By Hannah Means-Shannon
A “happening” is an event of an artistic nature including live performance and audience participation that originated in the late 1950’s and reached a high point of popularity in the 1960’s and 70’s. The structure of a happening may be planned but its outcome is at least partly unknown. Time and circumstances will play their part, as will the audience, who become a contributing piece of the total work of art. On May 30th 2012, the artistic collective known as Trip City staged a happening at Fornino’s in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the first event to bring together the custodial members of the “Brooklyn-filtered literary arts salon” into a single evening of performance. Happenings are unique, one-off performances, spawning phrases like “you had to have been there.” While Trip City is always a live, web-based virtual entity bringing disparate art forms to the world, this event led the salon out of the virtual world and onto the streets of Brooklyn to enact a more immediate artistic experience for its participants.
A happening is not without preparation. AV equipment was in place, cords were connected, and a large projector went live. Tables were neatly arrayed in the back of the restaurant awaiting the performers and audience, all cast-members in the event.
The happening opened with a visual trailer for an upcoming “Trip City TV” series known as “Cop City Blues” wherein several Trip City contributors parodied their way through a gritty crime drama addressing the “you” of the audience before the soundtrack for the evening commenced: a meandering mod jazz accompaniment by Americans UK, from their album Luxuria, picking out the tones and punctuation of spoken word performance.
Trip City co-curator Dean Haspiel was up first with a one of a kind presentation of the Billy Dogma comic “The Last Romantic Antihero” whose panels were projected in electric yellow tones onto a theatrical screen while Haspiel narrated. The jazz accompaniment turned the verbal components of the performance into a mix of beat poetry and slow rap while it rendered the visual aspects cinematic. In true happening form, the reactions of the audience impacted the climate and direction of the piece setting the scene for the elasticity of this uniquely combined medium.
Chris Miskiewicz followed with a prose-poem narrative to the hypnotic movements of bass-lines. His settings created a gritty poetic landscape of fences and waterfronts blending memory and experience making the audience wonder about the confines of Trip City itself as a metaphor. Its geography was suggested in the melting landscapes of “The Last Romantic Anti-hero” and surfaced again in the piers and debris of Miskiewicz’s nuanced under-your-skin narrative.
Poet and prose-stylist Sandra Beasley brought the audience a poetic sestina that was also a “Sextina” blending the erotic with the prevailing motif of hunger and consumption in a setting that couldn’t have been more appropriate to the piece. Music contributed to the pace of the poem, its rhythms and movements, drawing the ear’s attention to structure and sound, appreciating the physicality of language itself. Her second piece about diverging roads, love, and pyromania, emphasized that “beauty” is “when something happens”, bringing home the immediacy of the collaborative event itself.
Photographer and writer Seth Kushner debuted a newly finished “meta-piece” on the development of his personalized form of “photocomix” as seen in the “CulturePop” series archived on Trip City. The first of his “photocomix” to be purely autobiographical, it told his life story in terms of art and comics, and explained key elements in his process of creation. The complexity of artistic process itself was held under the lens while the ongoing pursuit of a “life-long dream” was dramatized through photography, comics format, and musical themes.
Dean Haspiel’s short story “I’d Rather be Happy than Right” added a mellower note to this saunter through Trip City’s mental geography. For a moment, looming against the screen displaying the stark water towers of Trip City’s iconic logo, Haspiel seemed to be stepping off the webpage into the restaurant like a newly arrived messenger from the salon’s archives. The themes of uncertainty in his story, challenging the idea that “everything has its place” allowed room for this fusion of forms.
Local comedienne Brooke Van Poppelen took to the stage to pique the audience with the woes and debacles of roommate politics and nonsensical urban life, engagingly backtracking into the confusing reconfigurations of life necessary when relationships go bad.
A complete audio-visual performance of Joe Infurnari’s recently rounded-off comics series Time Fucker dominated the scene and demanded fast-paced audience contribution to sound-effects along with a steady musical riff from Americans UK. This slapstick time-jumping absurdist storyline artfully displayed its visual strengths when its richly inked lines were displayed on the big screen.
Musician and vocalist Plucky Charms reminded participants that this was truly a salon event with a trace of the vaudeville as she took up her “tiny instrument,” a miniature ukulele to usher in the warm and defiant tones of an earlier era.
Josh Frankel concluded the spoken-word portion of the Trip City’s invasion of Brooklyn with punchy stand-up ranging from taxidermy to Nazis and picking fights with the elderly, none of which he seemed to recommend as a valid life-style choice.
Americans UK, who had been simmering all night behind their carefully modulated musical contributions were finally given free reign to break into a wild set list featuring some recent songs from their album Rocktronic and when lead singer Jef UK donned his domino mask, it was no more mister nice guy. Their promising “Sons of Ba’al” shook the establishment and gained Trip City a caution to keep the noise down. Americans UK’s own idiosyncratic combination of music and comics storytelling brought together the disparate elements of the happening into one final and resounding model as comics drifted and progressed behind them in bold color and sharp contrast. Jeff Newelt, a.k.a. JahFurry joined the band for a final send-off in a combination slide-show rap-hip-hop performance, welcoming Brooklyn to Trip City.
Just to prove that a happening is unpredictable, participants crowded in to wish Dean Haspiel a happy 45th birthday in resounding song. The evening’s happening had been an ambitious plan from the start, taking the salon not only out of the virtual world, but into the uncontrollable wilds of Brooklyn. Because of its self-expressive qualities as an artistic creation, it became a true happening, a one of a kind event, confirming Haspiel’s statement in his performed story “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.” Happenings have nothing to do with abstract perfection but they have everything to do with the concrete “good” of bringing energy and optimism back to immediate artistic expression.
–by Hannah Means-Shannon, @HannahMenzies on Twitter
Hannah Means-Shannon is a comics scholar and medievalist who has published articles on the works of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison in the International Journal of Comic Art, Studies in Comics, the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, reference books, and upcoming essay collections. She is working on her first book for Sequart Research and Literacy Organization about Neil Gaiman, blogs about Alan Moore for Sequart, and teaches at Georgian Court University in New Jersey.
–Photos by Seth Kushner