Happenings were essentially performance of art, which involved sensations of touch, sounds, time-durations, gestures and even smells. The audience are not given a plot or characters in Happenings which differentiates it from Theatre performances. Instead, they are bombarded with sensations which the spectators must work out for themselves what they mean. Pop Art holds a relation to Happenings especially in America, where Pop Art birthed Happenings.
The Car Crash is perhaps the most remembered Happening of art history, which was staged by Jim Dine in 1960 in New York, including violence and disaster lasting about 20 minutes. The European Happenings differed from Americans as they were more abstract and less specific to the structure. They performed more and more extreme situations to explore emotional reactions and stage them as rebels toward society. In 1972 the British artist Stuart Brisley famously stayed in a bath full of water and animal entrails to evoke the extreme. It was the Austrians who invoked even more extreme Happenings including the Rudolf Schwarzkogler and Otto Muehl who performed events of sado-masochistic fantasy.
The 1960’s and 1970’s were a time of great shifts in politics, art, society and fashion. With the immediate post-war decade over, the reaction from the restrictions of rations and freedom took over. The sense of expression became a focus for the artists of the day and Happenings were an immediate reaction to this urge for freedom. Society was also pushing for freedom, with the Vietnam war and The Women’s Liberation Movement playing key roles in the shift of society.
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