Week 1 – A Study in Unorthadox and the Ephemeral

All artists and practitioners seem to have an idea of what is ‘art’ and what is ‘not art’. Some dare to push the boundaries of these supposed closed boxes. One such creator is Allan Kaprow, and this is one of the practitioners we have studied this week. Through studying the likes of Kaprow and Marcel Duchamp, we discussed the technique of ‘framing’ a piece,and how something such as a urinal can become aesthetically pleasing. These discussions have urged me to think far more about the abstract than I think I ever have.


Kaprow was a great innovative mind active in the art world of the 1960’s. His series of Happenings are great examples of ephemeral art; art that is appreciated for a short time, then disappears without a trace. We studied his piece called Fluids, and we aimed to come up with a piece which was inspired by its transitory nature.

My group and I came up with a performance piece which ended up being a lot more confronting and deep than I think we intended. It kind of evolved from the group before us; they engineered the idea of alienation and division, and we sort of took the idea and ran far far away with it. We sat on some stools, adopted a standoffish stance and scrawled the words “Name Here” on a whiteboard. As one by one our audience walked in, they took the cue and wrote their names, only to have them rubbed out again in silence by one of our group members. One  by one they left confused, and slightly berated. After we finished, I think some of the other members of the class thought we hated them (or they hated us!). It was a really fascinating experiment, because we had no idea how the audience was going to react! It was interesting to see some people fight back, and others just leave, disinterested. This is the point of a piece like this; it urges us to think deeper and more personally about the effects of the work, and it tests our understanding of art itself as an experience; which is much like Kaprow’s ephemeral piece Fluids in its cause and effect.

Another activity that we participated in was a recreation of 4′ 33” by John Cage. In this piece we were asked to sit and just observe something for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, and I decided to observe a dirty old picnic bench with doodles on top. What I found during this time was that I got bored easily, I got sleepy, but I also became much more aware of my surroundings, and was hyper aware of the sounds around me. To me, this was the beauty of the piece, because not only was I examining someone else’s penmanship on this bench, I was also appreciating the sound of silence and rain more than I ever have. This is where the change happened; this is where I began to actually ‘get’ what we were talking about, and it felt empowering.


Reference list:

  1. Marcel Duchamp 1964, Fountain, Procelain, Unconfirmed: 360 x 480 x 610 mm, Tate Modern, Britain.
  2. Hopper, D 1967, Allan Kaprow, Fluids happening, 1967, photograph, viewed March 2017, <http://www.flickr.com/photos/52355315@N08/5757476385/>.
  3. Kaprow, A 1967, Fluids Happening, Performance art.
  4. Cage, J 1947-1948, 4’33”, musical score.