Anyone can find or make one or more rooms of any shape, size, proportion, and color — then furnish them perhaps, maybe paint some things or everything. Everyone else can come in and, if the room(s) are furnished, they also can arrange them, accommodating themselves as they see fit. Each day things will change.

Notes from Behind the Beard… (+ timelapse day zero)

Posted: May 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Day 0, timelapse | 4 Comments »

A few notes from the first night of Push and Pull at Locksmith Gallery…

As I mentioned in these pre-beginning ramblings, Nick and Astrid and I decided not to bust our butts hauling in a whole lot of furniture before the show. Instead, the idea was to incorporate the collecting of all the stuff which goes into Push and Pull, into the live public time-frame of the work itself.

early at push and pull

So just before six on Thursday, people started trickling into … an empty room. A few people had been tipped off, and brought along small furnishings with them to get the ball rolling… a broken umbrella, some fake plant fronds, a urine-soaked cushion, a jigsaw puzzle…

Glebe artist Hilik Mirankar pulled up on his motorbike and unfurled a veritable Edward Scissorhands of lethal looking fish-gutting knives. Hilik is a knife-sharpener by day, and these were obselete knives he collects as he goes about his business. He didn’t waste any time at Push and Pull. 6:02pm: “BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM” — Hilik was hammering these knives into the walls and floor of the gallery. I saw a few folks looking nervous, but nobody told him off.

hilik and knives

To contextualise Hilik’s presence – I had urged him, and several other local artists, including Sarah Goffman, Trevor Fry, Tim Hilton… to come along to Push and Pull. Not so they could do anything particular with it – who knows? But maybe because their own art practices, at least to my mind, follow somehow in the tradition of Kaprow’s Environments. Like Kaprow, these great Sydney artists create ever-evolving installation works, to be inhabited and changed by those within them, rather than set up and left as precious contemplative exhibitions. I thought these artists might like the chance to commune with their ancestor… Which is funny, because Hilik’s visceral response was like the final nail in poor ole Kaprow’s coffin… (or knives in the heart of the “father of the Happenings”?)

To contextualise Hilik a bit more – his inhabitation of his own street (Queen St in Glebe) is an expanded “environment” in itself. Hilik has occupied the whole neighbourhood with his artworks, negotiating individually with each home-owner to exhibit his sculptures on their front porches. It’s quite extraordinary. Here’s a picture of Hilik in his home territory

What else happened? More folks kept trickling in… Some got the gist straight away, that they were going to have to “make” the work themselves, and went back out again to scour the streets. Zanny and friends dragged in some enormous plastic car bumpers they must have found next to the dumpster of the mechanic shop down the road…. Astrid’s friend Zoe started drawing giraffes on the walls, and Astrid herself composed some poems using letraset, rubbing them directly onto the walls too… Nick and Tom set about installing a webcam which will record one picture every thirty seconds for the whole duration of the work, making a time-lapse of the evolution of the room…

Oh, and I decided to dress up as Kaprow for the night.

lucas as kaprow

Well, it was a bit lame. I just got a fake beard from a costume shop. Trevor thought I looked more like Rasputin, and my brother asked me later if I was pretending to be “Burke? or Wills?” Anyway, it was quite fun to wear the beard. Did I channel the spirit of Kaprow for the night? I like to think the beard helped a little…

me giving a talk as kaprow

I gave a slideshow talk about Kaprow, and Push and Pull. In retrospect, maybe it went on a bit long. But still, the night was advertised as an “info session”, so I think nobody could complain that they hadn’t been furnished with sufficient info… I talked about Kaprow’s invention of the “Environment” as an artform; his use of an instructional score (so that anyone – even us! – can put together the piece wherever and whenever we are); and the various previous manifestations of Push and Pull that have been staged around the world over the years (some of them look very different from Kaprow’s “original” version).

Nick and Tom went off in the van to pick up a brand new IKEA sofa from Mickie’s place. This was quite fun, when it arrived, amongst all the decrepit car parts and broken chairs – a new, “still in packet” IKEA item! Sarah tore the plastic off straight away. “Don’t throw away the packaging!!” she shouted to anyone who would listen… And despite the collective intelligence of the group, by the end of the night the sofa was still unassembled. I heard a few people say “Oh I think there are some parts missing…”

Keg and Lizzie went off to the Barn (Keg’s place) to get a whole lot of stuff. They brought back this kinda abject old massage table, which set off a string of “oohs and aahs” when it arrived. The leatherette had cracks in it in certain places, where it had been worn out from the pressure of bodies being massaged. Later, I noticed Trevor had set to the table’s foam with a stanley knife, and was wearing it over his head like a big frill necked lizard. He looked like he was having a lot of fun.

