history of happening(s)

The first was a 1952 performance of Theater Piece No. 1 at Black Mountain College by John Cage. He stood reading from a ladder, Charles Olson read from another ladder, Robert Rauschenberg showed some of his paintings and played scratched phonograph records, David Tudor performed on a prepared piano and Merce Cunningham danced. Allan Kaprow developed the idea in 1959 at the Reuben Gallery in New York with his 18 Happenings in 6 parts. Although tightly scripted and planned, Kaprow’s early happenings maintained an air of unstructured spontaneity. This was because they had none of the usual trappings of theatre – plot, dialogue, character, or professional performers – and no resemblance to the traditional visual arts. His concern, like that of such early Pop artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Whitman, Claes Oldenburg and Red Grooms, with whom he originated this all-encompassing form of environmental theatre, was to break down the traditional distinctions between life and the categories of art.

Poet and painter Adrian Henri claimed to have organized the first happenings in England in Liverpool in 1962. Nigel Lesmoir Gordon, Andrew Rawlinson and William Pryor put on their first happening in the cellars of the Cambridge Union Society in 1964. Some have said that Wholly Communion in 1965 was a happening. This was the Albert Hall poetry event at which most of the Roodmoodment Too participants were present, as the audience of 7,000 witnessed and participated in performances by some of the leading avant-garde poets of the day.

a William Burroughs cutup film


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