Side 1
This is a lecture on how to make a happening. There are 11 rules of the game.
1. Forget all the standard art forms. Don’t paint pictures, don’t make poetry, don’t
build architecture, don’t arrange dances, don’t write plays, don’t compose music,
don’t make movies, and above all, don’t think you’ll get a happening out of
putting all these together. This idea is nothing more than what operas always did
and you see it today in the far-out types of discotheques with their flashing lights
and film projections. The point is to make something new, something that doesn’t
even remotely remind you of culture. You’ve got to be pretty ruthless about this,
wiping out of your plans every echo of this or that story or jazz piece or painting
that I can promise you will keep coming up unconsciously.
2. You can steer clear of art by mixing up your happening by mixing it with life
situations. Make it unsure even to yourself if the happening is life or art. Art has
always been different from the world’s affairs, now you’ve got to work hard to
keep it all blurry. Two cars collide on a highway. Violet liquid pours out of the
broken radiator of one of them, and in the back seat of the other there is a huge
load of dead chickens that is spilling out all over the ground. The cops check it
out, plausible answers are given, tow trucks carry off the wrecks costs are paid
and the drivers go home to dinner.
3. The situations for a happening should come from what you see in the real world,
from real places and people rather than from the head. If you stick to imagination
too much you’ll end up with old art again, since art was always supposed to be
made from imagination. Take advantage of readymade events: a factory fire, the
fire trucks screaming to it from all sides, the water, the police barricades, the red
blinkers—a natural. Or after a storm at the shore the debris washed up can be
terrific. Or just take an afternoon off and watch women trying on dresses in a
bargain basement. An awful lot can be done with images like these. If you get
stuck for ideas, an exception to the slice-of-life idea is the greatest source book of
our time, the yellow pages of the telephone directory. Break open the book at
random, put your finger down at some point in the page and you’ll come up with:
private detective service, rug cleaning at home, cement blocks, airport limousine
transport, judo lessons. You can get more out of these than out of all of
Beethoven, Michelangelo, and Racine put together.
4. Break up your spaces. A single enactment space is what the theatre traditionally
uses. You can experiment by gradually widening the distances between your
events; first at a number of points along a heavily trafficked avenue, then in
several rooms and floors of an apartment house where some of the activities are
out of touch with each other, then on more than one street, then in different but
nearby cities, finally all around the world. Some of this can take place traveling
from one area to another using public transportation and the mails. You don’t have
to be everywhere at once. You don’t even have to be everywhere. The places
you’re in are as good as the places other participants are in.
5. Break up your time and let it be real time. Real time is found when things are
going on in real places. It has nothing to do with the single time, the unified time
of stage plays or music. It has even less to do with slowing down or speeding up
actions because you want to make something expressive or you want it to work in
a compositional way. Whatever happens should happen in its natural time.
Suppose you consider how long it’d take to buy a fishing pole in a department
store just before Christmas, or how long it’d take to lay the footings for a house.
Well if a group wanted to do both in a happening, one of them would have to wait
until the other was done. Maybe if it rained, that’d decide which came first. Of
course, two groups could arrange both actions at the same time if that was wanted.
But it isn’t really necessary, except when people coming from different places
have to catch the same train. Otherwise, why not let the amount of time you do
something depend on what is practical and convenient for the particular actions in
the happening. You can waste an awful lot of time trying to coordinate things.
6. Arrange all your events in the happening in the same practical way. Not in an arty
way; avoid sonnet form, cubist multiple viewpoints, dynamic symmetry, the
golden section, the twelve tone technique, theme and variation developments,
logical or mathematical progressions and so forth. If a chicken cackles, roosts,
pecks and lays eggs, take it for granted there’s plenty of form there already.
