerations. This sort of academicism is what institutions
and political ideologists support since it represents the possibility of
quick, controllable norms, echoing what is desirable in the society.
What is either ignored or despaired of is the one romantic part of
formalism, its dream of vibrant perfection. My teacher, Hans Hof-
mann, an occasionally formalist painter and always a formalist to his
classes, knew very well this elusive, arcane part of the life of forms.
He said once that you couldn't teach art at all, but you could certainly
teach the right direction to it, namely methods and exercises. It was
understood that one made one's art at home, "sacredly," while at the
school one did basically formal exercises from a model.
Now the formalist's opposite number, the antiformalist, has, on the
surface at least, an impatience with the detached, supra-individual,
rationally contained features of the esthetics of form. The antiformalist
seems to champion the release of energies, rather than the control of
them; he or she wants things indeterminate, muddy, or sensually lyric,
rather than proportioned and balanced. The true nature of being for
this kind of mind trembles somewhere between personal emotion that
constantly reaches peaks and valleys and a morbid conviction that the
universe has no design.
But on closer examination, one is still dealing with a profound
involvement in form. The antiformalist simply replaces the appearance
of order with the appearance of chaos. Both order and chaos have a
substantial history of images that are still fed into daily life and
15
6
F ORMA LI SM
thought. By analogy, antiform is the structure of hell as the nether
image of heaven. The shape of disorder, like that of order, is easily
analyzable into typical part-lO-whole relationships. That is to say, stars
in the sky, dust on the Roor, garbage, people in a riot-any apparently
random accumulation of whatever-can be grouped, arranged in sets,
classified, graphed, and systemized into both physical properties and
expressive ones. Hence the antiformalist's artwork is as much a form
as anything we can sense or know, probably because the human or-
ganism cannot perceive or think except in patterns. But the meaning
of the forms of antiformalism is the crucial difference here, for anti-
formalism is associated with the so-called dark or obscure forces rather
than with light and clarity.
Thus, in meanings and attitudes, the formalist's view of reality is
more indirect and meditative; or it is passionate on a transcendent
plane purged of personal idiosyncracy. It implies a complex, sometimes
gr and scheme of nature that, once understood, is a source of wisdom.
T hat wisdom may affect daily life yet may be quite sufficient as an end
in itself. But the antiformalist, by definition, reacts to this stance; it is
the point of departure without which the conRict would be senseless.
Like the oedipal struggle of the child against the parent, it is a fight
within the family, so to speak; and whatever positive change antifor-
malism may achieve, it is at the same time a profound acknowledgment
of laws, orders, and ideas.
For instance, the Dadaist Tristan Tzara's formula for making a.
poem could be construed for its time as the archetypal antiformalist
doct rine. He writes:
To make a dadaist poem
Take a newspaper.
Take a pair of scissors.
Choose an article as long as you are planning to
make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Then cut out each of the words that make up this
article and put them in a bag.
Shake it gently.
Then take out the scraps one after the other in the
order in which they left the bag.
Copy conscientiously.
157
THE SEVENTI ES
A Frank Stella painting of parallel stripes in the shape of an an-
gular U, which in turn shapes the canvas as a U, or, reading in reverse,
a U-shaped canvas that is echoed throughout by stripes parallel to the
border, is not simply repetitious; it can be taken as a bluntly elegant
exercise in "thingness." That is to say, if a stripe refers to another SHipe
next to it, and to another and another, and also refers to the material
object on which it is painted, a sort of internally consistent, self-
declaring monologue occurs. The eye swings between immaterial
stripe and thick support projecting from the wall, each lending the
other simultaneous flatness and density. As a metaphor of a difficult
idea, the canvas "for and of itself" alludes to age-old questions about
the possibility of individuality and free will ...
At its worst formalism has justified routine and dreary formulas
for making tasteful art without any of the blurry but necessary meta-
physical considerations. This sort of academicism is what institutions
and political ideologists support since it represents the possibility of
quick, controllable norms, echoing what is desirable in the society.
What is either ignored or despaired of is the one romantic part of
formalism, its dream of vibrant perfection. My teacher, Hans Hof-
mann, an occasionally formalist painter and always a formalist to his
classes, knew very well this elusive, arcane part of the life of forms.
He said once that you couldn't teach art at all, but you could certainly
teach the right direction to it, namely methods and exercises. It was
understood that one made one's art at home, "sacredly," while at the
school one did basically formal exercises from a model.
Now the formalist's opposite number, the antiformalist, has, on the
surface at least, an impatience with the detached, supra-individual,
rationally contained features of the esthetics of form. The antiformalist
seems to champion the release of energies, rather than the control of
them; he or she wants things indeterminate, muddy, or sensually lyric,
rather than proportioned and balanced. The true nature of being for
this kind of mind trembles somewhere between personal emotion that
constantly reaches peaks and valleys and a morbid conviction that the
universe has no design.
But on closer examination, one is still dealing with a profound
involvement in form. The antiformalist simply replaces the appearance
of order with the appearance of chaos. Both order and chaos have a
substantial history of images that are still fed into daily life and
15
6
F ORMA LI SM
thought. By analogy, antiform is the structure of hell as the nether
image of heaven. The shape of disorder, like that of order, is easily
analyzable into typical part-lO-whole relationships. That is to say, stars
in the sky, dust on the Roor, garbage, people in a riot-any apparently
random accumulation of whatever-can be grouped, arranged in sets,
classified, graphed, and systemized into both physical properties and
expressive ones. Hence the antiformalist's artwork is as much a form
as anything we can sense or know, probably because the human or-
ganism cannot perceive or think except in patterns. But the meaning
of the forms of antiformalism is the crucial difference here, for anti-
formalism is associated with the so-called dark or obscure forces rather
than with light and clarity.
Thus, in meanings and attitudes, the formalist's view of reality is
more indirect and meditative; or it is passionate on a transcendent
plane purged of personal idiosyncracy. It implies a complex, sometimes
gr and scheme of nature that, once understood, is a source of wisdom.
T hat wisdom may affect daily life yet may be quite sufficient as an end
in itself. But the antiformalist, by definition, reacts to this stance; it is
the point of departure without which the conRict would be senseless.
Like the oedipal struggle of the child against the parent, it is a fight
within the family, so to speak; and whatever positive change antifor-
malism may achieve, it is at the same time a profound acknowledgment
of laws, orders, and ideas.
For instance, the Dadaist Tristan Tzara's formula for making a.
poem could be construed for its time as the archetypal antiformalist
doct rine. He writes:
To make a dadaist poem
Take a newspaper.
Take a pair of scissors.
Choose an article as long as you are planning to
make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Then cut out each of the words that make up this
article and put them in a bag.
Shake it gently.
Then take out the scraps one after the other in the
order in which they left the bag.
Copy conscientiously.
157
TilE  
The poem will be like you.
And here YOU are a writer, infinitely original a nd
endowed with a sensibility (hat is charming though
beyond the understanding of the vulgar.
The program is written out so that it scans like a poem itself, with
seven short lines and four long ones. It can be read in couplets as AA,
AB, AB, AB, AA, and B as coda; or in triplets as AAA, BAB, ABA,
with an AB coda, both patterns neat, almost syllogistic. Considered as
three actions-finding a newspaper article, cutting it up, reassemhling
it-it can be a classic Hegelian closure: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
Even the strategy can be judged a formal problem. In effect, Tzara
proposes the by now classic modernist ploy: when the enemy (i .e. , the
conventional artist) zigs, you zag. All zags constitute a special class of
objectives. It is first necessary to have a thorough idea of all the enemy's
moves, which make up the class of zigs. Then its opposite members
will be zags. If the enemy evokes metaphors of sensitivity, parade
crassness. If the enemy embroiders metric niceties in the lines of the
poem, botch up all the rhythms (as it seems Tzara has done in the
present example, at least from the evidence of the English translation).
Thus if Tzara had cut up a chapter from a novel of Proust in the
same way he cut up a newspaper, he would immediately have forfeit ed
the secular impact of his nonart materials and subject matter; the
manifesto-poem would instead take on a more cultivated, literary tone
and reference. The analyst would have to say in that case that Tzara
didn't quite zag; he zigzagged. In fact, the one zig Tzara was unwilling
to oppose was poetry itself. He shared with formalists and other kind5
of artists a belief in his exclusive access to truth forever denied the
ordinary mortal.
Another case in point is the work of Jackson Pollock. The impact
of Pollock's paintings (now softened by familiarity) at the time they
were made was that of a maelstrom. Even today, particularly in the
case of the large dripped works, one is swept along. The flung skeins
and splatters of running paint, shot out and retracted in clotted tangles,
reduce one to a helplessness Pollock found attractive. He said:
"When I am in my painting, I don't know what I am doing."
Conscious volition was given up, or at least consciousness of the dis-
tinction between the "I" and the painting, between the acting self and
the willing self. But discrimination between conception, creation, and
15
8
FORMA LI SM
completion, in short hetween the parts of a "vhole and the whole itself,
is a necessary attrihute of formalism. Thus Pollock would seem to be
an antiformalist.
Nevertheless, Pollock's canvases are consistent in their recurrent
choice of fairly even dispersions of short gestural flurries and trials.
These pulsations are set into longer rolling streams of open forms with
unstable axes. Throughout there is an absence of marked zones of
contrast. As Pollock wrote about them, they have no apparent begin-
ning, middle, or end. We feel they could go on forever. The effect of
energies in a state of becoming replaces the formalist's arrangements
of poised, completed configurations. That is, in rejecting one set of
formal elements and procedures, Pollock established another.
Moreover, there is another sense in which the formalist-
antiformalist clash is misleading. I have written elsewhere ("Impurity")
that if we look at the overall Pollocks for an extended time- say, a
time equivalent to their making-the expressionistic tone of the ges-
tural language tends to reverse itself. The heated jabs, swipes, and
flowing body movements that we read from the rich surfaces slowly
neutralize one another and cool off. A calm stasis results, balanced and
sublime. The frenzy is simply spirit, in psychological terms; optically,
this is the effect of nearly equal high -impact forces impinging on one
another in every part of the canvases.
In the same essay I suggested that the opposite reversal could he
experienced before the very formal works of Mondrian. The ambi-
guities of figure-ground exchanges cause lines to bend, advance, and
recede irrationally. White spaces become warped positives, their black
edges are seen as abysses dropping far behind the white planes, and
the hues of red, yellow, or hlue, when they are used, cause further
compli cations by temperature allusions and expansions and contrac-
tions of scale. A Mondrian becomes more and more unstahle the longer
one looks (or, more properly, stares). One experiences vertigo.
The Pollocks thus emerge as an almost classical statement, the
Mondrians as an ardent romantic one. What is elegant about this
paradoxical aspect of formalism is that it resembles the medieval de-
scription of God: it is confusing, but very clearly confusing. The epit-
ome of this difficulty of simply pitting formalism against antiformal-
ism is present in the music of John Cage. A less passionate personality
than Pollock, perhaps more ironic, Cage nevertheless has the same vast
sense of naturism. His welcome of accident and his taste for blurring
159
TilE  
The poem will be like you.
And here YOU are a writer, infinitely original a nd
endowed with a sensibility (hat is charming though
beyond the understanding of the vulgar.
The program is written out so that it scans like a poem itself, with
seven short lines and four long ones. It can be read in couplets as AA,
AB, AB, AB, AA, and B as coda; or in triplets as AAA, BAB, ABA,
with an AB coda, both patterns neat, almost syllogistic. Considered as
three actions-finding a newspaper article, cutting it up, reassemhling
it-it can be a classic Hegelian closure: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
Even the strategy can be judged a formal problem. In effect, Tzara
proposes the by now classic modernist ploy: when the enemy (i .e. , the
conventional artist) zigs, you zag. All zags constitute a special class of
objectives. It is first necessary to have a thorough idea of all the enemy's
moves, which make up the class of zigs. Then its opposite members
will be zags. If the enemy evokes metaphors of sensitivity, parade
crassness. If the enemy embroiders metric niceties in the lines of the
poem, botch up all the rhythms (as it seems Tzara has done in the
present example, at least from the evidence of the English translation).
Thus if Tzara had cut up a chapter from a novel of Proust in the
same way he cut up a newspaper, he would immediately have forfeit ed
the secular impact of his nonart materials and subject matter; the
manifesto-poem would instead take on a more cultivated, literary tone
and reference. The analyst would have to say in that case that Tzara
didn't quite zag; he zigzagged. In fact, the one zig Tzara was unwilling
to oppose was poetry itself. He shared with formalists and other kind5
of artists a belief in his exclusive access to truth forever denied the
ordinary mortal.
Another case in point is the work of Jackson Pollock. The impact
of Pollock's paintings (now softened by familiarity) at the time they
were made was that of a maelstrom. Even today, particularly in the
case of the large dripped works, one is swept along. The flung skeins
and splatters of running paint, shot out and retracted in clotted tangles,
reduce one to a helplessness Pollock found attractive. He said:
"When I am in my painting, I don't know what I am doing."
Conscious volition was given up, or at least consciousness of the dis-
tinction between the "I" and the painting, between the acting self and
the willing self. But discrimination between conception, creation, and
15
8
FORMA LI SM
completion, in short hetween the parts of a "vhole and the whole itself,
is a necessary attrihute of formalism. Thus Pollock would seem to be
an antiformalist.
Nevertheless, Pollock's canvases are consistent in their recurrent
choice of fairly even dispersions of short gestural flurries and trials.
These pulsations are set into longer rolling streams of open forms with
unstable axes. Throughout there is an absence of marked zones of
contrast. As Pollock wrote about them, they have no apparent begin-
ning, middle, or end. We feel they could go on forever. The effect of
energies in a state of becoming replaces the formalist's arrangements
of poised, completed configurations. That is, in rejecting one set of
formal elements and procedures, Pollock established another.
Moreover, there is another sense in which the formalist-
antiformalist clash is misleading. I have written elsewhere ("Impurity")
that if we look at the overall Pollocks for an extended time- say, a
time equivalent to their making-the expressionistic tone of the ges-
tural language tends to reverse itself. The heated jabs, swipes, and
flowing body movements that we read from the rich surfaces slowly
neutralize one another and cool off. A calm stasis results, balanced and
sublime. The frenzy is simply spirit, in psychological terms; optically,
this is the effect of nearly equal high -impact forces impinging on one
another in every part of the canvases.
In the same essay I suggested that the opposite reversal could he
experienced before the very formal works of Mondrian. The ambi-
guities of figure-ground exchanges cause lines to bend, advance, and
recede irrationally. White spaces become warped positives, their black
edges are seen as abysses dropping far behind the white planes, and
the hues of red, yellow, or hlue, when they are used, cause further
compli cations by temperature allusions and expansions and contrac-
tions of scale. A Mondrian becomes more and more unstahle the longer
one looks (or, more properly, stares). One experiences vertigo.
