It's Happening

November 21, 2009

This week I attended a lecture by the biochemist Trevor Douglas. Trevor is one of Montana State University’s rock stars who investigates how viruses could become mini-containers to bring targeted drug therapy directly to a cancer site. As his compatriot Dr. Mark Young once described to me, “Think of the outer casing of a virus cell like the candy coating of an M&M…” They are thus exploring how they might fill its center with appropriate material and deliver it to the perfect location.

Yet Dr. Douglas began his lecture to the University Honors program students not on the importance of nano materials, but on the value of play. Well, there’s nothing like having another sing from your hymnal…he had me captivated from beginning to end!

Trevor believes deeply in curiosity and play after studying with Fluxus artist Allan Kaprow. After listening to Trevor’s enthusiastic description of Kaprow’s philosophy and its influence on his work, I wanted to share a bit about it here.

Allan Kaprow (1927 – 2006) was a painter and teacher who is credited as an early pioneer of performance art. He created the idea of the “Happening” that he described as “A game, an adventure, a number of activities engaged in by participants for the sake of playing.” (Italics added for blog title emphasis!) Kaprow created some 200 “happenings” where volunteers and spectators are asked to actively participate in an experience.

For example, in 1967 Kaprow created the “Fluids” happening during which twenty identical ice block structures were created around Los Angeles.

Kaprow believed that “The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.”

Was it art? Who knows, but what is clear from watching the video below and a Flickr slide show(click and view photos) of the 2008 recreation of this event, it is captivating, fun and calls us to pause and contemplate.

Kaprow, by blurring the lines and bringing play into the mix, pushes us to open our minds to see problems from a fresh perspective, just as Drs. Douglas and Young are modeling with the development of bio-inspired nano materials.


So, where might you create a more fluid boundary between what appears separate (i.e., art/life, pottery/bio chemistry, or, joy/chores)? How can you too introduce more participation and play?

Deidre Combs

Deidre Combs is the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and overcoming challenges:  The Way of ConflictWorst Enemy, Best Teacher  and Thriving Through Tough Times. The books integrate perennial wisdom from the world’s lasting cultural traditions with systems theory and brain research.

Dr. Combs is a management consultant, executive coach, mediator and core instructor in Montana State University’s Leadership Fellows Certificate Program and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Global Competence Certificate Program. Since 2007, she has also taught intensive leadership training to State Department-selected students, teachers and professional leaders from throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and Pakistan’s FATA region.

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