Nature can never appear formless because of the way the brain is made, so why
worry? Just take things as they come, and arrange them in whatever way is least
artificial and easiest to do. A gal was reading in the subway until, as if she’s
expecting it, her hairdresser gets up from another seat and unpacks his gear, and
spends the next hour giving her a fancy do, calm-as-you-please, like it was his
shop. A lot of people all covered with some sticky stuff were lying perfectly still
all across a big lawn. The wind blows yellow and red leaves over them until
they’re covered solid. A truck loaded with shredded newspaper comes and carts
them off. Fifteen or more cars on the Long Island Expressway going along with
their brights on like a funeral. Now and then stream clouds of thin plastic film
from their windows. They pull in the stuff quickly each time. Well suppose these
three situations made up your happening? The subway thing would be easier to
do, say, at 4 a.m. when the trains are pretty empty. You could count on lots of
leaves dropping off the trees in late October when it’s still warm enough to lie on
the ground. And the procession of cars could be done on any day, just so long as
everyone has his car handy at the time. The theory of alternating contrasts like
night—day, night—action, quiet—action could cause you to arrange the three
events closely together in the order of cars, subway, leaves. But that might be
inconvenient, so string them out in whatever way is best for the participants, a
week apart if necessary. Some surprises might occur if you just forgot all the
composition lessons you were taught. I remember that being flexible paid off one
time. A group of people was to go to an automat and eat lunch when it was busy
and crowded. At a signal, they would push a plate off the table, let it break, and
quickly leave. The order of the events had to be switched around with another
one. When it did take place, at that same moment a bus boy dropped a whole load
of dishes on a floor. It couldn’t have been more planned than that, but it wasn’t
planned at all.
7. Since you’re in the world now and not in art, play the game by real rules. Make
up your mind when and where a happening is appropriate. If your image calls for
the president and vice presidents of Chase-Manhattan sitting in their biggest vault
and throwing gold coins around like babies, and you can’t get them to do it, then
forget it and go on to something else. If you need to cut down lots of timber with
chain saws whining and trees cracking, find a guy who needs some woods thinned
out anyway. If you want a bulldozer to chew up some ground, find out where a
development is going up and work the happening into the driver’s regular job.
You’ll save a hundred dollars a day and might learn something about ground
leveling. If you want to work with kids, discover what they really can do and like
to instead of giving them something fancy you’d like to do but won’t. Let them
build something out of piles of trash, paint up some old cars in a junkyard, dig a
huge hole at the beach. If you want to have all your participants start naked,
swimming, making love or whatnot, there are times and plenty of places where it
wouldn’t stir up any dust. On the other hand, if you like being busted by the cops,
you might think of working jail into the happening.
8. Work with the power around you, not against it. It makes things much easier, and
you’re interested in getting things done. When you need official approval, go out
for it. You can use police help, the mayor, the college dean, the chamber of
commerce, the company exec, the rich, and all your neighbors. Be your own
public relations man; convince them all that what you’re doing is worthwhile
because it’s enjoyable to play, just the same as it’s enjoyable for them to go
fishing. Its not a snap, of course, but they’re convincible, and once on your side
you can almost go to the moon.
9. When you’ve got the go-ahead, don’t rehearse the happening. This will make it
unnatural because it will build in the idea of good performance, that is, ‘art.’
There is nothing to improve in a happening, you don’t need to be a professional
performer. It’s best when it is artless, for better or worse. If it doesn’t work, do
another happening. In any case, it’s unnecessary to rehearse situations like eating
your way through a room full of food, tearing down an old house, throwing love
letters into a field and watching the rain wash off the ink, driving a bunch of cars
off in different directions until they run out of gas. These aren’t perfectible
10. Perform the happening once only. Repeating it makes it stale, reminds you of
theatre and does the same thing as rehearsing: it forces you to think that there is
something to improve on. Sometimes it’d be nearly impossible to repeat anyway
—imagine trying to get copies of your old love letters, in order to see the rain
wash off those tender thoughts. Why bother?
11. Give up the whole idea of putting on a show for audiences. A happening is not a
show. Leave the shows to the theatre people and discotheques. A happening is a
game with a high, a ritual that no church would want because there’s no religion
for sale. A happening is for those who happen in this world, for those who don’t
want to stand off and just look. If you happen, you can’t be outside peeking in.
You’ve got to be involved physically. Without an audience, you can be off on the
move, using all kinds of environments, mixing in the supermarket world, never
worrying about what those out there in the seats are thinking, and you can spread
your action all around the globe whenever you want. Traditional art is like college
education and drugs: it’s fed to people who have to sit on their butts for longer
and longer amounts of time to get the point, and the point is that there’s lots of
actions somewhere else, which all the smart people prefer to just think about. But
happeners have a plan and go ahead and carry it out. To use an old expression,
they don’t merely dig the scene, they make it.
