Allan Kaprow’s Guidelines for the Happening

Allan Kaprow developed techniques to prompt a creative response from the audience, encouraging audience members to make their own connections between ideas and events. These narrative strategies relied on a nonlinear sequencing of events, and the use of indeterminacy to shape the course of the Happening. Kaprow describes how a Happening might take place over an extended period, across vast distance, or in many places at once. His techniques reordered past, present, and future within a single work in a remarkable variety of arrangements. The decentralization of authorshiship, location, and narrative – here united by the intent of the artist and the imagination of the participating audience members – foreshdows nonlinear forms in digital media that make use of interactive and networked technology to expand the boundaries of time and space.

The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.

There is where the artistic process opens itself up to as many intermedial elements as possible, elements outside the arts, object, and other artifacts of everyday life, the painting, the music composition, and the sculpture embraces non-traditional materials and situations. Just as our use of the network might incorporate systems of social relations, links to Websites, appropriated cultural and mass media artifacts, that breakdown the distinction between what is art and what is not.

Therefore, the source of themes, materials, actions, and the relationships between them are to be derived from any place or period except from the arts, their derivatives, and their milieu.

Yes, Kaprow wanted to eliminate the sacredness of purely artistic forms, that art could be anything or anybody so long as the artist designated that person, action or situation within the rules of the work. This openness to nonart ingredients further eradicated the boundary between art and life.

The performance of a Happening should take place over several widely space, sometimes moving and changing locales. A single performance space tends towards the static and, more significantly, resembles conventional theater practice.

Similarly, OSS transcends boundaries of space, breaks down distance, incorporates events and situations that take place in different spaces simultaneously, whether local or remote. A networked event loses all sense of the local, such that everything is local, or perhaps everything is remote. Even in Kaprow’s time, long before the Web, he considered prototypical networked, telematic events that involved the telephone, mail, highways and television.

Time, which follows closely on space considerations, should be variable and discontinuous.

The temporal characteristics of the Happening, the construction of events that were nonlinear in nature, transposes easily to the digital medium, where abrupt changes in time, sequencing, random order, indeterminate structures are the norm. He avoided rhythmic coordination in allow for non-synchronicity, except where synchronicity was needed. He formulated the idea of “real” or “experienced” time as distinct from time that grew out of a conceptual organizations of events in time. Real-time, while following the clock, did not necessarily have anything to do with the way time could be manipulated in a Happening. This is true of film, where narrative can jump from the present to the past and back again, but takes on even more abstract possibilities in the course of a Happening, where there is no sense of linear time, even fragmented linearity. Duration can also be extended beyond the scope of normal human time, such that a Happening may last for days, months or even years.

 Happenings should be performed only once.

Unlike staged theater, a Happening is an event, spontaneously presented (even when scripted), such that repetition undermines its meaning and intent. However, since a Happening relies on indeterminate techniques, even the repetition of a Happening might be totally different each time. Particularly when the Happening involves the viewer, where the outcome of the work can no longer be predicated. It is here that Kaprow’s participatory events are similar in concept to interactive media, which also involve the viewer, and such can’t be accurately determined in terms of their outcome. In this sense, every iteration of an interactive artwork is different, and so, may be “performed” multiple times, according to Kaprow’s guidelines.

It Follows that audiences should be eliminated entirely.

Kaprow set out to erase the demarcation between artist/performer and audience. His Happenings caused the audience to interpenetrate the performance, such that one was indistinct from the other. Audience members were integrally involved in the ongoing performance of a work. This follows interactive techniques of audience interaction, and perhaps more dramatically, online works that involve collective processes, social relations, and the exchange between the viewer and the work. The work cannot exist without viewer input, as in Jenny Holzer’s Please Change Beliefs, in which the viewer edits the artist’s truisms creating a database of variations. Who is the artist? Who is the viewer? What is the content?