The Pollocks thus emerge as an almost classical statement, the
Mondrians as an ardent romantic one. What is elegant about this
paradoxical aspect of formalism is that it resembles the medieval de-
scription of God: it is confusing, but very clearly confusing. The epit-
ome of this difficulty of simply pitting formalism against antiformal-
ism is present in the music of John Cage. A less passionate personality
than Pollock, perhaps more ironic, Cage nevertheless has the same vast
sense of naturism. His welcome of accident and his taste for blurring
159
THE SEVENTIES
the edges between his art and the world beyond are as great as Pollock's
or even greater. Just as Pollock's painting has no definite frame, so the
sounds and silences in Cage's music could be continued indefinitely.
Musical sound and noise (customarily divided) are really one; so are
art and life. If an in the high formal sense is what gives order to life's
aimlessness, then Cage's music qualifies as anti formalist.
But Cage does not create his music in a disorganized way. His
"chance operations"-already procedural by his choice of the word
"operation"-involve careful and lengthy preparations and the use of
the I Ching or computer, both very formal tools.
Moreover, his pieces, childlike and often gently humorous, lack the
antiformalist's virulence. The absence of sharp discontent-the anti
part of antiformalism-and the presence instead of a fey positivism
score the oversimplification of the formalist dialectic from either end
of the scale and do not account for the subtle shades of temperament
really present in any live artist. They are inadequate, for instance, to
explain so-called informalists.
Finally, as in the works of Pollock, Cage's music can be analyzed
into equivalences of silence and sound, musical and nonmusical, loud
and soft, and so forth. Intelligible patterns emerge, despite the initial
sensation of scattered disorder, no focus. But if Cage is not an anti-
formalist, still he does seem to celebrate informality in the attention
he gives to chance Occurrences and to listening devotedly to the man-
ifold sounds that fill the air at every moment. What shall we call him
if, according to our topic, we must assign him a place? Perhaps in his
worldview he is an American Zen Buddhist (or funny monist); in
technique he is a formalist; in his pieces he is a formalist in spite of
his techniques to make them indeterminate; but in the effect of his
music upon most listeners at this time, he is an antiformalist.
It could be argued that anytime you use a formal tool (like a grid)
to look at the world, whatever you look at will be formal (for instance,
it will always be gridded). Conversely, to the antiformalist or infor-
malist seeing through those values, everything will seem antiformal or
informal. But this doesn't really happen, as I hope I have explained:
the anti formalist recognizes formality but abuses it; the informalist is
usually too inspired to spend time squabbling; and we who are not the
artist in question are faced with the growing absurdity of trying to
divide matters into two distinct parts.
At its root, the problem with a theory of form is its idea of whole-
160
FOR MA LISM
ness. Before any question of part-to- whole relationships and their sig-
nificance can be asked, the whole must be identified. It must be "out
there," visible or, if not visible, at least deducible by some rational
means. When it turns out that the whole can't be located precisely or,
if approximately located, cannot be limited with an outline or kept
still, either all hell has broken loose or we're in another ball game.
T think we are indeed in another ball game. When seemingly for-
malist artwork becomes antiformal, and antlformal art becomes for-
mal; when the artwork includes its vast history, its conceptual origins
in the artist's mind, its processes of creation; when it also includes the
surroundings and the perceiver, its economics and its future, then we
are faced with a contextual problem that old-fashioned formal esthetics
simply cannot handle.
But without a theory of form sophisticated enough to account for
a physical environment in constant flux, as well as for all the equally
changing qualitative features of human civilization, we are left with
a form-antiform approach to art that is about as novel as discovering
night and day, up anel down, laughter and tears . An updat ed formal-
ism, however, even if it could be devised, seems just too unwieldy in
practical terms.
Apart from that reason, I suspect that on a metaphoric level , for-
malism and its counterpart no longer hold much interest for us. The
very idea of form is in the last analysis too external, too remote, to
allow for urgent fantasies of integration, participation, and significa-
tion brought about by an increasingly crowded and compressed planet.
Consider what is happening in much contemporary art. If a Rem-
brandt were to be used for an ironing board (as Duchamp proposed),
or if, as is more usually the case, an ironing board or its equivalent
were to be placed, like a Rembrandt, in a museum, the issues that arise
relate to the motives, not the formalism or antiformalism of the acts.
100 many works of art today are made to function as situations, com-
mentaries, or processes, rather than as discrete objects, for us to ignore
t heir contextual role. Formalism tends to presume the value of an ideal,
permanent standard.
Different questions-emerging in the sciences, the social sciences,
and even the arts-may offer several ways out of the bind. For ex-
ample, what is the nature of thought? Is it totally verbal or not? What
is the relation between mind, speech, and culture? How and what do
we communicate? Do we communicate with so-called non intelligences
10'
THE SEVENTIES
the edges between his art and the world beyond are as great as Pollock's
or even greater. Just as Pollock's painting has no definite frame, so the
sounds and silences in Cage's music could be continued indefinitely.
Musical sound and noise (customarily divided) are really one; so are
art and life. If an in the high formal sense is what gives order to life's
aimlessness, then Cage's music qualifies as anti formalist.
But Cage does not create his music in a disorganized way. His
"chance operations"-already procedural by his choice of the word
"operation"-involve careful and lengthy preparations and the use of
the I Ching or computer, both very formal tools.
Moreover, his pieces, childlike and often gently humorous, lack the
antiformalist's virulence. The absence of sharp discontent-the anti
part of antiformalism-and the presence instead of a fey positivism
score the oversimplification of the formalist dialectic from either end
of the scale and do not account for the subtle shades of temperament
really present in any live artist. They are inadequate, for instance, to
explain so-called informalists.
Finally, as in the works of Pollock, Cage's music can be analyzed
into equivalences of silence and sound, musical and nonmusical, loud
and soft, and so forth. Intelligible patterns emerge, despite the initial
sensation of scattered disorder, no focus. But if Cage is not an anti-
formalist, still he does seem to celebrate informality in the attention
he gives to chance Occurrences and to listening devotedly to the man-
ifold sounds that fill the air at every moment. What shall we call him
if, according to our topic, we must assign him a place? Perhaps in his
worldview he is an American Zen Buddhist (or funny monist); in
technique he is a formalist; in his pieces he is a formalist in spite of
his techniques to make them indeterminate; but in the effect of his
music upon most listeners at this time, he is an antiformalist.
It could be argued that anytime you use a formal tool (like a grid)
to look at the world, whatever you look at will be formal (for instance,
it will always be gridded). Conversely, to the antiformalist or infor-
malist seeing through those values, everything will seem antiformal or
informal. But this doesn't really happen, as I hope I have explained:
the anti formalist recognizes formality but abuses it; the informalist is
usually too inspired to spend time squabbling; and we who are not the
artist in question are faced with the growing absurdity of trying to
divide matters into two distinct parts.
At its root, the problem with a theory of form is its idea of whole-
160
FOR MA LISM
ness. Before any question of part-to- whole relationships and their sig-
nificance can be asked, the whole must be identified. It must be "out
there," visible or, if not visible, at least deducible by some rational
means. When it turns out that the whole can't be located precisely or,
if approximately located, cannot be limited with an outline or kept
still, either all hell has broken loose or we're in another ball game.
T think we are indeed in another ball game. When seemingly for-
malist artwork becomes antiformal, and antlformal art becomes for-
mal; when the artwork includes its vast history, its conceptual origins
in the artist's mind, its processes of creation; when it also includes the
surroundings and the perceiver, its economics and its future, then we
are faced with a contextual problem that old-fashioned formal esthetics
simply cannot handle.
But without a theory of form sophisticated enough to account for
a physical environment in constant flux, as well as for all the equally
changing qualitative features of human civilization, we are left with
a form-antiform approach to art that is about as novel as discovering
night and day, up anel down, laughter and tears . An updat ed formal-
ism, however, even if it could be devised, seems just too unwieldy in
practical terms.
Apart from that reason, I suspect that on a metaphoric level , for-
malism and its counterpart no longer hold much interest for us. The
very idea of form is in the last analysis too external, too remote, to
allow for urgent fantasies of integration, participation, and significa-
tion brought about by an increasingly crowded and compressed planet.
Consider what is happening in much contemporary art. If a Rem-
brandt were to be used for an ironing board (as Duchamp proposed),
or if, as is more usually the case, an ironing board or its equivalent
were to be placed, like a Rembrandt, in a museum, the issues that arise
relate to the motives, not the formalism or antiformalism of the acts.
100 many works of art today are made to function as situations, com-
mentaries, or processes, rather than as discrete objects, for us to ignore
t heir contextual role. Formalism tends to presume the value of an ideal,
permanent standard.
Different questions-emerging in the sciences, the social sciences,
and even the arts-may offer several ways out of the bind. For ex-
ample, what is the nature of thought? Is it totally verbal or not? What
is the relation between mind, speech, and culture? How and what do
we communicate? Do we communicate with so-called non intelligences
10'
TilE SEVENTIES
like animals, plants, rocks, air? Are there intelligences in outer space?
If so, what kind of language would allow us to communicate? Is it
mathematical? Is the invention of artificial life systems (say, bionics) a
metaphor for a natural biological system? And is human culture such
a metaphor? Can we really distinguish between natural and artificial
conditions; that is, if the mind is natural and it creates a concept of
systems, are the systems artificial, or are systems metaphors of the way
the mind naturally works? If they are metaphors, are human beings
forever limited to being the model for all our knowledge of the objec-
tive universe? How does culture-like science, technology, art-use
models? How does culture condition the questions as ked about the
nature of reality ? That is, how does rapid cultural change affect our
sense of time and space? How do these changes modify our inherited
concerns for perma nent human values and permanent artworks? If
art today often resembles nonart-insane behavior, road constructions,
the yellow pages of the telephone directory-what kind of dialogue is
going on with the nonart models? What is the connection between the
way people relate to one another, to thei'r natural and artificial envi-
ronments, and to their cultural artifacts ? The questions could go on
at length: but even these few may suggest to the artist possibilities for
bypassing the confinements of formalism.
Formalism, after all, posits a self-sufficient, closed universe of art
and lor mind. It says in effect that the esthetic state is made up of its
own resonances and needs only itself. It talks to no one but its own,
comes from nowhere but itself, and leads only to the perpetuation of
its own species. Formalism, for all its trad itional appeals to Apollo, is
a synonym for parthenogenesis: pure mentality, born outward to the
framed work of art, is its model ; the artist, in virginal isolat ion from
society, is its human embodiment.
162
Nontheatrical Performance
(1976)
Traditional theater : an empty room except for those who've come to
watch. The lights dim. End of performance. Audience leaves.
West Berlin, 1973. Wolf Vostell arranged a Happening called Berlln
Fever. It involved close to a hundred participants. Driving from various
parts of the city, they converged on a vas t empty field near the wall
dividing Berlin's western and eastern sectors. Above the wall in a tower
were armed border guards. At one edge of the field were small Rower
and vegetable gardens tended by local residents. The field itself had
been cleared of the ruins of buildings bombed in the las t war. It was
a warm, sunny September weekend. The plan given to the participants
read:
(A) Come with your car to Osdorfer Street in Berlin Li chterfel d
(dead end), last stretch of the street on the ri ght side.
(13) Take up a position with you r car in rows of ten each, as thi ckly
as possible, with the cars next to and behind one another.
(C) At a signal start all the cars and try to drive as slowly as possible.
Try to remai n as tightly grouped as you started.
(D) If you have a compa nion in the ca r, he should write down how
many times you shift gears, clutch and step on the gas. If you' re alone,
try to be conscious of every smallest act ion. Add up all these activities
in your brain as psycho-esthetic productions.
(E) After 30 minutes of thi s extremely slow driving, get out of the
car (turn off motor) and go to the trunk of your vehicle. There open
and close the trunk lid 750 times; an d put a white platt inside and
take it out 375 times. This ritual should be accomplished as fast as
possible, without interruption, and without dramatization.
16
3
Nonrhearrical Ferformance
(1976)
Tradirional rhearer: an empry room excepr for rhose vho've come ro
varch. The lighrs di m. End of performance. Audience leaves.
Wesr Ber l i n, 1973. Wo l f Vosrel l arranged a Ha ppe ni ng called Berlin
Fever. Ir i nvol ved close ro a hundr ed parricipanrs. Dr i v i ng f r om various
parrs of rhe ciry, rhey converged on a vasr empry field near rhe val l
di vi di ng Berl i n' s vesrern and easrern secrors. ALove rhe val l i n a rover
vere armed Lorder guards. Ar one edge of rhe field vere smal l flover
and vegeraLle gardens rended Ly l ocal residenrs. The field irself had
Leen cleared of rhe rui ns of Lui l di ngs LomLed i n rhe lasr var. Ir vas
a va r m, sunny SepremLer veekend. The pl an gi ven ro rhe parricipanrs
read:
(A) Come virh your car ro Osdorfer Srreer in Berlin Lichrerfeld
(dead end), lasr srrerch of rhe srreer on rhe righr side.
(B) Take up a posirion virh your car in rovs of ren each, as rhickly
as possiLle, virh rhe cars nexr ro and Lehind one anorher.
(C) Ar a signal srarr all rhe cars and rry ro drive as slovly as possiLle.
Try ro remain as righrly grouped as you srarred.
(D) If you have a companion in rhe car, he should vrire dovn hov
many rimes you shifr gears, clurch and srep on rhe gas. If you're alone,
rry ro Le conscious of every smallesr acrion. Add up all rhese acriviries
in your Lrain as psycho-esrheric producrions.
(E) Afrer 30 minures of rhis exrremely slov driving, ger our of rhe
car (rurn off moror) and go ro rhe rrunk of your vehicle. There open
and close rhe rrunk lid 750 rimes, and pur a vhire plare inside and
rake ir our 375 rimes. This rirual should Le accomplished as fasr as
possiLle, virhour inrerruprion, and virhour dramarizarion.
!"#
! "# % &'&(!) &%
(F) When rhis evenr is complered, lay srrips of clorh on rhe ground
in fronr of rhe columns of cars, rhen place rhe vhire plare vhich is
in your car rrunk, onro rhe clorh.
(d) lake a handful or salr our or a Lag Lenearh rhe Liggesr nearLy
rree. Four ir onro rhe plare vhich you've previously placed on rhe
clorh.
(H) Afrer rhis, rhe auro columns Legin ro move again ar rhe slovesr
possiLle speed. Al l cars pass over rhe clorhs, rhe plares and rhe salr.
(I) Duri ng rhe vhole passage, lick rhe hand you previously held rhe
salr i n.
(J) Nov rhe morors are rurned off again. Everyone sevs up his over-
ridden plare or irs remains inro rhe srrips of clorh. A derrick arrives
along virh supplies of vire for hanging purposes.
(K) Everyone nov goes virh rheir clorh ro rhe rree vhere rhe Lag of
salr lies. Each one decides vhere in rhe rree rheir clorh (virh seved-
up plare) should hang. Wi r h rhe derrick's help rhe clorhs and rheir
conrenrs are fasrened ro rhe Lranches.
(L) The noreLook virh records or clurching, shirring, srepping on rhe
gas, erc. should Le fasrened virh Scorch rape ro rhe inside of rhe rrunk.