Side 2
Now what about some examples of happenings. The impression most people have is that
they’re a wild and mad deluge of events pouring down, something like this:
Everybody’s at a train station. It’s hot. There are lots of big cartons sitting
all over the arcade. One by one they start to move, sliding and careening
drunkenly in every direction, lunging into commuters and one another
accompanied by loud breathing sounds over the public address system.
Now it’s winter and it’s cold and dark, and all around little blue lights go
on and off at their own speed while three large gunny sack constructions
drag an enormous pile of ice and stones over bumps, losing most of it, and
blankets keep falling over everything from the ceiling. A hundred iron
barrels and gallon wine jugs hanging on ropes swing back and forth,
crashing like church bells, spewing glass all about. Suddenly mushy
shapes pop up from the floor and painters slash at curtains dripping with
action. A wall of trees tied with colored rags advances on the crowd,
scattering everybody, forcing them to leave. Eating is going on incessantly,
eating and vomiting and eating and vomiting, all in relentless yellow.
There are Muslim telephone booths for all with a record player or
microphone that tunes everybody in on everybody else. Coughing, you
breath noxious fumes of the smell of hospitals and lemon juice. A nude
girl runs after the racing pool of a searchlight, and throws water into it.
Slides and movies projected in motion over walls and hurrying people
depict hamburgers, big ones, huge ones, red ones, skinny ones, flat ones
and so on. You push things around like packing crates, words rumble past
whispering, “Dee-dah, Bah-room, Lovely, Lovely, Love Me.” Shadows
jiggle on screens, power saws and lawn mowers screech just like the
subway at union square. Tin cans rattle, soaking rags slush and you stand
up to shout questions at shoeshine boys and old ladies. Long silences
when nothing at all happens when—bang—there you are facing yourself
in a mirror jammed at you. Listen, a cough in the alley. You giggle, talk to
someone nonchalantly while eating strawberry jam sandwiches. Electric
fans start, wafting breezes of new car smell past your nose as leaves bury
heaps of whining, burping, foul pinky mess.
Actually, the happenings are much less complicated, and there’s a stronger give and take
between the environment and its participants. A typical program will read like this:
Naked women eat giant bowls of Cheerios and milk atop a mountain of
used tires. Children disgorge barrels of whitewash over the mountain. A
hundred yards away, men and women swimmers in brightly colored
plastic pools continually leap out of the water to catch with their mouths
rubber gaskets festooned with lifesaver candies that hang from chains of
mens’ belts. The mountain is taken down tire by tire and moved into the
pools, and the water spills out. The children tie the adults together with the
belts, they pour whitewash over the now-still heaps of bodies. Then they
buckle dozens more of the belts around their necks, waists, and legs. They
take the remaining lifesavers to a factory-fresh tire shop and offer them for
sale in laughy voices.
A program is nothing more than a short list of situations or images jotted down on a few
sheets of paper. Sometimes they have some notes attached at the end. These programs are
sent out to a group of people that might be interested in participating. Those who are
come to a meeting where the happening is discussed and the practical details of who does
what and when are ironed out. Then, as soon as possible, the piece is put into action.
I’d like to read three programs now, but before I do, it ought to be clear that what I read is
just literature, not the happenings themselves.
st morning: clothes dirtied by urination
evening: clothes washed
(in the sea)
(in the laundromat)
nd morning: cars dirtied with jam on a busy street
cars cleaned
(in a parking lot)
(in a car-wash)
evening: bodies dirtied with jam
bodies buried in mounds at the sea edge
bodies cleaned by the tide
The notes to “Soap” read as follows:
st morning and 1
Each person privately soils some article of his own
clothing. This is essential, for it refers to one’s real
experiences as an infant. In this act the person mingles his
own water with the water of the sea or laundromat, and
consequently makes the cleansing of his clothing
inescapably personal.
nd morning:
Cars should be methodically and thoroughly smeared with
jam, within the sight of passers-by. The washing should be
done as diligently. If a commercial car-wash is used, one
should have this done as though nothing were out of the
ordinary. Any questions asked should be answered in as
noncommittal a way as possible.
