it’s my happening babe and it freaks me out

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Nonstarving Artists have a piece about The Whitechapel’s third season of performance art A Short History of Performance, this time focussing on Allan Kaprow.

Kaprow used specific terms to describe his work. Environments defined pieces from his first phase of the late 1950s and early 60s, which were constructed in galleries and combined painting, sound, lighting, and movement. Through the 1960s and early 70s as his work moved into non-art spaces and began to involve volunteer participants reacting to a loosely defined score, the pieces were called “Happenings,” a term Kaprow invented. These often grand, public events then evolved gradually into pieces that break down social interactions to the micro level of gestures, breath and single words, called “Activities.”

— Nonstarving Artists

A Short History of Performance

(United Kingdom-London) The Whitechapel’s acclaimed performance art series dedicates it’s third season, running 4-9 October 2005, to a figure central to development of contemporary art – Allan Kaprow.

American artist Allan Kaprow is a pioneer of post-war performance art whose influence has been profound. Forging a bridge between the chance-based music scores of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and the action art of Jackson Pollock, he created the foundation for performance and installation art of the 1960s and beyond.

Kaprow used specific terms to describe his work. Environments defined pieces from his first phase of the late 1950s and early 60s, which were constructed in galleries and combined painting, sound, lighting, and movement. Through the 1960s and early 70s as his work moved into non-art spaces and began to involve volunteer participants reacting to a loosely defined score, the pieces were called “Happenings,” a term Kaprow invented. These often grand, public events then evolved gradually into pieces that break down social interactions to the micro level of gestures, breath and single words, called “Activities.”

A Short History of Performance – Part III focuses on the “Activities” of the third phase of Kaprow’s work, bringing together a selection of videos and Activity Booklets from the 1970s. The booklets act as both scores and documentation for the small gestures and structured activities carried out by the participants.

From 4 – 9 October the Whitechapel has daily screenings of Kaprow’s work. These include Time Pieces, 1973, in which the clinical act of pulse measurement is developed as an act of intimacy; Comfort Zones, 1975, in which the socially acceptable boundaries of physical space between people is repeatedly transgressed in subtle ways; and Warm-Ups, 1975, in which two people performing temperature experiments with their bodies are observed by a third person.

On Thursday 6 October at 7pm American author Jeff Kelley explores the work and influence of Allan Kaprow. Kelley’s Childsplay, 2004 is the most comprehensive study of Kaprow’s work to date. He has also edited Allan Kaprow’s influential collection of critical essays The Blurring of Art and Life.

Born in 1927 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Allan Kaprow spent his childhood in Tuscan, Arizona, moving with his family to New York where he graduated from the School of Music and Art in 1945. He received his BA degree from New York University where he studied with Meyer Schapiro in 1951. Kaprow also studied painting at Hans Hoffman’s school from 1947 to 1948 and musical composition with John Cage at the New School for Social Research from 1957 to 1958. John Cage, painter Jackson Pollock and choreographer Paul Taylor were all important influences on his work.

Performance art originated in the live actions of the Futurists, Dadaists and the Bauhaus, re-emerging in the 1950s when the body was increasingly used as both material and site for art. Pioneering figures included Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni and Joseph Beuys.

A Short History of Performance Part I, April 2002, featured live performances by some of the most significant artists of the 1960s and 70s from Hermann Nitsch to Carolee Schneeman, with an installation of live horses by Jannis Kounellis. A Short History of Performance Part II, November 2003, included key performances by Robert Morris, Martha Rosler and a day-long installation of Joseph Beuys’ lecture Actions.

A Short History of Performance Part IV, Spring 2006 will continue by showcasing artists who – rather than using their own bodies – write scripts, direct actors and create sets for live action that plays for the camera.

A Short History of Performance Part III is organised by the Whitechapel and curated by Andrea Tarsia, Head of Exhibitions & Projects.

A Short History of Performance Part III is made possible with the support of The Moose Foundation for the Arts and The Felix Trust for Art.