(M) When you nexr have a fever, rake rhe noreLook our of rhe rrunk
and rear ir up.
(N) 3 days afrer rhe Happening, Berlin Fever, meer virh Vosrell for
a ralk. Nore your dreams for rhese 3 days and Lring rhe nores ro rhe
discussion.
Vosrell' s Happeni ngs have alvays Leen grandl y scaled. The i r i m-
ages are consisrenrly charged vi r h i mpacr: Lorder guards, Lanners i n
rrees, lanes of s l ov- movi ng cars . . . Specracle and apocalypse re-echo
i n vharever he conceives. Yer rhey are onl y for rhe parricipanrs ro
experience. The guards i n rhe rover varched curi ousl y and srrollers
i n rhe gardens Leyond gazed for a fev momenrs Lefore goi ng rheir
vay. Such casual oLservarion is accidenral, vi r hour i nf ormar i on or
expecrarions. The parricipanrs, hovever, vere vol unrary iniriares i n a
quasi -ri r ual , for vhi c h rhe ongoi ng vor l d, undi sr urLed and hardl y
cari ng, vas rhe conrexr. Thi s , for me, vas parr of rhe piece's poignancy.
Li ke any experi menral vor k, rhe Happeni ng' s language vas
srrange. Onl y gradual l y, vhi l e goi ng r hrough ir, di d rhe parricipanrs
Legi n ro sense irs pervasive pol i ri cal references: Wesr Berl i n' s i deol og-
!"%
( *( ! "& + ! , ) - + . / & , 0 *, 1+(- &
ical and economi c isolarion i n Communi s r Easr Ger ma ny, irs reducri on
ro an arri fi ci al i sland confi ned Ly a val l and rhree foreign mi l i r ary
encampmenr s, rhe pi ped-i n, superficial affluence i n rhe mi dsr of sur-
r oundi ng ausreriry and a disadvanraged Tur ki s h vor ki ng force, an
i sl and vhose popul ar i on is dvi ndl i ng and vhose i ndusrry is l eavi ng,
an i sl and vhose arrisric cul rure is i mporr ed or pumped up Ly pol i ri cal
machi nery, mai nl y i n Bonn and Was hi ngr on, rhis island's ' f evered'
self-consciousness, and saddesr of al l , irs presenr garri son-r ovn i denri ry
compared vi r h rhe impressive ciry ir once vas. The s ymLol i s m vas
personal , Lur ir vas Lased on so many orher Vosrell vorks over rhe
years rhar such a readi ng coul d Le i nrui red ar rhe ri me.
I have spoken of rhe casual passerLy. Bur nor even i nrenri onal
varchers coul d have experienced rhis drama or rhese references vi r hour
l i reral l y openi ng and cl osi ng a car r r unk 750 rimes (heari ng rhe dr um-
mi ng r humps of orher cars), vi r hour rasring rhe salr on rhei r ovn
hands, vi r hour acrually feeling and heari ng rhe plares crushed under
rhei r o vn cars, vi r hour sevi ng up rhe Lroken pieces i nro vhi r e shrouds
ro Le lofred Ly a derri ck ro hang i n a gianr rree. The i nr ernal i zar i on
voul d escape such an oLserver. Bur rhar is vhar Vosrell vas seeki ng,
nor esrheric derachmenr.
Vosrel l Lui l r i nro rhe Ha ppe ni ng an af r ermar h÷a r el l i ng of dreams
rhree days larer and rhe rask of rememLeri ng ar a nexr fever ro rear up
rhe accounr of gear shifrings, srarrs, and srops, al ong vi r h al l rhe sen-
sarions felr dur i ng a parri cul ar rhi rry mi nures of Berlin Fever. O n rhe
one hand, he vas curi ous aLour irs possiLle effecr upon near-furure
fanrasy, and, on rhe orher, he vanred ro keep rhe pasr alive Ly Li ndi ng
a person ro a symLol i c pacr: associaring a personal fever vi r h Berl i n' s.
Al r houg h Vosrell vas a parricipanr roo, he vi eved his piece as a
consciousness-raising device, as reachi ng, as Lehavi or changi ng. Thi s
goal vas, I recal l , hard ro measure, Lur ir is cruci al ro rake i nro accounr his
hope ro see Berlin Fever exrend inro rhe real lives of all rhe parricipanrs.
By vay of conrrasr, a muc h cooler effecr comes across f r om rhe
rexr or ' pr og r a m' of an Acr i vi r y of mi ne. Irs pri nred language is
sparse, irs repeared -ing verL endi ngs convey a conri nuous presenr, irs
images are l ov-key and perhaps a lirrle funny, and irs conrexr is rhe
home envi ronmenr of rhe parricipanrs.
('ailed 7 Kinds of Symparhy, ir uses a modul ar parri ci pari onal uni r
of r vo persons ( A and B), vho carry our a gi ven program of moves.
The program vas discussed Leforehand vi r h five orher couples, vho
& "'
111! % &'&(!) &%
rhen separared ro perf orm rhe piece and reconvened rhe nexr day ro
exchange experiences. As usual , I vas one of rhe parricipanrs. 7 Kinds
of Symparhy, vhose rexr fol l ovs, rook place rhis year i n Vi enna .
A, vri ri ng
occasionally Lloving nose
B, varching
copying A Lloving nose
conrinuing
(larer) B, reading A's vriring
occasionally scrarching groin, armpir
A, varching
copying B scrarching
conrinuing
(larer) A, examining somerhing
occasionally feeling for somerhing in pocker
B, varching
copying A feeling for somerhing
conrinuing
(larer) B, examining A's oLjecr
occasionally coughing
A, varching
clearing rhroar in reply
conrinuing
(larer) A and B, close rogerher
B, holding rissue ro A's nose
A, occasionally Lloving inro ir
B, clearing rhroar in reply
conrinuing
(larer) B and A, close rogerher
B, descriLing and poinring ro irching
in groin and armpir
1""
( * ( ! "& + ! , ) - + . / & , 0 *, 1+(- &
A, scrarching vhere B irches
occasionally coughing
B, conrinuing descriprion
insrrucring A unril relieved
A, occasionally coughing
(larer) A, feeding silenr B
copying B's mourh movemenrs
saying: open chev svallov
conrinuing
The nores accompanyi ng rhe program i nrenri onal l y poi nred our
gui del i nes ro i nrerprerari on. Ir is vor r hvhi l e menr i oni ng rhis aspecr of
rhe preparari on for parri ci pari ng. A n unf ami l i ar genre l i ke rhis one
does nor speak for irself. Expl ai ni ng, readi ng, r hi nki ng, doi ng, feeling,
r evi evi ng, and r hi nki ng again are commi ngl ed. Thus rhe f ol l ovi ng
commenr s accompani ed rhe mai n rexr:
There is rhe vell-knovn srory of a lirrle Loy vho vas Leing loudly
chasrised Ly his morher for misLehaving. The morher ranred and
raved vhile rhe Loy srared curiously ar her, seeming nor ro lisren. Ex-
asperared, she demanded ro knov if he had heard her. He ansvered
rhar ir vas funny rhe vay her mourh moved vhen she vas angry. The
Loy had ignored one ser of messages and focused on anorher.
In 7 Kinds of Symparhy primary and secondary messages are sim-
ilarly conrrasred. A person 'symparhizes' virh a parrner Ly copying
secondary, normally unconscious, ones (Lloving rhe nose) vhile dis-
regarding rhe primary ones (vriring). The oLserver/oLserved roles are
rhen reversed and rhe original primary message is arrended ro vhile
a secondary message (scrarching an irch) is senr our and copied.
The exchange conrinues, virh coughs and rhroar clearings added,
nexr developing inro a virrual reperrory of such moves. The parrners
come much closer rogerher, one helping rhe orher ro Llov rhe nose,
scrarch an irch, and finally ro ear. Frimary and secondary Lecome
rhoroughly mixed up, as do oLserver and oLserved. And unlike or-
dinary Lehavior, Lorh parrners are avare from rhe srarr of all rhese
facrors as rhey perform rhe program, hence rhe socially accepraLle
and personally privare are also mixed up.
Bur rhe parrners vi l l narurally rell aLour rhemselves in orher vays,
!"(
! " & % &'&(!) &%
sending perhaps rerriary messages, rhese may Le picked up quire
consciously, rhereLy provoking quarrernary ones, and so on . . .
Wha r occurred i n rhe doi ng vas, on rhe surlacc, a vaudevi l l e rourine
i n seven si mpl e parrs, r equi r i ng neirher special ski l l s nor anyone's loss
of idenriry. F r o m a Lri efi ng and rhe nores, rhe parrners expecred rhar
rhere voul d Le more ro ir rhan rhe schemaric pl an suggesred.
They undersrood, for insrance, rhar since durari ons vere unspeci-
fied excepr Ly rhe vords conrinuing and larer, rhey coul d srrerch on
and on or Le qui re shorr. They undersrood rhar prol ongar i on of mi m-
icry coul d Lecome caricarure and rhar roo much Lreviry mi ghr prevenr
arrenriveness. Bur since rhe Acr i vi r y used mur ual scruri ny as rhe parr-
ners' means of f i ndi ng our aLour each orher, rhey had a prorecrive
f or mul a i n rhe very aLsurdiry of rheir moves: aLsurdi ry al l oved rhem
ro dr op rheir nor mal consrrainrs and go vi r h rhe program as l ong as
ir seemed appropri are.
As al vays, rhere vas a range of responses ro a commonl y shared
pl an. Ther e vas, ro Legi n, a cerrain self-conscious indifference and
some laughrer. The n rhere vere loaded silences, suLrle aggressions,
arrful mani pul ar i ons, and dodges of rhe unconrrol l aLl e messages goi ng
Lack and forrh Lerveen i ndi vi dual s . Ther e vere also feelings of close-
ness (perhaps Lor n of rhe aLsurdiry of vhar each parri ci panr vas
doi ng), i nri mari ons of ceremoni al s, sensarions of vul neraLi l i ry (each
one vondered vhar rhe orher 'sav'). A n d of course rhere vas a
feigned di sregard and si mulraneous acknovl edgmenr of rhe sexual
connorarions of scrarchi ng a parrner's i rch ' unr i l rel i eved. ' Fi nal l y, ar
rhe end rhere vas rhar vague feeling rhar ' s ympar hy' i mpl i es carryi ng
rhe Lurden of anorher's foolishness. Ir is i mporr anr ro record here rhar
my o vn pri or knovl edge of rhe concepr di d nor hi ng ro jade me ro
rhese experiences, i f anyr hi ng, ir sensirized me.
The rexrs of George Brechr' s Evenrs of 1959-62 are even more
neurral rhan mi ne, Lur unl i ke mi ne vere nor l i kel y ro srimulare inrer-
personal acri on. If anyr hi ng, rhey vere finely arrenuared rhoughr,
rarher phi l osophi cal i n rheir i ncl i nar i on, r hough never ponderous.
Fr i nr ed on smal l cards, rhey appeared ro Le a sorr of shorr hand, or
chaprer nores vi r hour rhe chaprers. The i r language, l i ke rheir scale,
vas mi ni ma l , uni nfl ecred, and apparenrly as smal l i n scope of opera-
ri on as i n i mpl i car i on. The i mpressi on vas rhar you coul dn' r do much
vi r h r hem, Lur rhey vere very impressive and very eleganr.
168
( *( ! "& + ! , ) - + . / & , 0 *, 1+(- &
Some pieces vere i n facr perf ormed i n rhe Uni r ed Srares, Eur ope,
and Japan, i n Fl uxus fesrivals and relared performance presenrarions,
usi ng convenri onal rhearer formars and audiences. Orhers vere carri ed
our privarely and vere never documenr ed or reporred ro rhe arr press.
Ma ny vere perf ormed i n rhe head.
Bur i n any case, mosr of rhe cards vere amLi guous aLour hov rhey
vere ro Le used. Ir vas clear ro some of us rhen rhar rhis vas rheir
poi nr: ro Le applicaLle ro various requi remenrs. Those vi s hi ng ro con-
venri onal i ze rhe Lri ef scores (as Brechr called rhem) i nro a neo-Dada
rhearer coul d and di d do so. Thos e vho vanred ro projecr rheir ri ny
forms i nro dai l y acriviry, or i nro conr empl ar i on, vere also free ro f ol l ov
rhar roure. Her e is one exampl e rhar does specify a sire.
TIME-TABLE MUSIC
For performance in a railway station.
The performers enter a railway station and obtain
time-tables.
They stand or seat themsel ves so as to be visible to
each other and, when ready, start their stop-
wat ches simultaneously.
Each performer interprets the tabl ed time indica-
tions in terms of minutes and seconds (e.g. 7:16 = 7
minutes and 16 seconds). He sel ects one time by
chance to determi ne the total duration of his per-
forming. This done, he sel ects one row or col umn
and makes a sound at all points where tabled ti mes
within that row or col umn fall within the total dura-
tion of his performance.
G e o r g e Br e c ht
S u mme r , 1959
!")
! " & % &'&(!) &%
Ten or rvelve of us venr lare one afrernoon ro rhe srarion and vere
qui ckl y losr ro our ovn devices i n rhe rush-hour cr ovd. Each inrer-
prered freely rhe Lare i ndi cari ons. For insrance, sounds of any ki nd
vere ro Le made Ly chance selecrion of deparrure and arri val rimes
lisred i n a r rai n schedule. We vere also ro remai n visiLle ro each orher.
Bur rhe masses of commurers sval l oved us and our sounds, and ve
Lecame avare of vhar vas, i n rhe final analysis, a gr oup of privare
performances.
In a version of 1961, rhar ourcome vas accounred for as rhe mosr
l ogi cal resulr, so rhe group acrion and specificarion for ma ki ng sounds
vere lefr our. The parri ci panr vas gi ven rhe responsi Li l i ry of derer-
mi ni ng or di scoveri ng, i n some fashion, vhar voul d happen.
In rhe f ol l ovi ng pieces, hovever, rhe aLsence of i nsr rucr i on leaves
no douLr aLour rheir appeal ro amLi guous use.
TWO ELIMINATION EVENTS
+ empty vessel
+ empty vessel
S u mme r , 1961
I f Tvo Eliminarion Evenrs is j udged a perf ormance score, one or
more persons i n any environmenr(s) can inrerprer rhe repeared vor d
empry as a verL or an adjecrive, rhe r vo i denri cal phrases can refer ro
r vo empry conrainers rhar shoul d Le accounred for somehov or can
Le raken as i nsrrucri ons rhar rvo conrainers Le empr i ed.
As a Concepr ual piece, rhe vor k invires parricipanrs ro consider
rhar rhese possiLiliries may Le si mpl y rhoughr aLour. The rirle's key
vor d, eliminarion, suggesrs a reducrive arrirude rhar can Le assumed
r ovard r he m÷a gerri ng ri d of somer hi ng undesi red or unneeded. Thi s
coul d lead ro rhe physical acr of performance as such, and ir coul d
al l ude ro rhe ' e mpr y' (Lur full) srare of Ze n.
