Allan Kaprow, an esteemed originator of Happenings, is associated with the motto, “art as experience.” John Dewey’s (1859-1952) book by this title was read and re-read by Kaprow when he was a student at NYU , as evidenced by the surviving copy from Kaprow’s library which is filled with his scribbled notes and questions. Its contents articulated the arch principle of eco art. Dewey explains, “To see the organism IN nature, the nervous system in the organism, the brain in the nervous system, the cortex in the brain is the answer to the problems which haunt philosophy.”
Thus, he articulated the ‘metaphysics’ of nature as a web of relations that pertained to growth processes, mechanical processes, and mental processes. This biocentric unification replaced the anthropocentric dualism that prevailed in mainstream culture has become the refrain of environmentalists ever since, believing that when humans relinquish their separation from their physical environment, they are less likely to degrade it.
Although Dewey never addressed actual environmental conditions, his writings helped formalize the actions of environmentalists, the research of ecologists, and the Happenings of Alan Kaprow. They all challenged the dichotomies that are entrenched in Western philosophies by manifesting events and processes in constant flux. Within Happenings, as in all dynamic systems, effects are also causes, ends are also means. This reality is not suited to paintings in frames and sculptures on pedestals.
“Time Piece (1973),” for example