Let’s Make it Happen: A Northwestern Reenactment of “Fluids” by Allan Kaprow

Allan Kaprow’s performance sculpture piece Fluids was reenacted on Northwestern University’s campus on May 21, 2012 in collaboration with the Block Museum of Art and professor Inigo Manglano-Ovalle’s Alternative to the Object class in the Art Theory and Practice department.

The score for Fluids that the Block Museum published is concise, adapted from the original score with variations to time and size constraints, which reads as follows, “During three hours, two cubic structures of ice blocks (measuring about 10 feet long, 10 wide, and 8 high each) will be built at the Block Museum. Their walls are unbroken. They are left to melt.”

Kaprow’s original 1967 Fluids installation lasted three days in Pasadena, California and was 30-feet long, 10-feet wide, and 8-feet high. The Northwestern performance, however, was decidedly smaller contained a mere 375 blocks weighing approximately 15,000 lbs.

Kaprow performed Fluids as one of his “Happenings”, or an event or performance done in the name of art. He intended it to be performed again and again by different groups of people, but the Northwestern construction was the first performance reenacted in the Midwest.

Manglano-Ovalle in an interview with Northwestern News said that the class chose reenact Fluids together above his other “Happenings.” His description of the work was just as simple as the score, “We are setting in place 360 blocks of ice that will span 10-feet by about 8 feet high. In a few hours we’ll be done and then it melts,” said Manglano-Ovalle.

There were over 50 people, some Northwestern students, some faculty, and some random passerby who participated in the build. The feeling of community was very apparent amongst those who were lifting, scoring, and rearranging the bricks. During the construction, another student in the Alternatice to the Object class served snow cones as his final project for the class from the ice chipped from the blocks as part of the scoring process. People from all different departments ventured out to participate since they were already familiar with the work since it is such a seminal piece of art history. Much like many art movements, even though they may melt, they never actually die.

Due to the large amount of help and attention this Happening achieved, it was put up rather quickly taking just a little over 2.5 hours. Manglano-Ovalle and his Alternative to the Object class, who were easily visible in their Fluids t-shirts which read “This is not an object,” then read aloud some of Kaprow’s work and facilitated a discussion amongst those in attendance.

Perhaps the most thrilling element of Fluids, however, is the reactions of the random passerby who stopped and asked questions while the piece was being performed. Many simply asked, “Why bother?”, but the short life of Fluids is where it’s intrinsic beauty lies.

According to Lisa Corrin, the Ellen Philips Katz Director of the Block Museum, this Happening is reflective of some of the changes she hopes to implement at the Museum. Specifically how the collection needs to be in a state of constant flux and changing in context, which embodies the message behind Fluids.

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