The term “happening” appears to have been first used by the painter Allan Kaprow in the late 1950s and about that period came to denote a form of improvised or spontaneous theatrical performance, often of a non-naturalistic and non-representational kind. Aural and visual effects may be juxtaposed and may include music, dance, film, stroboscopic lights, violent noises, even smells: thus, a form of mixed media presentation. Such pieces were first developed and staged at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, in the 1950s.
Early happenings were also presented in Vienna by the Wiener Gruppe in the 1950s. Devisers of such entertainments appear to have been influenced by Dadaism, the Theatre of the Absurd, and the Theatre of Cruelty; and also by the German concept of Gesamtkunstwerk.
In the 1960s the ‘light show’ developed and was a kind of happening. A celebrated example was Andy Warhol’s ‘Exploding Plastic Inevitable’. In the same period, happenings were associated with pop art and also with environmental art.
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