!(*
( * ( ! "& + ! , ) - + . / & , 0 *, 1+(- &
Brechr' s i ndi recr cal l ro rhe reader ro share i n rhe ma ki ng of a piece
is pl ayf ul l y revealed i n
THREE WINDOW EVENTS
openi ng a cl osed window
cl osi ng an open wi ndow
vhi c h promprs one, afrer a vhi l e, ro ask vhere rhe r hi rd vi ndov evenr
is. One ansver is rhar rhe quesrion is rhe r hi rd evenr, anorher is l ooki ng
our rhe vi ndo v, anorher is rhe rhoughr rhar rhere are counrless pos-
siLiliries. Nar ur al l y, a performer can acrually do vhar is descriLed on
rhe card and rhen add rhe mi ssi ng componenr.
Three Aqueous Evenrs, hovever, does expl ai n irself exacrly i n rhree
vords, rhe sol i d, l i qui d, and vaporous forms of rhe universal solvenr:
THREE AQUEOUS EVENTS
+ ice
+ water
+ st eam
S u mme r , 1961
Ir rends ro resr ar rhar poi nr as a Concepr ual piece Lecause rhe vords
are mosr easily read as nouns. Bur rhey can Le felr as prompr i ngs , i f
!(!
I III- S KY I N I l l s
nor commands : I once made a delicious iced rea on rhe sr i mul ar i on of
rhe piece and rhoughr aLour ir vhi l e dr i nki ng.
Thi s fifrh exampl e, Tvo Exercises, depends on Lei ng read more
rhan anyr hi ng else.
TWO EXERCISES
Consi der an object. Call what is not the object
"other."
EXERCISE: Add to the object, from the
"other," another object, to form a
new object and a new "other."
Repeat until there is no more
"other."
EXERCISE: Take a part from the object and
add it to the "other," to form a new
object and a new "other."
Repeat until there is no more
object.
Fal l , 1961
Neverrheless, i f ir vere pur inro physical pracrice, ir voul d qui ckl y
Lecome apparenr rhar rhe piece is vri r r en as a verLal smoke screen.
Suppose rhere vere r vo Laskers of apples, one called oLjecr, and one
called orher. By suLsri ruri ng for rhe vor d oLjecr i n rhe firsr exercise
rhe vor d Lasker, and for rhe vor d orher rhe same vor d Lasker and,
furrher, Ly suLsri ruri ng for rhe nexr use of rhe vor d oLjecr rhe vor d
apple÷you vi l l have a si mpl e recipe. Revr i r r en, ir voul d read: & 2 3
& , - ) % & : A d d ro rhe Lasker of apples, f r om rhe orher Lasker, anorher
apple, ro f or m a nev (or Ligger) Lasker and a nev quanri ry of apples.
Repear unr i l rhere are no more apples i n rhe orher Lasker. The second
exercise si mpl y reverses rhe process and you end up vhere you Legan.
!(+
( *( ! "& + ! , ) - + . / & , 0 *, 1+(- &
Wha r Brechr does here, vi r h some vi r , is confuse rhe ear vi r h
reperirions and differenr applicarions of rhe vords oLjecr, orher, and
anorher. Consequenrl y, rhe mi nd performs and mysrifies irself. Ir is a
species of conundr um.
Or di nar i l y, a performance is some ki nd of play, dance, or concerr
presenred ro an audi ence÷even i n rhe avanr-garde. Bur acrually rhere
are r vo rypes of performance currenrl y Lei ng made Ly arrisrs: a pre-
domi nanr rhearrical one, and a less recogni zed nonrhearri cal one. They
correspond, inreresringly, ro rhe r vo meani ngs rhe vor d performance
has i n Engl i s h: one refers ro arrisrry, as i n per f or mi ng on rhe vi ol i n,
rhe orher has ro do vi r h carryi ng our a joL or f uncri on, as i n carryi ng
our a rask, service, or dur y÷vi z . a 'hi gh-perf ormance engi ne. '
Thear r i cal performance, i n rhe Lroadesr sense, rakes nor onl y rhe
f or m of plays Lur also marri age ceremonies, srock-car races, foorLal l
games, aerial srunrs, parades, T V shovs, classroom reaching, and po-
l i r i cal rallies. Somer hi ng occurs i n a cerrain place, someone comes ro
arrend ir i n an adjacenr place, and ir Legins and ends afrer a usually
convenr i onal r i me has elapsed. These characrerisrics have Leen as un-
changi ng as rhe seasons.
Thus ir voul d srill Le rhearer i f specrarors garhered ro varch an
arrisr on a relevision moni r or var chi ng herself on a differenr moni r or
i n anorher r oom. F r o m ri me ro ri me she voul d come i nro rhe specra-
rors' space ro do rhe same r hi ng. In rhis vay rhe piece voul d Lui l d irs
layers of real and reproduced realiries. Such a piece rypifies a ki nd of
sophisricared performance seen i n galleries and arr lofrs Lur is srruc-
rural l y si mi l ar ro orhers rhar mi ghr appear more conservarive i n con-
renr. Take avay rhe vi deo, rake avay vhar rhe arrisr is doi ng, and she
coul d replace rhese vi r h Shakespeare or gymnasrics.
Nonr hear ri cal performance does nor Legi n vi r h an envelope con-
r ai ni ng an acr (rhe fanrasy) and an audience (rhose affecred Ly rhe
fanrasy). By rhe early sixries rhe more experi menral Happeni ngs and
Fl uxus evenrs had el i mi nar ed nor only acrors, roles, plors, rehearsals,
and repears Lur also audiences, rhe single sraging area, and rhe cusrom-
ary r i me Ll ock of an hour or so. These are rhe srock-in-rrade of any
rhearer, pasr or presenr. (Flays such as RoLerr Wi l s on' s , al ong vi r h
cerrain Chi nese performances and rhe operas of Ri char d Wagner, ex-
rend dur ar i on Lur i n al l orher respecrs hol d ro rhearrical condirions. )
i73
T H E Si V i N i l 1 N
Since rhose firsr efforrs, Acr i vi r i es, La ndvor ks , Concepr pieces, I n-
f ormar i on pieces, and Bodyvor ks have added ro rhe idea of a perfor-
mance rhar isn'r rhearer. Besides my ovn vor k and rhe examples of
Vosrel l and Brechr, already descri Led, ir is nor difficulr ro see rhe per-
formance aspecrs of a relephone conversari on, di ggi ng a rrench i n rhe
deserr, di s r ri Lur i ng religious rracrs on a srreer corner, garheri ng and
arrangi ng popul ar i on srarisrics, and rreari ng one's Lody ro al rernari ng
hor and col d i mmersi ons. Bur ir is difficul r nor ro convenri onal i ze r hem.
Wha r rends ro happen is rhar rhe performances are referred ro Ly
phoros and rexrs presenred as arr shovs i n galleries, or vhol e siruarions
are Lroughr inracr i nro galleries, l i ke Duchamp' s ur i nal , or arr audi -
ences are raken ro rhe performances as rhearer. The rransformed ' ar r i -
f i car i on' is rhe focus, rhe ' cooked' version of nonarr, ser i nro a cul r ural
f r amevor k, is preferred ro irs ' r a v' pri mary srare.
For rhe maj ori ry of arrisrs, arr agenrs, and rheir puLl i cs, ir proLaLl y
coul d nor Le orhervi se. Mos r coul d nor susrain enough inreresr and
personal mor i var i on ro dispense vi r h rhe hi srori cal forms of l egi ri -
mar i on. The f ramevork rells you vhar ir is: a cov i n a concerr hal l is
a mus i ci an, a cov i n a Larn is a cov. A man var chi ng rhe mus i ci an-
cov is an audi ence, a man i n a cov Larn is a farmer. Ri ghr !
Bur rhe experi menral mi nor i r y apparenrly does nor need rhese ser-
rings, r hough rhe reason rhey do nor has nor hi ng ro do vi r h dar i ng or
heroic indifference. Insread (as I've vri r r en i n ' The Happeni ngs Ar e
Dead: Lo ng Li ve rhe Happeni ngs ! ' ) , ir has ro do vi r h arrisrs r hem-
selves, vho roday are so rrai ned ro accepr anyr hi ng as annexaLle ro arr
rhar rhey have a ready-made 'arr f rame' i n rheir heads rhar can Le ser
dovn anyvhere, ar any ri me. They do nor requi re rhe r radi r i onal signs,
rooms, arrangemenrs, and rires of performance Lecause performance
is an arrirude aLour i nvol vemenr on some plane i n somer hi ng goi ng
on. Ir does nor have ro Le onsrage, and ir really does nor have ro Le
announced.
To undersrand nonrhearri cal performance as an idea, ir mi ghr Le
vor r hvhi l e ro consider rhe currenr srare of rhe arr profession i n rhe
Wesr. A l l arrisrs have ar rheir fingerrips a Lody of i nf ormar i on aLour
vhar has Leen done and vhar is Lei ng done. Ther e are cerrain oprions.
Ma k i n g performances of some sorr is one of r hem. Ma k i n g nonarr
i nro arr is anorher. Nonar r arr, vhen appl i ed ro per f or mi ng, means
ma ki ng a performance rhar doesn'r resemLle vhar' s Leen called arr
perf ormance. Ar r performance is rhar range of doi ng rhings called
·74
( *( ! "& + ! , ) - + . / & , 0 *, 1+(- &
rhearer. A n arrisr choosi ng ro make nonarr performances si mpl y has ro
kno v vhar rhearrical performances are and avoi d doi ng r hem, qui re
consciously, ar leasr i n rhe Legi nni ng. The value i n l i sri ng one's oprions
is ro make rhings as conscious as possiLle, experimenrers can experi -
menr more vhen rhey knov vhar's vhar. Accor di ngl y, here is rhe Lal l
game I perceive: an arrisr can
(1) vork virhin recognizaLle arr modes and presenr rhe vork in
recognizaLle arr conrexrs
e.g., painrings in galleries
poerry in poerry Looks
music in concerr halls, erc.
(2) vork in unrecognizaLle, i.e., nonarr, modes Lur presenr rhe vork
in recognizaLle arr conrexrs
e.g., a pizza parlor in a gallery
a relephone Look sold as poerry, erc.
(3) vork in recognizaLle arr modes Lur presenr rhe vork in nonarr
conrexrs
e.g., a 'RemLrandr as an ironing Loard'
a fugue in an air-condirioning ducr
a sonner as a vanr ad, erc.
(4) vork in nonarr modes Lur presenr rhe vork as arr in nonarr
conrexrs
e.g., perceprion resrs in a psychology laL
anri-erosion rerracing in rhe hills
rypevrirer repairing
garLage collecring, erc. (virh rhe proviso rhar rhe arr vorld
knovs aLour ir)
(5) vork in nonarr modes and nonarr conrexrs Lur cease ro call rhe
vork arr, reraining insread rhe privare consciousness rhar somerimes
ir may Le arr, roo
!('
! " & % &'&(!) &%
e.g., sysrems analysis
social vork in a gherro
hirchhiking
rhinking, erc.
A l l arrisrs can locare rhemselves among rhese five oprions. Mosr
Lel ong ro rhe firsr, very fev occupy rhe f ourr h, and so far, I knov of
no one vho firs rhe fifrh vho hasn'r si mpl y dropped our of arr enrirely.
(One runs i nro such posrgraduares f rom ri me ro ri me, Lur rheir easy
resrimonials ro rhe good life lack rhe dense ironies of douLl er hi nk rhar
voul d resulr f r om si mul raneous dai l y parri ci pari on i n arr and, say,
finance.)
Ferformance i n rhe nonrhearri cal sense rhar I am discussing hovers
very close ro rhis fifrh possiLiliry, yer rhe inrellecrual di sci pl i ne ir i mpl i es
and rhe indifference ro val i dari on Ly rhe arr vor l d ir requires suggesr
rhar rhe person engaged i n ir voul d vi ev arr less as a profession rhan
as a meraphor. Ar presenr such performance is generally nonarr acriviry
conducred i n nonarr conrexrs Lur offered as quasi-arr ro arr -mi nded
people. Tha r is, ro rhose nor inreresred i n vherher ir is or isn'r arr, vho
may, hovever, Le inreresred for orher reasons, ir need nor Le jusrified
as an ar r vor k. Thus i n a performance of 1968 rhar i nvol ved docu-
menr i ng rhe circumsrances of many rire changes ar gas srarions i n Ne v
Jersey, curi ous srarion arrendanrs vere frequenrly rol d ir vas a socio-
l ogi cal srudy ( vhi ch ir vas, i n a vay), vhi l e rhose i n rhe cars knev ir
vas also arr.
Suppose, i n rhe spirir of rhings nonarrisric, rhar havi ng a srance of
some sorr vas i mporr anr for ma ki ng experi menral performances. A
srance i ncl udes nor jusr a feeling rone Lur also a rough idea of rhe
huma n and professional values you are deal i ng vi r h. A srance gives a
shape and an expl anari on ro an unf ami l i ar course of acri on. Ir may Le
valuaLle ro Lr i ng up rhis issue here Lecause nev arr rends ro generare
nev srances, even r hough vhi l e rhis happens ol d norions are carri ed
over rhar are i ncompari Ll e vi r h rhe nev si ruari on. For insrance, an
Exi srenri al i sr srance vas hel pful ro Ac r i on pai nr i ng Lecause ir coul d
expl ai n, and rherefore jusrify, personal isolarion and crisis Lerrer rhan
rhe Ma r x i s m of rhe rhirries. Ar presenr, a formal i sr srance voul d Le
!("
( *( ! "& + ! , ) - + . / & , 0 *, 1+(- &
inadequare for a performance genre rhar i nrenri onal l y Llurs caregories
and mi xes vi r h everyday life.
My ovn srance has evol ved, somevhar pragmari cal l y, i n acrual
vo r ki ng condi ri ons. I descriLe ir here as an example rarher rhan as a
prescri pri on for orhers. W i r h rhar cavear i n mi nd, suppose rhar perfor-
mance arrisrs vere ro adopr rhe emphasis of universiries and r hi nk
ranks on Lasic research. Ferformance voul d Le conceived as i nqui ry.
Ir voul d reflecr rhe vord' s everyday meani ng of per f or mi ng a joL or
service and voul d relieve rhe arrisr of i nspi rari onal meraphors, such as
creariviry, rhar are racirly associared vi r h ma ki ng arr, and rherefore
rhearer arr.
The inrenr of rhis shifr is nor ro do avay vi r h feeling or even
i nspi rar i on÷r hese Lel ong ro scholars and scienrisrs as vel l as ro arrisrs.
Ir is ro idenrify rhe i nqui si ri ve and procedural approach of researchers
ro rheir vor k so rhar rhe arrisr adopr i ng ir voul d Le free ro feel vi r hour
Lei ng Lehol den ro rhe l ook and feeling of pri or arr. Bur mosr of al l ,
rhe arrisr as researcher can Legi n ro consider and acr upon suLsranrive
quesrions aLour consciousness, communi car i on, and cul rure vi r hour
gi vi ng up memLers hi p i n rhe profession of arr.
