1967 / 2015
As part of the collaborative project STADT/BILD (Image of a City), the Nationalgalerie is showing Fluids. A Happening by Allan Kaprow, 1967/2015 in the Berlin urban space. Allan Kaprow (1927 – 2006) is one of the most influential and at the same time least known artists of the second half of the 20th century. He coined the term “happening”, but his own work was largely forgotten because of the object-less nature of his artistic practice. Fluids was first created October 1967 at various public locations in California. With the assistance of volunteers, Kaprow built several structures measuring around 9 m long, 3 m wide and 2.4 m high, using ice blocks as his material. Once in place, these ice structures were simply left to melt. In its temporality and materiality, the work represents a challenge to the traditional understanding of art in public space.
What endures of Fluids and the happenings of the 1950s and 1960s? How do we approach this happening retrospectively, nine years after the artist’s death? Kaprow had his own answer: “While there was an initial version of Fluids, there isn’t an original or permanent work. Rather, there is an idea to do something and a physical trace of that idea. … Fluids continues and its reinventions further multiply its meanings.”
Five “reinventions” of Fluids will be taking place during Berlin Art Week. The Nationalgalerie has invited Berlin-based artists Olivier Guesselé-Garai, Assaf Gruber, Antje Majewski, Agnieszka Polska and Juliane Solmsdorf; Ahmet Öğüt; Alexandra Pirici and the artist’s group Stadt im Regal to create their own contemporary responses to Allan Kaprow’s happening.
In addition to these four artistic interpretations, the Nationalgalerie is organizing a reconstruction of the historical action.
The institutional version remains faithful to Allan Kaprow’s original score, which was featured on the original poster. Meant both to announce the event and to recruit participants, it reads: “During three days, about twenty rectangular enclosures of ice blocks (measuring about 30 feet long, 10 wide and 8 high) are built throughout the city. Their walls are unbroken. They are left to melt.” In small print at the bottom of the poster, a meeting time and place is mentioned for those interested. This call for volunteers and their participation, the specification of the material, the dimensions of the ice sculpture, as well as the order in which the process is to be completed will be maintained in this new version of Fluids. On September 15, 2015, the ice sculpture will be erected on the terrace of the Neue Nationalgalerie. Prior to the happening, discussions and a preparatory meeting of the participants regarding logistics and organization have been held illustrating the key role of this for the overall work.
In October 1967, both the Neue Nationalgalerie, which was designed by Mies van der Rohe (and opened in the fall of 1968), and Fluids were in a state of construction. This new happening will be presented on the museum’s terrace, which is both a public and institutional space, free of charge and accessible at any time. Notably, it will take place next to Alexander Calder’s and Richard Serra’s monumental steel and iron sculptures. Unlike traditional public art, this ice structure’s sculptural form, which is reminiscent of Minimalism’s geometric aesthetics, is constantly changing, moving, melting, and vanishing.
The artists Antje Majewski, Olivier Guesselé-Garai, Assaf Gruber, Agnieszka Polska, and Juliane Solmsdorf have founded an artists’ group that is interested in the activist, social, and economic aspects of Allan Kaprow’s happening Fluids. Unlike Kaprow, who always integrated the audience while retaining his artistic authority, this group’s version of Fluids will be conceived and realized by the individual artists working together, each with their own artistic and geographical backgrounds.
Prior to the project, the group not only engaged in detailed discussions about the original happening, it also hosted a day of readings, lectures, and discussions. The artists consider this non-public aspect to be part of their overall reinvention of Fluids. The actual public happening will take place in the Berlin district of Moabit on September 16, 2015, during Berlin Art Week and will integrate local residents, passers-by, and the art public.
The Happening takes place on a public green space on the corner of Lehrter Straße and Seydlitzstraße, 10 min by foot from Hauptbahnhof, next to facilities of the ‘Berliner Stadtmission’–a home for refugees, transitory apartments for former prison inmates, a place for homeless people to warm up and a guest house–allotment gardens, hotels, apartment blocks and a historic prison park. At this location the artists will is to “redraw” the spatial dimensions of the ice block structure in a frame, which they will fill with all kinds of useful objects: plants, books, clothing, and so forth. In this way, they are following the spirit of Allan Kaprow, who in 1958 said the following about new materials in art: “Objects of every sort are materials for the new art: paint, chairs, food, electric and neon lights, smoke, water, old socks, a dog, movies, a thousand other things that will be discovered by the present generation of artists.”
Between 10am and 3pm the artist construct their Give-and-Take-Sculpture made of “materials for the new art,” just to give everything away again from 4pm on. Immediately after its construction the sculpture is left to “melt” by letting people use the objects as they wish. This version of Fluids revives happenings as an art form, with its ephemeral presence and contemporaneity and its element of surprise and the undefined.
