- Happenings And Other Acts,edited by Mariellen R. Sandford and: Greenwich Village 1963: Avant-Garde Performance And The Effervescent Body by Sally Banes
The first half of the 1990s looks back at the first half of the 1960s through the lenses of an anthology and a cultural history. Happenings and Other Acts puts important materials back into print, while Greenwich Village 1963 analyzes the genesis and influence of Happenings and related cultural phenomena.
Sandford’s anthology reprints the 1965 special issue of The Drama Review (T30) on Happenings edited by Michael Kirby and Richard Schechner. She includes Kirby’s introductions to both T30 and his Happenings: An Illustrated Anthology (1965). Sandford follows the TDR material with succinct excerpts from Allan Kaprow’s Happenings, Assemblages, Environments (1966). This placement pits Kirby and Kaprow against one another and grants them a kind of ownership of the material included in between. The influence of Kirby’s 1965 coeditor, Richard Schechner, is more covert: he interviews Kaprow, collaborates with Kirby in an interview of John Cage, and contributes one brief essay himself.
The scenarios and interviews at the heart of Happenings and Other Acts are framed by an interesting battle over theoretical turf. Kirby wrests the Happening’s etiology from art historians while at the same time considering its distinction from other forms of theatre. He locates its sources in Dada performance and action painting, countering the genealogy traced by Kaprow from easel painting to collage to environment. Kaprow objects to Kirby’s localization of the entire phenomenon around John Cage. Ken Dewey quotes Claes Oldenburg: “It should be made clear that Happenings came about when painters and sculptors crossed into theatre taking with them their way of looking and doing things” (206). Yet Kirby finds Oldenburg’s productions more theatrical than most, calling for traditional notions of character, interpretation, and acting.
Sandford’s own editorial hand is seen most clearly in the last four selections: excerpts from Carolee Schneeman’s More Than Meat Joy (1979), Jean-Jacques Lebel’s “On the Necessity of Violation” (1968), Darko Suvin’s “Reflections on Happenings” (1970), and Gunter Berghaus’s “Happenings in [End Page 246] Europe: Trends, Events, and Leading Figures” (the only essay written exclusively for this collection). Sandford wisely decides not to alter the sexist language of the original TDR articles so as to retain a more complete sense of the historical moment in which they were written. She points out that Yvonne Rainer and Anna Halprin are the only women who receive more than passing mention in TDR 30, which might “leave readers with the impression that most of the women participants were those ubiquitous ‘naked girls’” (xxi). But the pieces by Schneemann, Lebel, and Berghaus act as correctives to what is implicit in Kirby, Schechner, and Kaprow’s work. Her inclusion of Schneemann, along with Jean-Jacques Lebel and the European artists discussed by Gunther Berghaus, also helps articulate a more explicit politically dimension of Happenings. Schneeman’s statement of purpose for Snows (1967) specifically locates the pervasive impulse toward primitivism and anarchy in outrage against the Vietnam war. Sandford also points out that both Berghaus and Leo Baxandall (in an essay unfortunately not included) tie the demise of Happenings in 1967–1968 to a transfer of energies to the antiwar movement.
Darko Suvin’s contribution works hard to return Happenings to traditional art genres, as do the 1965 essays. Sandford, too, enters this struggle in her introduction, making it clear that Happenings are to be distinguished from other kinds of performances, but failing to clarify fully how that is to be done. Ultimately, the genre “Happenings” fails to cohere, and rightly so. What significantly “Happens” is the blurring of boundaries—not only between genres but between performer and spectator, and life and art.
Happenings and Other Acts remains comparable to Kirby’s Happenings: An Illustrated Anthology (1965) or to Richard Kostelanetz’s The...