When you attempt to interact with animal and plant life,
and with wind and stones, you may al so be a naturalist
or highway engineer, but you and the el ements are per-
f ormers¬and this can be basi c research.
Basic research is i nqui r y i nro vhol e si ruari ons÷f or exampl e, vhy
humans fighr÷even if, l i ke arr, rhey are elusive and consranrly chang-
i ng. Wha r is Lasic research ar one momenr Lecomes derail vor k or
somer hi ng r ri vi al ar anorher, and seeking vhar is vor r h researching ar
a parri cul ar momenr is vhere rhe guessvork comes i n. My hunch aLour
arr is rhar a field rhar has changed i n appearance as fasr as ir has musr
also have changed i n meani ng and f uncr i on, perhaps ro rhe exrenr rhar
irs role is qual i rari ve (offering a vay of percei vi ng rhings) rarher rhan
quanri rari ve ( produci ng physical oLjecrs or specific acrions).
When you use the postal system to send mail around the
gl obe to persons known or unknown and when you simi-
larly use the telephone, tel egraph, or newspaper¬t hese
!((
! " & % &'&(!) &%
message carri ers are performers and this communi ca-
tion can be basi c research.
W h o is inreresred i n performance Ly arrisrs! The arr vor l d, oL-
viously. Ir is an arr vor l d rhar is rrai ned i n rhe visual conr empl ar i on of
oLjecrs made Ly visual arrisrs. Ir has nexr ro no experience i n rhearer,
yer Lecause of rhis naï vere ir is free ro innovare. Irs Loundless enr hu-
siasm has led ro asroni shi ng vorks one voul dn' r find i n professional
rhearer, yer ir applauds rhe rankesr amar euri sm al ong vi r h vhar is
genui ne. Wh e n faced vi r h nonrhearri cal performance, rhe arr vor l d
cannor recogni ze vhar is happeni ng Lecause ir responds ro arr as arr.
Ir Lelieves i n srudios, galleries, collecrors, museums, and reverenrial
and medi rari ve vays ro l ook ar arr. A gallery performance or irs equi v-
alenr is f ramed l i ke a pai nr i ng Ly irs shri nel i ke serring, an Acr i vi r y our
i n rhe real vor l d, i f announced, is Leyond rhe pale.
When you experi ment with brain waves and related bio-
f eedback pr ocesses in order to communi cate with your-
self, with others, and with the nonhuman worl d¬these
perf ormances can be basi c research.
W h o sponsors performances Ly arrisrs! Fr omor i on of Lorh rhe
rhearrical and nonrhearri cal ki nds resrs mai nl y vi r h dealers and mu-
seum officials (universiries, vhi c h vere once supporri ve, are nov eco-
nomi cal l y cr i ppl ed, rhey conri nue rheir inreresr i ndi recrl y Ly hi r i ng
perf ormance arrisrs ro reach i n rheir arr deparrmenrs). Thi s encour-
agemenr is prai sevorrhy and is acknovl edged Ly rhe press. Bur Le-
cause ir is so uni nf or med, ir is almosr disasrrous.
The firsr Ame r i c a n Happeni ngs , Fl uxus evenrs, and paral l el vorks
i n Japan, Eur ope, and Sourh Amer i c a vere presenred as di sri ncr modes
of arr. Today rheir progeny have Lecome parr of rhe puLl i c relarions
of i nf l uenr i al galleries and arrs insrirurions, vhi c h offer r hem as fronr-
office arrracrions ro rhe sale or display of orher arrisrs' rangiLles i n rhe
shovrooms.
When you view a normal routine in your life as a perfor-
mance and carefully chart for a month how you greet
someone each day, what you say with your body, your
!(,
N O N T H K A l R I C A I . I'K K 1' ) R M A M ' I
pauses, and your clothing; and when you carefully chart
the responses you get¬this can be basi c research.
Arr i sr s vho mi ghr prefer ro devore all or mosr of rheir ri me ro
perf ormance are pressured ro make documenrary pri nrs and oLjecrs
on rhe rheme of rhe perf ormance÷as a guaranree againsr financial
loss Ly rhe sponsor. Amo n g such salaLles are Lirs and pieces of para-
phernal i a lefr over f rom rhe evenr, signed and numLered, and dressed
up as rokens of rhe live experience. They are offered and somerimes
collecred l i ke pieces of rhe True Cross, or a sock vor n Ly a deceased
marinee i dol . I do nor vanr ro ignore rhe quasi -magi cal i mpor r of
relics and rokens, Lur rhese are nov preferred ro rhe performance. A n d
I am nor decryi ng commerce here, Lur an arrisr rarely receives a fee
for a performance alone, Lecause ir is used as a come-on.
Wi r h ignorance of vhar is ar srake so vi despread, sponsors rend
ro have a negarive influence on rhe acrual performances. Wi r hour i n-
r endi ng har m, rhey urge rhar rhey Le gi ven conveni enrl y i n rheir ovn
galleries or museums vhen a laLorarory, suLvay, Ledroom, or a com-
Li nar i on of rhese mi ghr Le Lerrer. F r o m haLir, rhey and rhe puLl i c
expecr rhe durar i on of rhe pieces ro Le a comforraLl e hour or so, vhen
ren seconds, ren days, or di sconri nuous ri me mi ghr make more sense.
When you attend to how your performance affects your
real life and the real life of your co-performers; and
when you attend to how it may have altered the soci al
and natural surroundi ngs¬thi s follow-up is al so perfor-
mance, and it can be basi c research.
Because srrong visual i magery is alvays suiraLle for adverri si ng
flyers and pamphl ers, and Lecause al l arrisrs are supposed ro Le vi sual l y
ori enr ed, performances vi r h such i magery are mosr vel comed. Thos e
rhar mi ghr i nvol ve darkness, racriliry, or Concepr ual marrers are dis-
couraged vi r h rhe eager remi nder rhar rhe medi a people vi l l have
nor hi ng ro see.
Si mi l arl y, vi r h recordi ng rechnology, parri cul arl y videorape, arrisrs
are regul arl y solicired ro gear rheir performances ro vhar vi l l l ook
good and fir easily on a srandard casserre. The performance, via rhe
documenr , reverrs ro an oLjecr rhar can Le merchandi sed i n repl i ca,
!()
! " & % &'&(!) &%
l i ke a pri nr . In many cases rhe once-only narure of a performance
precludes havi ng anyr hi ng ar all lefr over.
Ironi cal l y, some of rhese oLjecrions coul d Le dropped i f everyone
vere clear aLour rhe issues. Ther e is nor hi ng vr ong vi r h srrong visual
images Lei ng used ro promore a vor k, i f rhe arrisr is i n charge and
vanrs ir. Ther e is nor hi ng vr ong vi r h ma ki ng edirions of documenrs
and relics, i f rhe arrisr is i n charge and vanrs ir. ( A performance coul d
Le concei ved around rhe suLjecr of documenr ar i on per se.) Ther e is
nor hi ng vr ong vi r h a performance rhar onl y lasrs a conveni enr hour,
if rhe arrisr is i n charge and vanrs ir. A n d rhere is nor hi ng vr ong vi r h
Lei ng a fronr-office arrracrion ro an arr gallery, i f rhe arrisr makes ir
very clear rhar she or he is ro Le pai d for puLl i c relarions vor k. F R is
perf ormance . . . The arrisr's role is nor merely ro make performances.
Ir is ro gui de agenrs and rhe puLl i c ro rheir appropri are use.
When you collaborate in scholarly, socio-political, and
educati onal work; and when you direct your perfor-
mance to some definite utility¬this can be basi c re-
search. Bei ng purposive, it is neither Ready-made art
nor just playing at real life, si nce its value is measured by
its practical yield.
- "4
Farriciparion Ferformance
(1977)
Li ve radi o and T V audiences parricipare Ly cl appi ng and l aughi ng on
cues f r om rhe hosr, unr i l rhey do so sponraneously. Some memLers of
rhe audience are i nvi r ed onsrage ro carry props around, si ng, ansver
quesrions, acr i n skirs, and play comperi ri ve games. They rhus pass (for
a rime) f r om var chi ng ro doi ng, rhey are inside rhe acri on, generari ng
ir. Yer rhey kno v rhey have a relarively mi nor role. The shov is Lei ng
di recred Ly someone else. They vi l l rer urn, sooner or larer, ro rheir
sears i n rhe audience. In facr, i n rheir rhoughrs rhey never leave rheir
sears.
Such parricipanrs are a sorr of moLi l e audience, acri ng for every-
one's enrerrai nmenr as i f rhey vere real acrors. They are ' good sporrs. '
They f or m a Lri dge Lerveen rhe specrarors and rhe shovpersons. The
M C and his or her sraff do nor come f rom a place i n rhe audience.
Whe r e you come f r om rells you vhar you are.
Audi ence-parr i ci par i on shovs have evolved as popul ar arr genres
al ong vi r h pol i ri cal rallies, demonsrrari ons, hol i day celeLrarions, and
social danci ng. Farrs of rhe c ommon cul rure, rhey are kno vn and
accepred, rhe moves i ndi vi dual s musr make are fami l i ar, and rheir goals
or uses are assumed ro Le clear.
Use ro rhe user, hovever, can differ markedl y f rom use ro rhe
oLserver (rhe nonparri ci panr). OLservers vho analyze cul rure i n deprh
mi ghr Le l ooki ng for large aLsrracr purposes i n popul ar arr forms:
ceremoni al , sexual, propi r i ar i onal , recrearional, and rhe l i ke. For ex-
ampl e, i n rhe laLor dispures of rhe 1930s rhey mi ghr see a ri rual i sri c
si mi l ari r y Lerveen a picker l i ne and vhar happened inside a facrory.
Wor ker s , carryi ng signs alofr, voul d pace a measured ci rcl e, accom-
panyi ng rhei r mar ch vi r h si mpl e reperirive chanrs, rhe picker line coul d
l ook remarkaLl y like rhe mechani cal assemLly lines rhe vorkers vere
! ! !
T H E S E V E N T I E S
Fi g. 15 Delivering ice for Al l an Kaprov' s "#$%&'( 1967, Fasadena. )*+,+-./0* 12
3.$45 "# 5#/6&7
shur r i ng dovn. Al r houg h rhey had sropped vor ki ng , rhey conri nued
vo r ki ng symLol i cal l y.
Char l i e Cha pl i n oLserved rhis si mi l ari r y vonderf ul l y i n his "#$%&'
()*%+, Lur rhe s r r i ki ng vorkers i n rhe film vere mai nl y inreresred i n
gerri ng more money. Thar vas sufficienr reason for r hem ro parricipare
i n rhe mi l l i ng cr ovd and rake rheir places on rhe picker l i ne vhen rhey
vere schedul ed. The anonymous developers of rhe pi cker-l i ne arr f orm
proLaLl y di d nor consider ir an arr f or m Lur musr have sensed rhar
ceremony vas a vay ro achieve specific resulrs, even i f ir vas nor rhe
onl y vay. I consider rhe picker line an arr f or m Lecause my profession
has raughr me ro do so.
Farri ci pari on i n anyr hi ng is ofren a quesrion of mor i ve and use.
Thos e vho seek symLols i n acrion normal l y don' r parricipare i n srrikes
Lur engage i n rhe operarions of analysis and i nrerprerari on. Because
rhe uni on organi zers of pickers need Largai ni ng cl our, rhey parricipare
i n ma ki ng proresr arrangemenrs and poundi ng on rhe managemenr' s
raLles. Because rhe vorkers need Luyi ng pover, rhey srarr mar chi ng
and chanr i ng. Ar leasr some of rhem do.
"#$
FARTI CI I ' ATI OX FERF ORM A N (: E
Co mmu na l arr forms, i ncl udi ng rhose rhe puLl i c voul d readily call
arrisric, rypi cal l y conrai n a mi x of professional di recror/performers vho
have hi gh vi si Li l i ry, semiprofessionals vho are visiLle Lur carry our
relarively si mpl e joLs, and uns ki l l ed enrhusiasrs vho svel l rhe ranks
and provi de exciremenr or commi r menr . Thi s hi erarchy is clear i n rhe
r radi r i onal July 4rh parades of smal l Ame r i c a n rovns: rhere are rhe
Land leaders, musi ci ans, and Laron r vi rl ers, rhere are rhe flag and floar
Learers, rhe ci vi c leaders i n shiny auromoLi l es, and rhe chi l dren vho
Lreak avay f r om parenrs ro run al ong vi r h marchers vho m rhey knov.
In rhis ki nd of parade everyLody knovs everyLody else. Thus rhe
audience packed on rhe si deval ks has more rhan a passive role. Besides
overseeing and apprai si ng irs relarives and friends i n rhe procession,
and releasing irs chi l dr en and dogs ro run Leside rhe dr ummer s , ir
arrives early vi r h food and dr i nk, maps our preferred vanrage places,
dresses appropri arel y vi r h parrioric paraphernal i a, carries i denr i f yi ng
i nsi gni a of local Lusiness affiliarions, cheers, vaves, and calls our fa-
mi l i ar l y ro i ndi vi dual paraders, vho acknovl edge r hem i n r urn Ly
nods, smiles, and vi nks .
As a group, rhe cr ovd, l i ke rhe marchers, is made up of pl ai n
aficionados and real experrs vho occasionally arrange suLacrs such as
skirs and rhe unf ur l i ng and rai si ng of Lanners and placards ar appro-
priare momenr s for rhe enj oymenr of rhe paraders, as vel l as for rheir
i mmedi ar e nei ghLors and rhe local press. Some of r hem vear cosrumes
ro srand our.
Co mmu na l performances l i ke July 4rh parades are pl anned and
gi ven on special occasions, r equi r i ng prepararions and i ndi vi dual s or
groups vi r h ski l l s ro carry r hem our. They are also i nrended ro convey
expressive effecrs such as parri ori sm. Bur vhen rhe communi r y' s rra-
di ri ons are aLandoned for i di osyncrari c arrisric experi menrs, rhe cr ovd
of kno vi ng supporrers and parricipanrs shri nks ro a handf ul . A n d
even so, vhar rhe handf ul acrually knovs or is supposed ro derive f r om
rhe vor ks is uncerrai n and mure, seemi ng ro have ro do vi r h a shared
openness ro novelry, ro Lei ng sensirized, ro fl exi Li l i ry of srance rarher
rhan ro possessing a Lody of hard i nf ormar i on and vell-rehearsed
moves. Wha r passes Lerveen rhe memLers of rhis riny circle are suLrle
signals aLour rhe values of rhe group rhey Lel ong ro.