A vacant stretch of beach is best. Either couples or
individuals may perform this. There should be long
distances between each individual or couple. In the case of
couples, one person covers the partner (who is preferably
naked) with jam, digs a hole for him (or her) with sand to
the neck, and sits quietly watching until the tide washes the
partner clean. Then they depart.
The next happening is
In the city, people stand at street corners and wait. For each of
them a car pulls up, someone calls out a name, the person gets in,
and they drive off. During the trip, the person is wrapped in
aluminum foil. The car is parked at a meter somewhere, is left
there locked, the silver person sitting motionless in the back seat.
Someone unlocks the car, drives off. The foil is removed from the
person, he or she is wrapped in cloth or tied into a laundry bag.
The car stops. The person is dumped at a public car garage and the
car goes away. At the garage, a waiting auto starts up. The person
is picked up from the concrete pavement, is hauled into the car and
taken to the information booth at Grand Central Station. The
person is propped up against it and left. The person calls out names
and hears the others brought there also call. They call out for some
time. Then they work loose from their wrappings and leave the
train station. They telephone certain numbers. The phone rings and
rings, finally it is answered, a name is asked for, and immediately
the other end clicks off. In the woods, the persons call out names
and hear hidden answers. Here and there they come upon people
dangling upside-down from ropes. They rip the people’s clothes off
and go away. The naked figures call to each other in the woods for
a long time until they’re tired. Silence.
The notes to “Calling” read as follows:
1. Places other than the train stations and times are to be
decided just prior to performance.
2. Performance should preferably take place over two days,
the first in the city and the second in the country.
3. At least twenty-one persons are necessary to perform this
happening properly. For this number, six cars are required.
Thus, there would be three persons waiting at street
corners, a car containing three people including the driver,
to pick each one up, and a matching number of secondstage cars also manned by three people to carry the
wrapped persons to the railroad station. But this basic
number of participants can be multiplied proportionately
for as large a group as is desired.
4. Names used throughout are to be the names of those
5. Wrappings of foil and cloth should be as thoroughly
applied as possible, the face covered except for a breathing
6. Second-stage cars should be parked at a pre-chosen selfservice garage, widely separated from others. Drivers then
proceed to parts of city where first-stage cars are parked at
meters. There, the two drivers exchange car keys, the firststage trio hurrying to garage positions where they enter the
autos and await the arrival of the human packages. The
latter, of course, are brought by the second-stage trio.
Timing for this and all other stages of the event must be
worked out exactly.
7. The cars depositing packages at garages next proceed to the
homes of their drivers where phone calls will be received.
8. After the human packages unwrap themselves at the
information booth, calls should be made from a public
booth to the drivers of the last mentioned cars. Phone is
allowed to ring fifty times before it is answered. Answerer
says only, “Yes?” Caller asks if it is x, stating the right
name, and x quietly hangs up.
9. The people hanging from ropes in the woods are those who
drove and accompanied the cars the day before. An
exchange of positions takes place here, underscored by the
inverted positions on the ropes, with the former package
people taking the active role. There should be no less than
five bodies suspended, although all car people may choose
to hang this way. If less than the total of, say, eighteen, the
others should sit motionless between each rope and join in
the answering and the calling of names. When called from
afar by the package people, the answer is simply, “Here.
Here,” until each body is found and violated.
10. The package people arriving at the woods call out the
names of the car people hidden over a wide area among the
trees. Moving as a group, they follow the sounds of the
voices and reach each dangling figure. Its clothes are
rapidly cut off and after all have been so treated, the group
leaves. Each suspended person and those sitting beneath
him should cease answering to their names when found.
Gradually the answering will diminish to silence, and at
that point they start to call out each others’ names like
children lost.
The last happening is called:
Black highway painted black
Rain washes away
Paper men made in bare orchard branches
Rain washes away
Sheets of writing spread over a field
Rain washes away
Little gray boats painted along a gutter
Rain washes away
Naked bodies painted gray
Rain washes away
Bare trees painted red
Rain washes away
The notes are simply that
Times and places need not be coordinated and are left up to
the participants. The action of the rain may be watched if
(c) Allan Kaprow
Published by Primary Information, 2009

Writing A Manifest#2
100 x 70 cm
Ink on paper
Katja Pudor @katja.pudor

How to Make a Happening
Allan Kaprow
Published by Primary Information, 2009

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