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Pushing it…(some thoughts before we start)

Posted: May 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Day 0 | No Comments »

Tonight we’ll be cutting the ribbon, or at least, answering the doorbell, for the first Aussie manifestation of Allan Kaprow’s Push and Pull: A Furniture Comedy for Hans Hofmann.

Before it gets a-rolling, I thought I might just spend a moment thinking about the piece, and how we’re planning to do it…

As you might have guessed if you’ve been nosing around this website, Push and Pull is one of what Kaprow called his “environments” – kind of like early versions of what we’d call installations these days, but with the explicit intention that the work would evolve and change constantly, rather than being set up and left static like an abandoned stage set.

Environments were a kind of art work “in which the usually slow mutations wrought by nature are quickened and literally made part of the experience of it; they manifest the very processes of creation-decay-creation almost as one watches” (this quote from Kaprow’s Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, page 204).

Kaprow’s work has been “re-invented”, “re-done”, “re-enacted” (or whatever you like to call it) quite a bit since he died in April 2006. Actually, the old fella re-did quite a lot of his earlier stuff, himself. I seem to remember him using the term “re-invented” – to give the sense of bringing the work into the present moment in a new way – perhaps a way which gave it meaning in the here and now rather than merely being a homage to some famous moment in the past.

In this way, the physical appearance of Push and Pull seems to change quite a lot over the years (he re-did it about ten times or so while he was still alive). The first version of the work from 1963 looks quite staid in comparison to later ones – you can see some pictures of it here:

push and pull 1963

push and pull 1963

And here is Kaprow’s brief but amusing description of the event (which went for one night only):
push and pull 1963 kaprow description

Whereas a more recent version, which Keg and I saw in NYC in 2007, looked more like this:
push and pull 2007

Now, the above photo is obviously from a version of the piece put together after Kaprow’s death, but it does bear a striking resemblance to some of the versions he did himself. The haybales and the silver wallpaper are two features which Kaprow introduced at some point (in the eighties?) and which kinda “stuck” – like they became a part of the physical/visual tradition of the work.

But it doesn’t always look like that. The most recent place to re-do Push and Pull (the Geffen Museum in Los Angeles) made a piece which looked like this:

push and pull blue

In that case, the performance artist Barbara T. Smith was given a commission (?) to re-make the work, which she did by making all the furniture blue. While I can kinda understand the need, in a museum, to give the piece some sort of robust distinctiveness, to separate it from all the other stuff on show (note also the different coloured rectangle on the floor, “framing” the work), the blue thing seems to me a bit over-stretched. Furthermore, it seems that the museum context might have killed the piece a bit – at least according to this provocative blog entry from “Frenchy but Chic”, who writes that, unfortunately, “this was not so happening” (pardon the pun).

While I wasn’t at the Geffen, and while “Frenchy but Chic” is only one voice, I am inclined to agree with him/her about the deadening effect of the museum.

As Allan himself said of the effect of the “exhibition atmosphere” (way back in the 1960s), “From reports, I gather that this arrangement has not worked out optimally”. Here’s a clip from his own reflections on the museum versions of the piece in his book Assemblage, Environments and Happenings (1966) (see the last paragraph):

not worked out optimally

Push and Pull is not about making objects strange (transforming them like Yves Klein), but rather about setting up a situation where one’s own tendency to order things, or move them towards disorder, is brought to light, and set in tension against the tendencies of other people. And the museum perhaps brings too many other elements into the mix.

But when it’s set up away from the sanctity of the museum, Push and Pull has the potential to operate as a kind of mini laboratory of what goes on when we re-arrange the living room, plant a garden, or argue with the next door neighbour about how much of that tree should be lopped. The piece gives us an opportunity to actually see our hitherto unacknowledged ways of doing things, in a safe environment. At least, that’s what happened for me when I saw it in New York (here’s my reflections on that one).

And the work has the effect of making that awareness contagious! It leaks into the rest of life! As Keg said to me recently – “I go into the kitchen – filthy pots and pans everywhere. I shove them to one side to make myself a sandwich: PUSH AND PULL! … I go downstairs to find my bike buried under a pile of greasy rags. I dump the rags on Lucy’s bike: PUSH AND PULL!” (nb: Keg lives in a warehouse with 8 flatmates).

The point is, (and it’s a fairly obvious and banal point) the way that you set up Push and Pull will affect how it affects others.

SO- how are we planning on doing it?

Well, we’re going to make a few changes. First of all, the piece is happening at Locksmith Project Space, which is the front room of a share house on Botany Road in Redfern. Here’s what it looks like from the outside, thanks to google maps (it’s the one to the left of the florist):


Next, we decided to incorporate the gathering, and the re-distribution, of all the furniture and furnishings, into the time frame of the work itself. In other words, rather than getting together all the stuff which people are going to push and pull, before the show (“behind the scenes” as it were) we have decided to open Push and Pull to the public, empty.

So the first thing that needs to be done when folks come along to the info-session tonight, is they’ll be sent right back out there find it, and haul it all in. Whether this means decrepit leatherette couches off the streets, or lampshades that people bring from home, the “content” of the work (not just its arrangement in the room) will depend on you.

Also, we’re going to have a van to travel to your house to pick up your old sideboard or leaky fridge. These adventures will all be part of this new manifestation of Push and Pull, as the work bleeds out of Locksmith and into your own homes (or rather, as your homes bleed into locksmith!)

Here are a couple of silly diagrams to dramatise this process:

standard push and pull
[standard “behind the scenes” model…]

new version
[new “incorporated life-cycle” model…]

Afterwards? The opposite of course! The furniture, we hope, will find new homes, either with happy customers or on freecycle or back onto the streets again. The cycle complete.

That’s the idea anyway. Let’s see how it works, eh…

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