Wha r , rhen, is parri ci pari on i n rhese producri ons! The early Ha p -
penings and Fl uxus evenrs rhar vere i n facr parr i ci par ory÷mos r vere
nor (see my ' Nonr hear r i cal Ferf ormance' and Mi chael Ki r Ly, -./0
"#&
T H E S EVENTI ES
/%')'1+ | Ne v Yor k, 1965])÷vere a species of audi ence-i nvol vemenr
rhearer a ki n ro rhe radi o and T V variery, rhey vere also rraceaLle ro
rhe gui ded rour, parade, carni val resr of s ki l l , secrer sociery i ni r i ar i on,
and popul ar rexrs on Zen. The arrisr vas rhe crearor and direcror,
i ni r i ar i ng audiences i nro rhe uni que rires of rhe pieces.
The i r formars, rherefore, vere essenrially f ami l i ar ones i n disguise,
recal l i ng ' l o v' rarher rhan ' hi g h' rhearer and, i n rhe case of Ze n,
ve l l - knovn medi rari onal rechniques. Even rheir suLjecr marrer vas
nor parri cul arl y esoreric, ir vas a Ll end of Amer i c a n Fop elemenrs,
Expressi oni sr/Surreal i sr f i l m imagery, and anr hol ogi zed koans. A n d
rhese vere collaged rogerher, vi r hour rransirions, i n a manner rhar had
Lecome srandard arr fare everyvhere.
Wha r vas unusual for arr vas rhar people vere ro rake parr, vere
ro Le, lirerally, rhe ingredienrs of rhe performances. Hence i nsrrucri on
i n parri ci pari on had ro Le more expl i ci r rhan i n communal perfor-
mances and, gi ven rhe special inreresrs of rhe audiences, had ro Le ar
rhe same momenr mysrerious.
These audiences vere mai nl y arr-conscious ones, accusromed ro
accepri ng srares of mysri fi cari on as a posirive value. The conrexr of rhe
performances vas 'arr ': mosr of rhe arrisrs vere already kno vn, rhe
ma i l i ng lisr vas selecrive, a gallery vas lisred as sponsor, rhe perfor-
mances rhemselves vere held i n srorefronr or lofr galleries, rhere vere
revievs i n rhe arr pages of rhe nevs medi a, al l Lespoke avanr-garde
experi menr ar i on. The audiences vere rhus co-religionisrs Lefore rhey
ever arri ved ar a performance. They vere ready ro Le mysri fi ed and
furrher conf i rmed i n rheir group memLershi p.
Bur rhey vere nor used ro rhe real-rime close physicaliry of rhe
experience. They vere accusromed ro pai nri ngs and sculprures vi eved
f r om a disrance. Theref ore an arrisr vho vanred ro engage r hem in
sveepi ng deLris f rom one place ro anorher voul d have confederares
Legi n ro sveep and rhen pass rhe Lrooms around. The use of deLris,
on anorher l evel , reassured an arr vor l d rhen occupi ed vi r h expl ori ng
rhe j unk of our r hrovavay culrure÷023'45 vas a pas s vor d÷and nor
onl y vas rhe acr of sveepi ng easy, Lur ir vas also a nonarr acr, dispos-
aLle l i ke irs mareri al .
Si mi l arl y, i f rhe audience vas ro recire cerrain vords, i nsrrucri on
sheers vere gi ven our i n advance or cards vere handed our dur i ng a
piece. Bur rhe vords voul d Le eirher si mpl e urrerances, such as 'ger
e m! ' or lisrs or r andom groupi ngs rhar coul d Le read on rhe spor. The
"#'
F A R TI CI F A TI () N F F. R F () R M A N (: K
cues, vernacul ar l i ke deLris, also resemLled conremporary poerry and
echoed an arr vorl d' s rasre ar rhe ri me for nonl i near clusrers of ele-
menrs.
The poi nr is rhar rhe signals senr our Ly rhe arrisr and rerurned i n
acknovl edgmenr Ly rhe parri ci pari ng audience vere as appropri are ro
rhis segmenr of rhe sociery as rhe signals and cues senr ro general T V
audiences are appropri are ro r hem. Thi s may seem rrui sri c, Lur parric-
i pari on presupposes shared assumprions, inreresrs, language, meani ngs,
conrexrs, and uses. Ir cannor rake place orhervi se.
The compl ex quesri on of f ami l i ari r y never arises i n vernacular com-
muna l performances, i n vhi ch rhe unf ol di ng of evenrs seems so i n-
nocenr and f ol ks y÷even vhen rhose evenrs are as aggressive as srrikes.
Everyone knovs vhar's goi ng on and vhar ro do. Ir is rhe oursi der-
scholar vho reads rhe compl exi ry and vrires rhe scripr our i n f ul l .
Bur ir's rhe Lusiness of arrisrs ro Le curi ous aLour rheir doi ngs, and
rhe quesri on of hov parri ci pari on rakes place di d come up i n rhe lare
fifries and early sixries. Ir vas apparenr ro some of us rhar rhe level and
k i nd of i nvol vemenr vas prerry r ri vi al . Tasks on rhe order of sveepi ng
or readi ng vords remai n relarively mi ndl ess as l ong as rheir conrexr is
a loose rhearrical evenr prepared i n advance for an uni nf or med audi -
ence. Fami l i ar i zar i on, vhi c h coul d generare commi r menr , is qui re i m-
possiLle vhen a vor k is perf ormed onl y once or a fev rimes (as ir
usually vas rhen). A n d rhe pri nci pal di recrori al role of arrisr and col -
leagues is l ocked i n f r om rhe srarr, l eavi ng only mi nor sarisfacrions ro
rhe specraror-parricipanrs (vhose sole recourse voul d Le proresr or
revolr i f rhey cared rhar muc h÷a nd some di d). The rhearrical model
vas pl ai nl y i nadequare, a differenr genre vas necessary.
Tvo sreps vere raken. One of rhem vas ro ri rual i ze a mi x of l i fel i ke
elemenrs and fanrasy, rejecr rhe sraging area, and i nvi re a numLer of
people ro rake parr, expl ai ni ng rhe pl an i n a spirir of ceremony. Na r -
ural l y, ri r ual i s m is nor ri r ual , and ir vas evidenr ro al l rhar vhar ve
vere doi ng vas an i nvenr i on, an i nrerl ude, comi ng nor our of Lel i ef
and cusrom Lur our of rhe arrisr. Irs effecr vas vaguely archaic (rhus
r appi ng ampl e reserves of nosralgia), yer Lecause of irs real envi r on-
menrs, vhi c h i ncl uded rraffic, food f r om rhe supermarker, and vor k-
i ng T V sers, ir vas insranrly moder n. Ir vor ked. As a move, ir el i mi -
nared rhe audience and gave rhe piece auronomy.
( #)
T H E S EVENTI ES
For some years rhis vas rhe mai n roure f ol l oved (nor alvays
srricrly) Ly Kenner h Devey, Mi l a n Kni z a k , Mar r a Mi n u j i n , Wo l f Vos-
rel l , and me. Kni z a k and Vosrell conri nue ro vor k vel l as rirualisrs.
Af r er 1966 1 di scarded rhe mode, mai nl y Lecause i n rhe Uni r e d Srares
rhere is no hisrory of hi gh ceremony (for Wesrerners) as rhere is i n
ol der cul rures, and ir Legan ro seem pompous ro go on. So I rurned
my arrenrion ro rhe mundane, vhi c h Amer i cans undersrand perfecrly.
The orher srep, acrually overl appi ng rhe firsr, vas suggesred Ly
cerrai n smal l pieces Ly George Brechr, RoLerr Fi l l i ou, Kni z a k , and
Sonj a Svecova. These vere ro Le, or coul d easily Le, execured Ly one
person, some i n privare, some i n puLl i c. They referred i n a general
vay ro inrellecrual games, rreasure hunrs, spi ri rual exercises, and rhe
Lehavi or of srreer eccenrrics, Leggars, and peririoners. The y prompr ed
rhe idea rhar a group vor k coul d Le composed, addi ri vel y, of such
i ndi vi dual acriviries vi r h no arrempr ro coordi nare r hem i n any vay.
A performance coul d Le si mpl y a clusrer of evenrs of varyi ng lengrh
i n any numLer of places. (John Cage's inreresr i n chance and rhe
uni que, rarher rhan rhe organi zed, sound evenr, vas a hel pf ul model.)
A l l rhar vas needed vas a hal f -dozen friends and a lisr of si mpl e rhings
ro do or r hi nk alone. Exampl es: changi ng one's shirr i n a park recre-
ari on area, va l ki ng r hrough a ciry, crossing srreers onl y vi r h persons
veari ng red coars, l i sreni ng for hours ro a dr i ppi ng faucer.
Thi s approach vor ked for a vhi l e, excepr rhar parricipanrs felr
arLi r rari l y isolared and rended ro dri fr off inro unmor i var ed i ndi ffer-
ence. The aLsurdi ry of doi ng somer hi ng odd vi r hour an audience' s
approval , or of payi ng arrenrion ro r edi um, vas of course parr of rhe
pr oLl em, even for rhose professing inreresr. Bur vhar may have Leen
mi ssi ng vas a gr oundi ng i n ordi nary experience rhar coul d replace rhe
aLsenr s r i mul ar i on of an audience or cohesive cr ovd i n a ceremony.
In rhe lare 1950s Er v i ng Gof f man puLl i shed (6% 7&%+%'8.8)#' #4
9%:4 )' ;<%&=$.= >)4%, a sociological srudy of convenri onal human re-
larions. Irs premise vas rhar rhe rourines of domesriciry, vor k, edu-
cari on, and managemenr of dai l y affairs, vhi c h Lecause of rheir very
ordi nari ness and lack of conscious expressive purpose do nor seem ro
Le arr forms, neverrheless possess a di sri ncrl y perf ormancel i ke char-
acrer. Onl y rhe performers are nor usually avare of ir.
They are nor avare of ir Lecause rhere is no frame around everyday
rransacrions rhe vay rhere is, lirerally, around a relevision program
and, more figurarively, around a srrike or parade. Reperi ri ve dai l y oc-
"#*
FA R II (: I F AT I ON F F R F OR M A N (: F.
currences are nor usually ser off f r om rhemselves. Feople do nor r hi nk
each mor ni ng vhen rhey Lrush rhei r reerh, ' N o v I am doi ng a per-
f ormance. '
Bur Gof f man gives ordi nary rourines quorari on marks Ly serring
r hem off as suLjecrs of analysis. In rhis Look and suLsequenr ones, he
descriLes greerings, relarions Lerveen office vorkers and Losses, fronr-
of-srore and Lack-of-srore Lehavior, ci vi l i ri es and discourresies i n pr i -
vare and puLl i c, rhe mai nrenance of smal l social unirs on srreers and
i n crovded garherings, and so forrh as i f each siruarion had a pre-
scriLed scenario. Hu ma n Leings parricipare i n rhese scenarios, spon-
raneously or afrer elaLorare prepararions, l i ke acrors vi r hour srage or
audi ence, var chi ng and cui ng one anorher.
Some scenarios are learned and pracriced over a l i f eri me. TaLle
manners, for insrance, acqui red f r om chi l dhood ar home, are regi -
menred and si mpl i f i ed i n Loardi ng school or rhe army and are refined
larer on, ler's say, for enrerrai ni ng guesrs upon vho m one vanrs ro
make an i mpressi on. The passage is f r om i nf or mal ro f ormal ro nu-
anced manners, mosr middle-class urLanires rake parr i n rhe conr i n-
u u m and can move Lack and forrh vi r hour gi vi ng much rhoughr ro
rhe ri ch Lody language, posi ri oni ngs, r i mi ngs, and adj usrmenrs of con-
versarion and voice rhar accompany each mode.
The performance of everyday rourines, of course, is nor really rhe
same as acri ng a vri r r en scripr, since conscious inrenr is aLsenr. Ther e
is a phenomenal and experi enri al difference. Bei ng a perf ormer (like
Lei ng a lavyer) involves responsiLiliry for vhar rhe vor d /%&4#&*%&
may mean and vhar Lei ng a performer may enrail . No r are everyday
rourines managed Ly a srage direcror, al r hough vi r hi n rhe rhearrical
mer aphor parenrs, officials, reachers, guides, and Losses may Le con-
srrued as equivalenrs. Bur again, rhese menrors voul d have ro see
rhemselves as direcrors of performances rarher rhan insrrucrors i n so-
ci al mores and professions ourside rhe arrs. Wha r is i nreresri ng ro arr,
r hough, is rhar everyday rourines coul d Le used as real offsrage perfor-
mances. A n arrisr voul d rhen Le engaged i n per f or mi ng a 'perf or-
mance. '
Inrenri onal l y perf ormi ng everyday life is Lound ro creare some
curi ous ki nds of avareness. Life' s suLjecr marrer is almosr roo f ami l i ar
ro grasp, and life's formars (i f rhey can Le called rhar) are nor f ami l i ar
enough. Focus i ng on vhar is haLi rual and r ryi ng ro pur a l i ne around
vhar is conri nuous can Le a Lir like r uLLi ng your sromach and r appi ng
+ #,
T H E S EVENTI E S
your head, rhen reversing. Wi r hour eirher an audience or a f ormal l y
designared srage or cl eari ng, rhe performer Lecomes si mul raneously
agenr and varcher. She or he rakes on rhe rask of ' f r a mi ng ' rhe rrans-
acrion i nrernal l y, Ly payi ng arrenrion i n mor i on.
For insrance, i magi ne rhar you and a parrner are per f or mi ng a
prescriLed ser of moves dr avn f rom rhe vays people use rhe relephone.
You carry our rhis pl an i n your respecrive homes vi r hour i nrenri onal
specrarors. (Your families and friends, of course, may pass i n and our
of rhe scene.) You rake i nro accounr rhar each of you is r hi nki ng of rhe
orher, jusr as relephone callers normal l y do. Bur Lorh of you also knov
rhar you are especially runed ro nuances of voice, l engrh of pauses, and
possiLle meani ngs of rhe pl anned parrs of rhe conversarions, vhi ch
voul d nor Le nor mal . A n d you focus, addi ri onal l y, on such unconscious
Lur rypi cal Lehavi or as reachi ng for rhe receiver ( qui ckl y or slovly,
afrer rvo rings or rhree!), changi ng ir f rom ear ro ear, paci ng Lack and
f orr h, scrarchi ng an i r ch, doodl i ng, repl aci ng rhe receiver ( s l ammi ng
ir!), nonessenrials of rhe communi car i on Lur consranr accompani -
menrs. The feelings produced under rhese condi ri ons are nor si mpl y
emori ons, and rhe knovl edge acqui red is nor si mpl y casual i nf or ma-
r i on. The si ruari on is roo personal and off ki l r er for rhar. Wha r is ar
srake is nor so muc h conf or mi ng ro expecrarions aLour people's rele-
phone acriviry as closely experi enci ng irs oLvious and hi dden fearures.
U p ro rhis poi nr I have conrrasred audience parri ci pari on rhearer i n
popul ar and arr cul rure vi r h parri ci pari on performance rel ari ng ro
everyday rourines. I'd l i ke nov ro l ook more closely ar rhis l i fel i ke
performance, Legi nni ng vi r h hov a normal rourine Lecomes rhe per-
formance of a rouri ne.
