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Introduction
1952

Untitled Event, Black Mountain College, USA. Performed by John Cage

"At eight-thirty tonight John Cage mounted a stepladder until 10:30, he talked about the relation of music to Zen Buddhism while a movie was shown, dogs ran across the stage barking, 12 persons danced without any previous rehearsal, a prepared piano was played, whistles blew, babies screamed, Edith Piaf records were played double-speed on a turn-of-the-century machine…"
Francine du Plessix Gray: cited by Vincent Katz in Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art, 2002

Founded in 1933 and situated in the stunning mountains of North Carolina, Black Mountain College attracted émigrés from the Bauhaus, which had been closed down by the Nazis, as well as American intellectuals interested in progressive approaches to teaching. Black Mountain became a space where ideas from the US and Europe intermingled, and in line with Bauhaus philosophy, discipline boundaries and distinctions between high and low arts were challenged. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, activities at the BMC included Buckminster Fuller constructing geodesic domes, Arthur Penn teaching Stanislavsky's acting theories, Robert Rauschenberg designing sets and costumes for the performances of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Ray Johnson attending Josef Albers classes, taking notes which he would later burn up as an act of liberation. It was in this creative atmosphere that John Cage staged the first Happening in 1952, his Untitled Event, also known as Theatre Piece No. 1. The performers were told only the duration of their contribution, its content remaining unspecified. The various sonic and visual elements were thus devised separately, and no one knew in advance how the final combination would turn out. The event is documented only through the memories of those were there, the audience and their reactions forming part of the work.

Ingrid Stigsdotter

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Dining hall and lodges, Lake Eden Campus

Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, North Carolina.
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