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Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories & (137a) ARTSY BRIEF ENCOUNTERS: Happenings. Warhol. Velvet Underground. Fluxus. Films.

JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories & (137a) ARTSY BRIEF ENCOUNTERS: Happenings. Warhol. Velvet Underground. Fluxus. Films.

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They would lower it down into the pit, which was a big hole in the ground about fifteen feet deep, and the white-hot ingot was maybe ten or fifteen feet long and about four or five feet square.  Solid, white hot metal that would clank when it hit the bottom kaboooom.  They’d release it and you’d see steam rising and a tremendous shimmer of heat coming out of the pit.  It would be lying at the bottom of the pit with maybe eight or nine other red-hot ingots.  They were down there so they would slowly cool because if they cooled too fast there would be millions of tiny crack and the whole composition and strength would change.  Nearby were maybe fifteen or twenty other pits with ingots in other stages of cooling.

My job, with about ten other guys, was to be lowered into these pits wearing asbestos suits, an oxygen inhaler in my helmet, and wooden shoes.  With a special scraper we had to scrape the slag off the red hot ingots.  We would be lowered on a rack down into this dark, swirling heat with nothing but rising steam and smoke and dust. Like a deep sea diver, you’re breathing heated oxygen and you’d step off onto this concrete, heated floor and immediately your wooden shoes would start burning, and you’d start chipping away at the slag.  It was dark but you could see your shoes burning and the smoke rising from your shoes.

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The 1960s were a great time to be alive and conscious of the world of art, music, and related goings on. Underground films, the art scene including “Pop Art,” “Fluxus,” and “Happenings” grabbed some of my interest, although I remained wary of just how and in what way they all related to the art I love.

FLUXUS

Fluxus has been described: “…remains the most complex – and therefore widely underestimated – artistic movement (or ‘non-movement,’ as it called itself) of the early to mid-sixties . . .Fluxus saw no distinction between art and life, and believed that routine, banal, and everyday actions could be regarded as artistic events, declaring that ‘everything is art and everyone can do it.’ The preface to New York’s MOMA catalog of its exhibition: “Fluxus has been described as ‘the most radical and experimental art movement of the sixties’ and at the same time as ‘a wild goose chase into the zone of everything ephemeral.’ Such wildly different assessments testify to Fluxus’s resistance to pigeon holing and to its multifariousness.” George Maciunas is best known as the founder and central coordinator of Fluxus.

Maybe the most popularly-known artist in the field of “Happenings” and “Fluxus” was conceptual and performance artist, Yoko Ono. John Lennon once described how he and Yoko met at a 1961 gallery opening of her work:

Then I went up to this thing that said, ‘Hammer a nail in.’ I said, ‘Can I hammer a nail in?’ and she said no, because the gallery was actually opening the next day. So the owner, Dunbar, says, ‘Let him hammer a nail in.’ It was, ‘He’s a millionaire. He might buy it,’ you know.”

So there was this little conference and she finally said, “OK, you can hammer a nail in for five shillings.” So smart-ass here says, “Well, I’ll give you an imaginary five shillings and hammer an imaginary nail in.” And that’s when we really met. That’s when we locked eyes and she got it and I got it and that was it.

Yoko Ono was connected to this strange, dada-ist art movement called “Fluxus.” I went to an event on Long Island, at what I remember at an estate that the audience was bussed to–all I remember is that there was an empty swimming pool.  I went to an event in Manhattan’s SoHo, in which the “artists” strung string to the walls around the audience until they were as though enmeshed in a spider’s web. At the end, each audience member was given a small cardboard box full of broken sheetrock—presumably to have one closely observe the shapes into which the pieces were arbitrarily broken—object that were not worthy of thought and which were normally to trashed–yet every piece was different and thus, maybe worth a second look (!)

I’m not sure if this was a Fluxus event, a Happening, or a Fluxus Happening. Critic Susan Sontag in 1962, published her essay “Happenings: An Art of Radical Juxtaposition”: “There has appeared in New York recently a new, and still esoteric, genre of spectacle. At first sight apparently a cross between art exhibit and theatrical performance, these events have been given the modest and somewhat teasing name of ‘Happenings.’ They have taken place in lofts, small art galleries, backyards and small theaters before audiences averaging between thirty and one hundred persons….They do not take place on a stage conveniently understood, but in a dense object-clogged setting which may be made, assembled, or found, or all three. In this setting a number of participants, not actors perform movements and handle objects….The ‘Happening’ has no plot, though it is an action, or rather a series of actions and events.”

I believe it was here that I bought (for about $2.00 apiece), two “finger boxes,” paper-covered cardboard cubes about 4” X 4” X 4” with a slit on top and instructions to insert one’s finger—having no idea of what was inside. Mine each contains a piece of soft rubber foam. Penetrating the slotted opening and encountering the foam would seem like a man performing a digital sex act. I kept one box “virgin” for many years, then encountered that someone had surreptitiously violated it.

My two finger boxes are on the right (both signed).

(I quote from one of my favorite “rock” songs, a delightful put-on:

Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp,
Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?)

END PART I of 3

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