Happenings and Other Acts

Happenings and Other Acts

Happenings and Other Acts

Happenings and Other Acts

Excerpt

There is a prevalent mythology about Happenings. It has been said, for example, that they are theatrical performances in which there is no script and “things just happen.” It has been said that there is little or no planning, control, or purpose.

Michael Kirby

These myths, Michael Kirby went on to say, “are entirely false.” Written nearly thirty years ago as the introduction to his Happenings anthology (E.P. Dutton, 1965), Kirby's essay set about dispelling the myths and the “titillating” yet false impressions that most people seem to have gathered from the popular press. These misconceptions are still with us, especially among those who were born in the decades since Happenings made the private process of art-making public and performative.

Kirby's clear and carefully crafted essay pulls together the various historical threads that tangled to form the art world of the late 1950s and contributed to the moment that produced the first Happenings, including: the Futurist-Dada tradition of nonmatrixed performance; the theatre of the Bauhaus; the progression from collage to Environment; action painting; developments in dance, from modern to postmodern; experiments in visual literature and sound poetry; and the influential investigations of John Cage. With his kind permission, I have used Kirby's historical and theoretical treatise on Happenings to introduce the material that forms the bulk of this volume: the special TDR issue on Happenings and Fluxus which Kirby co-edited with Richard Schechner in 1965 (T30). As he did for his own Happenings anthology, Kirby gathered together for this TDR issue reflective and analytical essays, photos, drawings, interviews, performance descriptions, and performance texts which reveal the range of styles and forms that-largely for the sake of convenience and despite differing labels used by some of the artists themselves-have been categorized as “Happenings.” I am grateful to Kirby for documenting this work and pleased to have the opportunity to put it into print again.

Ideally I would have liked to replicate all the material in the 1965 TDR but, unfortunately, have been unable to reproduce all of the artwork. Conspicuously absent are the two fold-outs from the original volume. Thanks to the efforts of Anthony Martin, the City Scale performance “map” has been broken down and printed on consecutive pages. And, for the sake of making available in this anthology the documentation of Events depicted in George Maciunas's “FLUXUS” fold-out, the photos-which Maciunas had cropped for his original design-have been printed uncropped and separately, each with the text from the fold-out.

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