Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Lesson in the History of Performance Art

A key event in the history of modern performance was the presentation in 1959 of Allan Kaprow's 18 Happenings in 6 Parts at the Reuben Gallery. (...)
Kaprow chose the title "happening" in preference to something like theatre piece or performance because he wanted this activity to be regarded as a spontaneous event; somethink that "just happens to happen." Nevertheless, 18 Happenings, like many such events, was scripted, rehearsed, and carefully controlled. Its real departure from traditional art was not in its spontaneity, but in the sort of material it used and its manner of presentation. In his definition of a happening, Michael Kirby notesthat it is a "purposefully composed form of theatre," but one in which "diverse alogical elements, including non-matrixed performing, are organized in a compartmental structure." "Non-matrixed" contrasts such activity to traditional theatre, where actors perform in a "matrix" provided by a fictional character and surroundings. An act in a happening, like Halprin's "task-oriented" movement, is done without this imaginary setting. In Alter's terms, it seeks the purely performative, removed from the referential. The "compartmental structure" relates to this concept; each individual act within a happening exists for itself, is compartmentalized, and does not contribute to any overall meaning.

- Marvin Carlson
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