December 28, 2010
Response to Happenings
Happenings are truly hard to define. Starting in the late fifties a school of artists and musicians began questioning what art actually was. They began criticizing the type of art that “sits on its ass” in a museum all day and vouched for a more active thought provoking kind of art that made people stop and notice. Happenings like Oldenburg’s or Kaprow’s often included other people and a stage set in a specific manner so that the props could be utilized. While many people often assumed that things that were going on were improv many happenings were actually loosely rehearsed so that every performance would follow the same theme but would vary greatly between shows. This week I witnessed a semi-impromptu kind of happening on Harvard quad.
I was walking back from Harvard square at about ten thirty on a saturday night when my friends and I started hearing this loud banging sound coming from behind one of the buildings. We decided to go back there and see what was going on, as the sound was getting louder and louder. When we rounded the corner we discovered a group of about forty people, and growing, playing instruments in a marching band type formation. They were all playing different songs and miscellaneous instruments. Those who didn’t have instruments were walking along side them making noise any way they knew how. One person at the front of the march yielding a large drum marked with a Harvard “H” seemed to cut off the band and there was a short pause for cheers. People were hanging out their dorm windows hooting and hollering at the band. At that moment people began running out of the dorms with instruments of their own to join the marching band. Then, on the drummers que, they all started playing and screaming again. My friends and I watched in absolute awe not knowing what to do and trying to define what was happening, but we didn’t have any way of knowing why this was happening or what it meant. The group turned and headed for Mass. Ave and we were left standing uncomfortably in Harvard Yard, a place that we didn’t belong to, and didn’t really understand.
Later that night I was left still thinking about what I had just seen at Harvard, I couldn’t tell if it was their real band just trying to cause a scene or a few members just trying to get people involved in music making. But in my mind it was truly a happening. Maybe thats just because I could not understand it at all and thats kind of what I picturing a happening being like. While I wasn’t being forced to stand on narrow planks in inches of water I still and uncomfortable situation for the viewer where they were left not knowing what they were supposed to have learned. You could argue for days what it truly meant but as in most happenings the performers may not even have truly known what or why they were doing what they were doing. Happenings are radical and beautiful and I was truly impacted by my first viewing of one so close to home.