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3 INTRODUCTION The Convergence of Art, Politics, and Everyday Life I am for an art that is political-erotical mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum. I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap and comes out on top. I am for an art that tells you the time of day, or where such and such a street is. I am for an art that helps old ladies across the street. Claes Oldenburg The march was stopped about a block and a half from the campus by 40 city, county, and state policemen with tear gas grenades, billy sticks and a fire truck. When ordered to return to the campus or be beaten back, the students, confronted individually by the police, chose not to move and quietly began singing “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Bob Zellner During the 1960s, artists and activists transformed notions of how public spaces might be used, expanding the range of cultural and political expressions beyond the substantial restrictions they had faced in the early postwar era. Echoing a widespread sentiment among 1960s artists, the sculptor Claes Oldenburg asserted that for art to be vital it must do more than “sit on its ass in a museum,” embracing subject matter and venues familiar to people’s everyday lives.1 “Public space” or, more colloquially, “the street” provided the locus for this sea change in the arts. Describing a civil rights movement confrontation in Talladega, Alabama, the activist Bob Zellner highlighted the centrality of singing to the struggle for desegregation, which by its nature involved public spaces and accommodations, from lunch counters to public parks and beaches to educational facilities.2 By mobilizing singing as an organizing tool, communications medium, and tactic of social contestation in the struggle for desegregation, movement activists reintroduced to the public space a vibrant cultural form that had largely vanished during the McCarthy years. Just as focus on everyday life catalyzed a new movement in the arts, singing assumed a key role in the culture of the civil rights movement, infusing American public life with a strong performance element that received considerable publicity from both television and print media. These two trends intertwined throughout the sixties as cultural forms increasingly moved into public venues, frequently conveying pointed political content. 4 Introduction During the sixties, art, theater, and politics permeated everyday life; public performance in the streets served as the principal forum for this development. But what constitutes a public performance? Were civil rights activists who sang freedom songs as part of the civil rights movement performers in the same way as, say, the avant-garde theater company the Living Theatre, who led its audiences into the streets as the climactic act of its 1968 production Paradise Now? In modern parlance “performance” has been used to refer to a broad range of sometimes quite dissimilar activities. Marvin Carlson has argued for recognizing “performance” as a “contested concept” and for acknowledging “the futility of seeking some overarching semantic field” to encompass all the term’s uses.3 Nevertheless, the tendency of various sixties collectives to bring their art and politics into public spaces suggests that some narrowing of the performance concept is possible. Erving Goffman’s definition of performance as “all the activity of a given participant on a given occasion which serves to influence in any way any of the other participants” resounds with relevance for the public performers of the sixties in both its allowance for a wide range of performative activity and its suggestion of a quest to “influence” and involve audiences.4 The performance studies scholar Richard Schechner cites eight “sometimes separate, sometimes overlapping situations” in which performances occur, including everyday life, the arts, popular entertainments, business, technology, sex, sacred and secular ritual, and play.5 At various times, sixties public performers drew from all these areas, including aspects of the business, technology, and sex varieties not usually part of performance-theory discourse. Public performers of the sixties tended most often, however, to mesh some combination of the everyday life, arts, popular entertainment, ritual, and play aspects of performance. “Public performance” can be defined as a self-conscious, stylized tactic of staging songs, plays, parades, protests, and other spectacles in public places where no admission is charged and spectators are often invited to participate, and it conveys symbolic messages about social and political issues to audiences who might not have encountered them in more traditional venues...


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