This was a task that I really didn’t want to be part off. A public Happening/performance art is not really my kind of artwork, but after researching it a bit more I became more open to the idea.
Originally starting in the early 20th century with the futurists and Dadaists in Italy, and at the Bauhaus in Germany. Several theatrical events were organized involving artists, actors and dancers. The term ‘Happening’ wasn’t an official word for these events until around 1957 when Allan Kaprow created this label for the work he was seeing, and wrote about it in an essay for the “Legacy of Jackson Pollock”.
Happenings are a disconnected organic spontaneous display of how art can be influenced by its environment, through an ephemeral and temporary experience, which requires some form of participation from both artist and viewer. As Kirk Varnedoe art historian had said: “To preserve the Happening would be like trying to catch wind in a butterfly net”. They were not originally supposed to be shows or organized events as such, but were to confront and dismantle the conventional views of ‘art’.
This idea has changed and more modern Happenings are becoming staged as regular events, with things like flash mobs, artistic protests, and even festivals being called happenings, but this wasn’t our brief, ours had to be spontaneous.
The group we had was very productive, my role was group leader, I organised the meetings and eventually the artist. We worked well together and everyone just did what needed to be done without any prompting. We had several meetings to discuss ideas; one was to have tea on the bridge and asking people to join them. Another was an action space where people are encouraged to destroy objects. Although a good idea we thought it would take too much organising to do this in London. Several other ideas were similar things, throwing paint or generally being loud, again we dismissed this as couldn’t organise logistics and happening in time.
Caroline did come up with a concept, as it was International Women’s day soon, she had seen an event called “brutally Honest.” Taking this idea and changing it a little with 1000 people or less, to make a very long statement standing along Oxford Street during a weekday, but again logistics timing, finding an artist to help and safety issues proved difficult
We had come up with lots of good ideas but the difficulty was getting an artist on board so we all tried contacting artists through emails, social media, face book, twitter and listing open calls on website like curate a space. The curate a space post took several attempts and a few emails back and forth from me before they would list it. As most of our year group had applied to them too! This was ok; we only got two replies, none of them were possible.
It was my message to Hilde Krohn Huse, and then a conversation with her at an exhibition that got us our contact for the happening Miss Maria Teresa Ortoleva BA (Hon), MA (Dis). Her work researches the influences of images and imaginative processes in the everyday experience of objects and places.
As performance and interaction is part of her practice we thought if we showed Maria our brief and allowed her free reign on what she wanted us to do, then she would come up with a good idea.
What she wanted us to do was based on a Jone Jonas piece called ‘Mirror Piece 1’ (1969) Reconfigured’, this performance featured performers carrying mirrors around with movements so they reflected their own bodies and the objects and environment around them.
The public will be provided with a mirror to hold facing up for them to walk around and view reflections around them after a few minutes they will be asked to return the mirror and then to document what they saw via a postcard. This could be a drawing, sketch or a few words to describe what they saw or to trace their steps.
This happening will be documented through both the sketches/ documentation we collect and the photos/films we take at the event.
We met Maria in London, where she then told us the best places along the South Bank were to start this happening. We didn’t pre plan any of the areas. Our first stop was outside the National Theatre as the building is Brutalism and concrete which would have been good for mirror reflections.
As we laid out the mirrors and set up the camera, just outside the building we were approached by security staff, and asked to move on as it wasn’t part of there own events and the safety was questionable. So our first irritation for the happening went well. We didn’t move to far away, just enough so we were still close to see the building in the mirrors as people walked by the Theatre.
At first it was just the group doing the happening, and people were walking by, avoiding eye contact and giving funny looks. Eventually after around ten minutes we approached people and they questioned what we were doing, they then want to join in. People are like sheep it’s a strange phenomenon but as soon as one or two started joining in more and more wanted to have a go.
We then proceeded to go to three other spaces. One along the South Bank outside the OXO buildings this one was difficult for the public to do. They were just steaming by us ignoring what we were doing; the other was near the Blackfriars station, this area was the best I think, as we got a good mix of people both watching us and joining in. Children, tourists, professionals and homeless were all taking part in one form or other. We finally ended up at St Paul’s in the gardens, this was a quieter space and the weather had turned wet, people just watched us creating the happening.
On the whole this was a Happening piece of artwork that was well received and created some good comments. Maria was pleased with the results and is using the documentation and our happening as an example for her future work with another group she is working with.