Cons i der cerrain c ommon r ransacr i ons÷shaki ng hands, eari ng,
saying goodLye÷as Readymades. The i r onl y unusual fearure vi l l Le
rhe arrenriveness Lroughr ro Lear on r hem. They aren'r someone else's
rourines rhar are ro Le oLserved Lur one's ovn, jusr as rhey happen.
Exampl e: A f ri end inrroduces you ro someone ar a parry, escorring
hi m across rhe r oom. You srand aLour rhree feer f r om your nev ac-
quai nrance, vi r h your mur ual f ri end Lerveen you, hol di ng rhe nev
acquainrance' s ar m l i ghrl y ar rhe elLov. You l ook ar rhis man' s face,
avoi di ng his eyes, rhen ro your friend' s mour h, vhi c h forms rhe name,
rhen Lack again ro rhe mour h of rhe man. He says hel l o a Lir over-
-##
FARTI CI FATI ON F E R F O R M A N C E
zealously and pushes our his hand vi r h some force ( vhi ch you inrer-
prer as nervousness), you feel yoursel f move Lack a fracrion of an i nch,
auromari cal l y sriffening your hand for rhe i mpacr as you raise ir.
You move f orvard nov. The hand is srill comi ng. Ir seems ro rake
roo l ong. You shifr your vei ghr ro your ri ghr foor Lecause someone
sr andi ng ro your lefr vi r h her Lack ro you is r al ki ng on rhe relephone,
and you canr move on rhar side, as voul d Le narural ro you. You' re
ofT Lalance nov and feel rhe man' s hand j am i nro yours, rhe fingers
cl osi ng. Ir is a smal l hand and his fingers have ro rravel ro make rheir
gr i p felr. The hand is va r m and dry. You vonder hov you voul d have
mer his advance on your orher foor.
You sense rhe man' s fingers finally cl osi ng around yours, and you
hesirare Lefore respondi ng, rhen do so perfuncrori l y. You lean Lack,
echoi ng rhe f orvard mor i on of his handshake. Your forearm Lecomes
r i gi d, Lur you force ir ro go l i mp. You realize rhar your fri end is vai r i ng
for you ro rerurn rhe hel l o, Lur you' ve forgorren rhe courresy i n your
exami nar i on of rhe encounrer.
Tr yi ng ro sound cheerful, you say rhe name. The man l ooks fleer-
i ngl y ro your f ri end for cl ari fi cari on. You forger ro say ' gl ad ro meer
you, ' and vhen you rememLer, ir's roo lare. You' re gl anci ng nov ar
rhe vr i nkl es of his hand, ar his r i ng f r om some college, ar rhe gray
srain on his cuff. You pump his hand roo many rimes. Thi s upsers hi m.
He Legins ro vi r hdr av, r ryi ng ro disenrangle hi ms el f vi r hour Le-
r rayi ng his i ni r i al expression of hearriness. Your f ri end sreps i nro rhe
silence vi r h derails of vho each of you is. The voman on rhe relephone
is l i sr eni ng ro rhe person on rhe orher end, and your friend' s voice
sounds roo l oud. She lighrs a cigarerre and accidenrally Lacks i nro you
as she reaches for an ashrray, pushi ng you r ovard rhe man. He pul l s
avay furrher. The voman doesn'r norice and resumes r al ki ng. You' re
avare of her voice and di sl i ke rhe cigarerre smoke. You jerk your head
i n her di recr i on, rhen Lr i ng ir Lack ro face rhe man. He has freed his
hand and is l over i ng ir ro his side.
N o v you shifr your vei ghr ro a more comforraLle posi ri on, r ocki ng
sl i ghrl y on your heels. Your ri ghr hand is srill i n rhe air. You l ook ar ir
as i f ir conrai ned a message. You pur ir carefully i n your pocker and
raise your eyes ro meer rhe man' s. He srares, nor compr ehendi ng, and
Ll i nks . Your glance svings aside ro rake i n rhe r oom and orhers. He
defi ni rel y sees rhis move as a sign-off. Your f ri end conrinues r al ki ng,
searchi ng your face and Lody for clues ro your Lehavior. He isn'r avare
"#.
T H E S EVENTI ES
hi ms el f rhar he feels somerhi ng odd aLour you. You f ol l ov his eyes
vi r h yours and move a srep ro rhe ri ghr. Your feer are nov planred
f i rml y on rhe floor. Thi s effecrively purs your f ri end i n a l i ne Lerveen
you and rhe man, cur r i ng hi m off f rom vi ev. He makes a polire excuse
and leaves, Lur your f ri end remains and asks hov your morher and
farher are feeling.
Ir is apparenr ro you rhar you have Leen usi ng rhe si ruari on as a
srudy and have caused some mi nor confusi on. You are normal l y socia-
Lle and vanred your scruriny ro pass unnor i ced. Bur you decide nor ro
expl ai n anyr hi ng since your f ri end has jusr Leen called avay.
Suppose, nexr, rhar all rhree of you i n rhe precedi ng exchange vere
i nvol ved i nrenri onal l y as parricipanrs, suppose rhar rhere had Leen an
agreed-upon pl an ro vair for some occasion vhen rvo of you vho di d
nor kno v each orher voul d Le i nr roduced Ly your mur ual f ri end.
No r ma l Lehavi or voul d rhen Lecome exaggerared, voul d lapse and
peak srrangely. The everyday rourine voul d Le a rouri ne rhar ralks
aLour irself.
Ferformances l i ke rhis generare a curi ous self-consciousness rhar
permeares every gesrure. You each var ch each orher var ch each orher.
You var ch rhe surroundi ngs i n derai l . Your moves are comparr menr ed
i n r houghr and rhus sloved dovn i n percepri on. You speed up your
acrual pace ro compensare, you vi l l your mi nd ro inregrare al l rhe
pieces rhar have separared our vhi l e you rake parr i n very real human
affairs. You vonder vho is Lei ng i nr roduced, r vo people, you ro your-
self, or Lorh! You are nor proj ecri ng an image of a rouri ne ro specrarors
'our r here' Lur are doi ng ir, s haki ng hands, noddi ng, saying rhe amen-
iries, for yoursel f and for one anorher.
In orher vords, you experience di recrl y vhar you already knov i n
rheory: rhar consciousness alrers rhe vor l d, rhar narural rhings seem
unnar ural once you arrend ro r hem, and vice versa. Hence i f everyday
rourines concei ved as ready-made performances change Lecause of
rheir douLl e use as arr/nor arr, ir mi ghr seem perfecrly narural ro Lui l d
rhe oLserved changes i nro suLsequenr performances Lefore rhey hap-
pen, Lecause rhey, or somerhi ng like r hem, voul d happen anyvay.
Fr epar i ng an Acr i vi r y, rherefore, can Le consi dered a narural l y ar-
ri fi ci al acr. Ir voul d i ncl ude i n irs pl an, or program, smal l rerardarions
and accelerarions of, say, hands haki ng mor i ons, elaLorarions of paci ng
and j uxraposirions of orher rourines rhar are ordi nari l y presenr, like
saying goodLye, reperirions (echoing al l rourines' repeririveness), re-
"./
FARTI CI FATI ON F E R F O R M A N C E
versals, di spl acemenrs, shifrs i n serring, such as s haki ng hands on di f-
ferenr srreer corners, and nor mal conversarions and revi evi ngs of vhar
is goi ng on. Tradi r i onal disrincrions Lerveen life, arr, and analysis, i n
vharever order, are pur aside.
The Acr i vi r y ".'%3<%&+ vas assemLled usi ng jusr rhis approach.
Irs Lasic rouri ne is rhe courresy s hovn anorher person vhen passing
r hrough a doorvay. The f ol l ovi ng pr ogr am vas gi ven i n advance ro
seven couples, vho carri ed ir our i n rhe envi rons of Napl es i n Ma r c h
1976:
1 A and B
passing Lackvards
rhrough a doorvay
one Lefore rhe orher
rhe orher, saying you're firsr
passing rhrough again
moving in reverse
rhe firsr, saying rhank me
Leing rhanked
locaring four more doors
repearing rourine
2 A and B
locaring srill anorher door
Lorh reaching ro open ir
saying excuse me
passing rhrough rogerher
saying excuse me
Lorh reaching ro close ir
saying excuse me
Lacking in reverse ro door
Lorh reaching ro open ir
saying afrer you
passing rhrough rogerher
1
9'
T H E S EVENTI ES
Lorh reaching ro close ir
saying afrer you
locaring four more doors
repearing rourine
3 A and B
locaring srill anorher door
passing rhrough
one Lefore rhe orher
rhe firsr, saying I'll pay you
rhe second, accepring or nor
locaring four more doors
repearing rourine
In Lri ef i ng rhe parricipanrs Leforehand I made some general re-
marks aLour dai l y social Lehavi or and vhar ".'%3<%&+ had ro do vi r h
ir. A n ori enrari on has proved nor onl y useful Lur necessary, since i n-
vari aLl y no one knovs hov ro deal vi r h such a projecr. Ori enr ar i on
rhus Lecomes parr of rhe piece, as does any discussion dur i ng and afrer.
I poi nred our rhar vi r hi n rhe forms of polireness rhere is enough
r oom ro rransmi r any numLer of compl ex messages. For insrance, hol d-
i ng a door open for someone ro pass r hrough firsr is a si mpl e social
grace, learned almosr universally. Bur Lerveen persons of rhe same sex
or rank, rhere may Le suLrle j ockeyi ng for firsr or second posi ri on.
Ei r her posi ri on may signify rhe superi or one, dependi ng on rhe parric-
ul ar ci rcumsrance.
In culrures rhar are facing changes i n vomen' s and men' s roles, rhe
r radi r i onal male gesrure of reachi ng for and hol di ng open a door for
a voma n can meer vi r h eirher reLuke or knovi ng smiles. In anorher
vei n, one can Le s hovn rhe door (Le ordered ro leave) vi r h almosr rhe
same gross Lody movemenrs as vhen Lei ng i nvi red ro go firsr. Bur
rhere is never any douLr aLour vhar is meanr.
".'%3<%&+, I conr i nued, vas an exaggerared arrangemenr of such
comperi ri ve, ofren funny, exchanges Lerveen rvo i ndi vi dual s as rhey
go r hr ough doorvays. Wi r h repears and variarions resemLl i ng rhose
of slapsrick movies rhar are played Lackvar d and f or var d, ir mi ghr
Lecome unclear vhi c h side of a door vas ' i n ' and vhi c h ' our . ' Af r er
".$
FA RTIC1 FAT ION F " R I' O K M A M ! I
finding ren or more differenr doors ro carry our rhese moves, rhe par-
ricipanrs mi ghr find rhe i ni r i al quesrion of Lei ng firsr or second proL-
l emari cal .
Each pair ( A and B) venr aLour rhe ciry and selecred rheir o vn
doorvays. They had no necessary connecri on vi r h rhe orher parri ci -
panrs carryi ng our rhe i denri cal program. Du r i ng rhe nearly r vo days
al l orred, rhey mai nr ai ned rheir everyday rourines as usual and firred i n
rhe special rouri ne of rhe Acr i vi r y around shoppi ng, eari ng, goi ng ro
class, and soci al i zi ng. As ir happened, mosr of rhe fourreen parricipanrs
shared classes ar an arr college and i nrermi rrenrl y exchanged srories
aLour vhar vas goi ng on.
Choi ces of doorvays reflecred rhe personaliries and needs of rhe
parrners. Some preferred seclusion f r om rhe srares of passersLy. They
soughr our alleyvays, roilers, and suLurLan garages. Farr of rheir ad-
mi r r ed reason vas emLarrassmenr, Lur anorher parr vas rhe vi s h ro
i nrernal i ze rhe process. Orhers enj oyed pr ovoki ng curiosiry i n puLl i c
and venr ro deparrmenr srores, Leaury salons, movies, and rrai n sra-
rions. The y larer real i zed rhey vanred an audience regardless of irs
irrelevancy ro rhe piece.
Despi re rhese differences, al l vere srruck Ly cerrain srrange fearures
of rhe vor k ( vhi ch had Leen suggesred ro me vhen I vas sr udyi ng
' door vay courresies' as Readymades). Ther e vere four psychol ogi cal l y
l oaded rvisrs on rhe verLal cliches rhar are rraded vhen doorvay cour-
resies are normal l y perf ormed.
In parr 1 rhe firsr person passing r hrough a doorvay Lackvar d
hears 'you' re firsr,' insread of rhe c ommon 'afrer you' , vhen rhe pair
r un rhe scene f ronr vard, each says ' r hank me, ' presumaLl y for ac-
knovl edgi ng rhe orher's pri macy.
Farr 2 srarrs our as srraighr vaudevi l l e Lerveen A and B Lur is
skeved Ly rheir larer sraremenr, i n rhe reverse reruns, vhen Lorh of
r hem say 'afrer you. ' Thi s sounds proper Lur can onl y Le sarcasm or
i rony i n vi ev of parr l's episode, i mpl yi ng rhar each secrerly conrrol s
rhe maneuver Ly appeari ng ro defer ro rhe orher. ' Tha nk me ! '
In parr 3, vhi c h recaps parr 1, A and B have a nev chance ro decide
vhi c h one vi l l go firsr. Bur vhen rhe decision is made, rhe firsr says,
' I ' l l pay you. ' A n d rhe second can accepr if rhe price is ri ghr or refuse
i f ir isn'r. ' I ' l l pay yo u' can Le raken ro mean ' I ' l l pay you ro remai n
i n second place,' rhar is, 'I can Luy your suLordi nar i on and flarrery.'
'93
T H E S EVENTI ES
Refusal ro accepr rhe money may Le a vay of as ki ng for more or of
sayi ng 'I am nor for sale.' Thi s sraremenr caused rhe mosr consrer-
nari on i n rhe discussion afrer rhe Acr i vi r y.
Thr oughour rhe rhree parrs, rhe reperirions of rhe rourine al l oved
A and B ro svi r ch rheir posirions of firsr and second i f rhey vanred ro
and ro maneuver for vharever psychological advanrages rhey rhoughr
rhey had achieved or losr. Courresies vere rhe rools.
Rour i ne expressions l i ke 'please' and ' r hanks ' are ceremoni al
'massages.' The i r equivalenrs vere placed i n rhis vor k i n such a vay
as ro cal l arrenrion ro rheir srraregic capaLiliries. ' You' re firsr' elicirs
' r hank me' , 'excuse me ' elicirs furrher 'excuse me' s' (like rhe famous
Al phons e- Gas r on rendi r i on) , each can Le rranslared i nro 'pay me ' and
' I ' l l pay you. ' Courresies are Lills and paymenrs for favors gi ven and
rer urned.
