Currently Reading: Allan Kaprow: Art As Life, 1980, Getty Research Institute, LA.
Allan Kaprow and his works and writings on Happenings and Non Art are important to rubbish research, not least because of the direct references and usages of rubbish and everyday detritus.
This book was published on occasion of the major touring retrospective Allan Kaprow – Art as Life and as such, exhibition publications standards prevailing, contains a number of curators’ essays and essays pertaining to the exhibition and content (Part Three: Agency for Action by Stephanie Rosenthal and Museum as Mediation by Eva Meyer-Hermann). The Chronology follows, listing works, exhibitions, reviews and life events, teaching positions and awards by year.
The essay of main interest for me is in Part One: Early Works and Writings entitled Writing the Happening: The Aesthetics of Nonart, Alex Potts (p.20). This essay sets the scene, and crucially, brings in the rubbish.
Potts introduces the concept of Nonart; “The point was to devise works that escaped the self-referentiality within which modern art was trapped, […] that were, as he put it “lifelike”, […] an art that momentarily exists outside the context of the art world. (p.20)
And “[Happenings] were in effect informal assemblages of events and situations played out over space as well as time.” (p.20)
“To be anything more than superfluous, artworks had to take something categorically non-artistic as their point of departure.” (p.23) Potts also references the aesthetics of junk. Everyday objects and situations/processes, are essentially my own points of departure. When dealing with art made from rubbish, this could be said to be categorically non-artistic, almost as a binary polarisation.
A survey of junk art assemblages made by Kaprow and other artists such as Robert Rauschenberg including many of Kaprow’s writings, is referenced on p.22: Assemblage, Environment & Happenings (1966).
Potts expands quite a bit on the rubbish aspect: “ An artwork made out of impermanent, disregarded, and expendable everyday materials that “will pass into dust or garbage very quickly,” [Kaprow] explained, could exist as something much more suggestive than “a fixed, enduring object to be placed in a closed case.” Its essential mutability, its truthfulness as a phenomenon caught up in larger cycle of “creation-decay-creation,” was partly determined by the realities of the modern world of consumer capitalism – a world of junk and throwaway products. But it also had to do with a deep sense of temporality, an ephemerality that subtended the very fabric of everyday living and thinking.” (p.23)
Kaprow talks about the use of rubbish: “The use of debris, waste products … has, of course, a clear range of allusions with obvious sociological implications, the simplest being the artist’s positive involvement, on the one hand with an everyday world, and on the other with a group of objects – which, being expendable, might suggest that corresponding lack of status which is supposed to be the fate of anything creative today. These choices must not be ignored, for they reveal what in our surroundings charges the imagination as well as what is the larger issue of reality understood as constant metamorphosis. The viewpoint, the metaphysics, is more fundamental than our “throwaway” culture. The latter is the topical vehicle for the former and, while important, should become something else in time.” (p.23) Kaprow, Assemblage (note 1), p.169
Potts notes a move away from earlier object-based works. “Kaprow noted that he alternated between things that had “a high degree of associated meaning” because of their function, social use, and psychological associations, such as “machine parts, baby carriages, clothings” and more “generalized” materials, such as “cloth,” “cardboard,” and “wood,” that “are somewhat less specific in meaning. These materials were not necessarily used or rejected, even if they often became rubbish in the course of a Happening. (p.23)
Potts clarifies: “His conception of nonart, then, is not to be confused with a conventional celebration of antiform at the expense of form.” (p.24)