trevor with the massage table foam

Margie and James said they would try to bring their fridge down, an old one with an icemonster in the back which drools onto the kitchen floor. But it’s deep in storage somewhere, so we’ll see…

And then the rains came down. Torrential flash flooding rains, totally unexpected, driving people back inside the room, steaming up the glass window front of Locksmith…

Lisa and I went up the road to get some Indonesian takeaway. We ate this inside Push and Pull, with Vanessa, Simon, Lizzie and Mickie, perched on various pieces of detritus, using the massage table as a dining platform… There were some ceramic plates sitting on the floor – had someone contributed them to the piece? We ate off them…

And later, Lizzie and I went home to collect our sideboard and old TV set, and her red sneakers she doesn’t wear any more. I took the opportunity to swap them for four worn-out-car-tyres from the service station next to Locksmith. I am going to grow potatoes in them at home, come the spring. It was weird, almost exhilarating, to get rid of the sideboard at half past ten on a Thursday night, the rain dripping down our necks as we struggled down the stairs like a fly-by-night removalist company.

And when we got back to Locksmith, Kenzie was picking her way around the room, removing anything that looked too hazardous (like the knives!) in the name of “O.H. and S.“) It’s interesting, that this version of the work is actually taking place in the front room of someone’s house. There’s a bleed between “real” domestic space, and Kaprow’s domesticated art space…

I really enjoyed myself at the launch. It was relaxing, actually. Although, along with Nick and Astrid and Keg and Zanny and the Locksmith folks, I was one of those “responsible” for the work, I never felt like I had to worry about what was happening, or whether it was going “as planned”. The furnishings seemed to be taking care of themselves. Here’s how it all looked just before we left:

push and pull end of night

I was having so much fun, I didn’t even take off my Rasputin-Burke and Wills-Kaprow beard ’til we got home, despite it being caked with my own spittle from talking excitedly through it all night… much to Lizzie’s disgust…

4 Comments on “Notes from Behind the Beard… (+ timelapse day zero)”

  1. 1 Margie said at 9:06 am on June 4th, 2009:

    Nick, Look closely at the timelapse and perhaps you can pinpoint the moment in which I simultaneously prove that slapstick is not dead and one shouldn’t play with knives

  2. 2 Margie said at 6:09 pm on June 9th, 2009:


    In your opening talk, you quoted Kaprow on the inability of visitors or viewers to experience the entirety of the work due as it unfolds over time and one can’t experience all moments or perspectives, or something like that.

    Where was that from?

  3. 3 Lucas said at 5:38 am on June 10th, 2009:


    That quote might be from chapter one of my thesis. But the chances are that Kaprow himself, or one of his academic fans said it first. Maybe Jeff Kelley in Childsplay. I will have a look in the Kelley book tomorrow…

  4. 4 Lucas said at 12:25 am on June 11th, 2009:

    Hey Margie, here’s a start.

    Jeff Kelley, in his description of Kaprow’s Fluids (1967), describes how this work involved the building of several different “ice enclosures” simultaneously around L.A.

    In the following passage (which could also, I suggest, be used almost verbatim to describe the social interactions forged by Push and Pull) Kelley explains how it was impossible for any one individual to have a “gods eye view” on the whole artwork.

    He writes:


    Using blocks of ice to build an enclosure about the size of the trucks that delievered them was bigger than an individual and smaller than a beaurocracy. The Happening put Kaprow in a role analogous to that of a building contractor whose crews are working at various sites throughout the city. Because the task required teamwork, the process was social, and the scale of the task allowed the nature of that teamwork to be negotiated at each location by the individuals involved. It was this on-site socialization that proved to be the most interesting variable to Kaprow. As in childsplay, would the “born leaders” take over and the “followers” fall in line? Would the men assume the heavier burdens while the women played supporting roles? And what, in each case, was the payoff, the individual or group resolution of this theater of seemingly displaced activity? Did people just go home by themselves at the end of the day, all wet and tired, or did they retire in newly bonded groups to the nearest bar and grill to recount the days events? To what extent did they become friends (if they weren’t already), and for how long? Were their friendships, forged in an experience of common purposelessness, as temporal and fluid as the object of their shared labour? Did they break the ice?

    Kaprow would never know the answers to most of these questions, except in the form of his own experiences as he moved from site to site. He knew both more and less than the members of a single crew did. Because he was “the artist,” he received firsthand accounts, secondhand reports, and gossip, each contributing to his overall impression of the undertaking.


    (Jeff Kelley, Childsplay: The Art of Allan Kaprow, University of California Press, 2004, p. 123)

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