Thi s accounr doesn'r arrempr ro go i nro rhe hi l ari ous squeeze plays
rhar occurred i n parr 2 vhen A and B venr f orvar d and Lackvard
r hr ough doorvays ar rhe same ri me. Ungai nl y Lody conracrs don' r mi x
vel l vi r h formal i ri es and vhen rhey do accidenrally (here on purpose),
al l you can say is 'excuse me. '
Nei r her does ir speak of rhe i mporrance of each envi ronmenr al
serring for rhe feel of rhe parri cul ar rransacrion as ir happened. OL-
viously, a Ledroom doorvay vi l l conj ure one meani ng for a couple
and a Lank doorvay anorher. Fi freen such enrrances and exirs can add
up ro a ri ch experience.
No r has ir said anyr hi ng aLour rhe effecr of rhe piece upon couples
of rhe same and rhe opposire sex. Thi s , roo, vas cri ri cal and can Le
surmi sed ro have provoked disrincrive maneuvers Lerveen parrners.
A n d rhar all vere Iralians (excepr me) vas significanr.
Fi nal l y, I menr i oned rhar rhe parricipanrs vere dr a vn f r om a
professional arr Lackgr ound. The i r pri or invesrmenrs of r i me, energy,
and values vere called i nro some (serious) quesri on Ly vhar rhey di d.
I cannor say anyr hi ng more rhan rhis nov, Lur ir voul d Le inreresring
ro compare rhe experience of a group of merchanrs, or a group of
sociologisrs, doi ng rhe same Acr i vi r y. The meani ngs consrrued, on hu-
man, professional, and phi l osophi cal levels, mi ghr Le very differenr.
'94
Ferforming Life
(1979)
Co mi n g i nro rhe Happeni ngs of rhe lare fifries, I vas cerrain rhe goal
vas ro ' d o ' an arr rhar vas disrincr f rom any kno vn genre (or any
comLi nar i on of genres). Ir seemed i mporr anr ro develop somer hi ng
rhar vas nor anorher rype of pai nr i ng, lirerarure, musi c, dance, rhearer,
opera.
Since rhe suLsrance of rhe Happeni ngs vas evenrs i n real ri me, as
i n rhearer and opera, rhe joL, logically, vas ro Lypass al l rhearrical
convenri ons. So over a couple of years, I el i mi nar ed arr conrexrs, au-
diences, single ri me/pl ace envelopes, sraging areas, roles, plors, acri ng
ski l l s, rehearsals, repeared performances, and even rhe usual readaLle
scriprs.
N o v i f rhe model s for rhese early Happeni ngs vere nor rhe arrs,
rhen rhere vere aLundanr alrernarives i n everyday life rourines: Lrush-
i ng your reerh, gerri ng on a Lus, vas hi ng di nner dishes, as ki ng for rhe
r i me, dressi ng i n fronr of a mi r r or, rel ephoni ng a f ri end, squeezi ng
oranges. Insread of ma ki ng an oLjecrive image or occurrence ro Le
seen Ly someone else, ir vas a marrer of doi ng somer hi ng ro experience
ir yourself. Ir vas rhe difference Lerveen var chi ng an acror earing
srravLerries on a srage and acrually eari ng r hem yoursel f ar home.
Do i ng l i fe, consciously, vas a compel l i ng nori on ro me.
Wh e n you do life consciously, hovever, life Lecomes prerry
s r r ange÷payi ng arrenrion changes rhe r hi ng arrended r o÷s o rhe Ha p -
penings vere nor nearly as l i fel i ke as I had supposed rhey mi ghr Le.
Bur I learned somer hi ng aLour life and ' l i f e. '
A nev arr/ l i f e genre rherefore came aLour, reflecring equal l y rhe
arri fi ci al aspecrs of everyday life and rhe l i fel i ke qualiries of creared
arr. For exampl e, ir vas clear ro me hov f ormal and cul r ural l y learned
rhe acr of s haki ng hands is, jusr rry ro pump a hand five or six rimes
insread of rvo and you' l l cause insranr anxiery. I also Lecame avare
!"#
T H E S EVENTI ES
rhar arr vorks of any ki nd coul d Le auroLi ographi cal and propheri c.
You coul d read painrings like handvr i r i ng, and over a peri od of ri me
charr rhe painrer's aLi di ng fanrasies, jusr as you mi ghr charr vri rers'
rhoughrs f r om collecrions of personal lerrers or diaries. Happeni ngs ,
and larer Acr i vi r i es , Lei ng less specialized rhan pai nri ngs, poems, and
rhe orher r radi r i onal arrs, readil y lenr rhemselves ro such psychol ogi cal
insighrs.
Today, i n 1979, I' m payi ng arrenrion ro Lrearhi ng. I've hel d my
Lrearh for years ÷hel d ir for dear life. A n d I mi ghr have suffocared i f
(in spire of mysel f ) I hadn' r had ro ler go of ir peri odi cal l y. Was ir
mi ne, afrer all! Ler r i ng ir go, di d I lose ir! Was (is) exhal i ng si mpl y a
srream of speeded up molecules s qui rr i ng our of my nose!
I vas vi r h friends one eveni ng. Ta l ki ng avay, our mour hs vere
genrly s pi l l i ng air and hinrs of vhar ve' d earen. Ou r Lrearhs, passing
among us, vere ler go and reaLsorLed. Gr o up Lrearh.
Someri mes, I've avakened Leside someone I loved and heard our
Lrear hi ng our of sync (and supposed rhar vas vhy I avoke). I pracriced
Lrear hi ng i n and our, copyi ng her vho slepr and vondered i f rhar
dance of sorrs vas echoi ng i n her dr eami ng.
There' s also rhe Lrearhi ng of Li g pines i n rhe vi nd you coul d
misrake for vaves Lreaki ng on a Leach. Or ciry gusrs s l ammi ng inro
alleyvays. Or rhe s ucki ng hiss of empry varer pipes, rhe raps opened
afrer vi nrer. Wha r is ir rhar Lrearhes! Lungs ! The meraphysi cal me!
A cr ovd ar a Lal l game! The gr ound gi vi ng our smells i n spri ng! Coa l
gas i n rhe mines!
These are rhoughrs aLour consciousness of Lrearhi ng. Such con-
sciousness of vhar ve do and feel each day, irs relarion ro orhers'
experience and ro narure around us, Lecomes i n a real vay rhe perfor-
mance of l i vi ng. A n d rhe very process of payi ng arrenri on ro rhis
c onr i nuum is poised on rhe rhreshol d of arr performance.
I've spoken of Lrearhi ng. Yer I coul d have menr i oned rhe human
ci rcul arory sysrem, or rhe effecrs of Lodies r ouchi ng, or rhe feel i ng of
ri me passing. Uni versal s (shareaLles) are pl enri f ul . F r o m rhis poi nr on,
as far as rhe arrisr is concerned, ir is a quesri on of al l ovi ng rhose
fearures of Lrearhi ng (or vharever) ro j oi n inro a perf ormaLl e pl an
rhar may reach acurely inro a parricipanr' s ovn sense of ir "#$ resonare
irs i mpl i car i ons.
Her e is a skerch for a possiLle Lrearhi ng piece. Ir juxraposes rhe
audi r ory and visual manifesrarions of Lrearh, moves rhe air of rhe
% "&
FERF ORMI NG LI FE
envi ronmenr (Ly fan) ro render ir racrile, and ries rhe r hyr hmi c move-
menr of Lrear hi ng ro rhar of rhe ocean. In rhe rhree parrs of rhe piece
rhe parri ci panr is firsr alone, rhen vi r h a fri end (Lur rhey are kepr aparr
Ly a glass memLrane) , and again alone. The firsr parr makes use of
self-consciousness, rhe second changes rhar ro avareness of self i n
anorher person, and rhe r hi rd exrends self ro narural forces Lur folds
Lack on arrifice i n rhe f or m of rape-recorded memory.
1 alone, srudying your face in a chilled' mirror
smiling, scovling perhaps
a microphone nearLy
amplifying rhe sound of your Lrearhing
a sviveling elecrric fan
direcring rhe air around rhe room
gradually leaning closer ro your reflecrion
unril rhe glass fogs over
moving Lack unril rhe image clears
repearing for some rime
lisrening
2 sirring opposire a friend
(vho has done rhe aLove)
a chilled pane of glass Lerveen you
your microphones amplifying your Lrearhing
your fans rurning ar opposire sides of rhe room
copying each orher's expressions
marching your Lrearhing
moving gradually ro rhe glass
unril your images fog over
moving Lack unril rhe images clear
repearing for some rime
lisrening
'Lirerally, a mirror propped againsr, or sranding in, ice.
!"'
T H E S EVENTI ES
3 sirring alone ar rhe Leach
draving in your Lrearh and releasing ir
virh rhe rise and fall of rhe vaves
conrinuing for some rime
val ki ng along rhe vaves' edge
lisrening rhrough earphones
ro rhe record of your earlier Lrearhing
Since rhis piece has nor Leen perf ormed, I can onl y speculare vhar
voul d happen i n carryi ng ir our. Brear hi ng as an aLsrracr idea is unex-
cepri onaLl e, l i ke i nregri ry ir is desiraLle. A n d f ormal l y mani pul ar i ng
verLal exercises on ir mi ghr even provoke mi l d curiosiry. Bur Lrear hi ng
as a real and parri cul ar evenr can Le an a vkva r d and pai nf ul Lusiness.
Anyone vho has jogged seriously or done Lrearhi ng medi r ar i on knovs
rhar i n rhe Legi nni ng, as you confronr your Lody, you face your psyche
as vel l .
I suspecr rhar rhe i nnocenr playfulness and poeric nar uri s m of rhe
prescri pri ons i n rhis piece coul d gradual l y Lecome perverse and dis-
r ur Li ng for parricipanrs, vho mi ghr gai n release f r om irs deadpan
lireralness onl y Ly accepring a remporary al i enari on of rhe Lrearh f r om
self.
Cons i der vhar rhe piece proposes ro do. Ir exaggerares rhe nor mal l y
unarrended aspecrs of everyday life (fleering misr on glass, rhe sound
of Lrear hi ng, rhe ci rcul ar i on of air, rhe unconscious mi mi c r y of ges-
rures Lerveen friends) and frusrrares rhe oLvi ous ones ( l ooki ng ar our-
selves i n a mi r r or , Lrear hi ng narurally, ma ki ng conracr vi r h a f ri end,
l i sr eni ng ro rhe ocean vaves). The loudspeaker, rhe mi r r or , rhe vaves,
rhe rape recordi ng are all feedLack devices ro ensure rhese shifrs.
Such displacemenrs of ordi nary emphasis increase arrenriveness Lur
onl y arrenriveness ro rhe peri pheral parrs of ourselves and our sur-
roundi ngs. Revealed rhis vay rhey are srrange. Farricipanrs coul d feel
momenr ari l y separared f rom rhemselves. The comi ng rogerher of rhe
parrs, rhen, mi ghr Le rhe evenr's residue, larenr and felr, rarher rhan irs
clear promi se.
!"(
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Alan Kaprow
Art Which Can’t Be Art
(1986)
It’s fairly well known that for the last thirty years my main work as an artist has been lo-
cated in activities and contexts that don’t suggest art in any way. Brushing my teeth, for
example, in the morning when I’m barely awake; watching in the mirror the rhythm of my
elbow moving up and down . . .
The practice of such an art, which isn’t perceived as art, is not so much a contradiction
as a paradox. Why this is so requires some background.
When I speak of activities and contexts that don’t suggest art, I don’t mean that an
event like brushing my teeth each morning is chosen and then set into a conventional
art context, as Duchamp and many others since him have done. That strategy, by
which an art-identifying frame (such as a gallery or theater) confers “art value” or “art
discourse” on some nonart object, idea, or event, was, in Duchamp’s initial move,
sharply ironic. It forced into confrontation a whole bundle of sacred assumptions about
creativity, professional skill, individuality, spirituality, modernism, and the presumed
value and function of high art itself. But later it became trivialized, as more and more
nonart was put on exhibit by other artists. Regardless of the merits of each case, the
same truism was headlined every time we saw a stack of industrial products in a gallery,
every time daily life was enacted on a stage: that anything can be estheticized, given
the right art packages to put it into. But why should we want to estheticize “anything”?
All the irony was lost in those presentations, the provocative questions forgotten. To go
on making this kind of move in art seemed to me unproductive.
Instead, I decided to pay attention to brushing my teeth, to watch my elbow moving. I
would be alone in my bathroom, without art spectators. There would be no gallery, no
critic to judge, no publicity. This was the crucial shift that removed the performance of
everyday life from all but the memory of art. I could, of course, have said to myself,
“Now I’m making art!!” But in actual practice, I didn’t think much about it.
My awareness and thoughts were of another kind. I began to pay attention to how
much this act of brushing my teeth had become routinized, nonconscious behavior,
compared with my first efforts to do it as a child. I began to suspect that 99 percent of
my daily life was just as routinized and unnoticed; that my mind was always somewhere
else; and that the thousand signals my body was sending me each minute were ig-
nored. I guessed also that most people were like me in this respect.
Brushing my teeth attentively for two weeks, I gradually became aware of the tension in
my elbow and fingers (was it there before?), the pressure of the brush on my gums,
their slight bleeding (should I visit the dentist?). I looked up once and saw, really saw,
my face in the mirror. I rarely looked at myself when I got up, perhaps because I
wanted to avoid the puffy face I’d see, at least until it could be washed and smoothed to
match the public image I prefer. (And how many times had I seen others do the same
and believed i was different!)
This was an eye-opener to my privacy and to my humanity. An unremarkable picture of
myself was beginning to surface, and image I’d created but never examined. It colored
the images I made of the world and influenced how I dealt with my images of others. I
saw this little by little.
But if this wider domain of resonance, spreading from the mere process of brushing my
teeth, seems too far from its starting point, I should say immediately that it never left the
bathroom. The physicality of brushing, the aromatic taste of toothpaste, rinsing my
mouth and the brush, the many small nuances such as right-handedness causing me to
enter my mouth with the loaded rush from that side and then move to the left side —
these particularities always stayed in the present. The larger implications popped up
from time to time during the subsequent days. All this from toothbrushing.
How is this relevant to art? Why is this not just sociology? It is relevant because devel-
opments within modernism itself let to art’s dissolution into its life sources. Art in the
West has a long history of secularizing tendencies, going back at least as far as the Hel-
lenistic period. by the late 1950s and 1960s this lifelike impulse dominated the van-
guard. Art shifted away from the specialized object in the gallery to the real urban envi-
ronment; to the real body and mind; to communications technology; and to remote natu-
ral regions of the ocean, sky, and desert. Thus the relationship of the act of toothbrush-
ing to recent art is clear and cannot be bypassed. This is where the paradox lies; an
artist concerned with lifelike art is an artist who does and does not make art.
Anything less than paradox would be simplistic. Unless the identity (and thus the mean-
ing) of what the artist does oscillates between ordinary, recognizable activity and the
“resonance” of that activity in the larger human context, the activity itself reduces to
conventional behavior. Or if it is framed as art by a gallery, it reduces to conventional
art. Thus toothbrushing, as we normally do it, offers no roads back to the real wold ei-
ther. But ordinary life performed as art/not art can charge the everyday with metaphoric
power.
From “Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life” by Alan Kaprow (Edited by Jeff Kelley)

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