The collective STADT IM REGAL consists of nine artists from Berlin: Tina Born, Ursula Döbereiner, Antje Dorn, Kerstin Drechsel, Friederike Feldmann, Heike Klussmann, Birgit Schlieps, Katharina Schmidt, and Markus Strieder. Founded in 1996, they create exhibitions and projects together in which they focus on urban renewal, architecture, and habitation.
Because the original happening did not result in an object (the ice melted), but only survived in participants’ memory, STADT IM REGAL’s reinvention of Allan Kaprow’s Fluids explores the role of the imagination.
For their interpretation of Fluids, STADT IM REGAL chose an object found everywhere in Berlin: the construction sign. Starting on September 17, 2015, the signs designed by the collective will inspire a moment of imagination at four locations in the city, based on each site and its history. The artists are following Lawrence Weiner’s conceptual Declaration of Intent (1968) and his statement of “the piece need not be built.”
The design for the construction signs is based on the original poster for Allan Kaprow’s Fluids. The text from the poster has been divided into segments and reproduced on the signs. The signs thus increase the ways we imagine each site, much like how Kaprow once said that reinventions of his happening multiply its meanings. The sites selected for the construction signs are places of change, art historical contextualization, transition, and disappearance. Not only the temporary wasteland at Schiffbauerdamm 15–18 – a place where history becomes fluid – was chosen, but signs will also be placed at Leipziger Platz (a site of urban transformation), the Neue Nationalgalerie (closed for renovation), and a parking garage near Südkreuz.
Alexandra Pirici’s version of Fluids will take place at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. A trained choreographer, the Romanian artist explores monuments in public space and their relationship to the human body. In her reinvention of Fluids, the happening’s participants will become its material, the human body serving as the basis of both her idea and the performance itself.
At Potsdamer Platz, a group of roughly 70 performers will occupy the same amount of space as the dimensions of the original ice structure. As with Kaprow’s happening, Pirici’s ephemeral monument will also be a collective moment created through physical effort, in which the increasing exhaustion of the participants will determine the structure’s duration.
Alexandra Pirici has written about Fluids: “What can a sculpture be, how can we reflect on a historical fascination with permanence and endurance, how can we be abstractly together, collectively constructing something without a practical goal? Fluids reflects on the notion of art in public space, sculpture, monument, authorship, participation – collective production and production of collectivity (in the very act of constructing) and also choreography, as movement and dynamic in space and time.”
Pirici’s reinvention of Fluids addresses both the bodily aspect of happenings and the temporal aspect of sculpture and performance. Kaprow also began focusing more on the body in his happenings at the end of the 1960s, moving away from urban space to explore interiors from the perspective of the human individual and the body within.
Ahmet Öğüt’s conceptual artistic practice often refers to Allan Kaprow’s work. In his projects, he collaborates with people and groups both within and outside of the art world, creating situations in which audiences must participate in order to experience them fully. An example of this is his The Silent University initiative, which was launched in 2012. This autonomous, nomadic “community of teachers and students” is organized for and run by refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers.
In his approach to Kaprow’s Fluids, Ahmet Öğüt chose the theme of ice, the material used in the happening. He explores its transformation process – its physical and economic cycle. In this age of climate change, the image of melting ice has taken on a radical new meaning. With this in mind, Öğüt addresses how the basic material used in Kaprow’s happening continues to circulate after the happening is over.
The ice blocks used to create Fluids melted into 12,420 liters (roughly 3,281 gallons) of water. For his project, Öğüt is distributing the same amount of water in bottles with a label designed by himself. The bottles will be given away at different locations during the Berlin Art Week and are not only free artist editions, but also a call for us to enact our own version of One Ordinary Happening.
Allan Kaprow’s work Six Ordinary Happenings from 1969 consisted of brief instructions for small interventions that played with existing social structures and processes. In one of these Six Ordinary Happenings titled Charity, participants were instructed to buy used clothing in a thrift store, wash them at a laundromat, and then return them to the shop. Ahmet Öğüt’s One Ordinary Happening lets people create their own interventions in the life cycle of the material that was used in Fluids through their use of the water. Some of the artist’s suggestions are “Make bubbles, Cool yourself, Leave it on a street corner.“
The autumn of 2015 marks the second collaborative project between four of Berlin’s leading art institutions: Berlinische Galerie, Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, and Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin will present a total of four thematically related and coinciding exhibitions. Initiated and funded by the Berlin Senate, the joint project also marks the kick-off of Berlin Art Week 2015. Titled STADT/BILD (Image of a City), the project approaches the notion of “the city” as thematic cluster from various perspectives. The institutional structure and work processes of museums will be examined, urban developments will be addressed, as well as social, aesthetic, and cultural aspects relating to “the city”. Moreover, the boundaries between public and private spaces, and urban landscapes will be contemplated, questioning forms of participation and community.
Sarah Kaes, Press officer Nationalgalerie
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