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Fluxus

Text about Eric Andersen, Translated by Mary Graham

Profile

Fluxus (from "to flow") is an art movement noted for the blending of different artistic disciplines, primarily visual art but also music and literature. Fluxus was founded in 1962 by George Maciunas (1931-78), an American artist who had moved to Germany to escape his creditors. Besides America and Europe, Fluxus also took root in Japan.

Among its members were Joseph Beuys, John Cage, and Yves Klein, who explored media ranging from performance art to poetry to experimental music. They took the stance of opposition to the ideas of tradition and professionalism in the arts of their time, the Fluxus group shifted the emphasis from what an artist makes to the artist's personality, actions, and opinions. Throughout the 1960s and '70s (their most active period) they staged "action" events, engaged in politics and public speaking, and produced sculptural works featuring unconventional materials. Their radically untraditional works included, for example, the video art of Nam June Paik and the performance art of Beuys. The often playful style of Fluxus artists led to them being considered by some little more than a group of pranksters in their early years. Fluxus has also been compared to Dada and is seen as the starting point of mail art.

Most notorious are the Fluxus performance pieces or "happenings". These pieces were meant to blur the lines between performer and audience, performance and reality. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluxus

George Maciunas

I remember visiting George with my dad and being flabbergasted by his projects. Some of my favorites were the suicide kits and feces kits that he sold. The suicide kit consisted of small compartmentalized clear plastic boxes that contained the necessary tools to do yourself in. This kit did not include instructions so you had to get creative with some of the objects. One was a fish hook on a string that George pointed out. The hook would be swallowed then by pulling up the on string you would get to your maker. --Sulaitis,1997 http://www.slonet.org/~tsulaiti/fluxus.html

Ben Vautier’s A Flux Suicide Kit

On view is Ben Vautier’s A Flux Suicide Kit which consists of a plastic box containing a shard of glass, a razor, a fishing hook, matches, an electrical plug, a pin, and a mysterious ball bearing. The piece includes graphic design by Maciunas in the form of an insert depicting a man’s head with explicative arrows marking pressure points like an acupuncturist’s chart. A Flux Suicide Kit alludes to the Vincent Van Gogh suicide and romantic angst-ridden artist myth. It subverts our expectation innocuousness and elicits a response that is both troubling and humorous (Vautier’s Lilliputian noose would only hang a field mouse). (...) --http://nyartsmagazine.com/60/openings.htm

Fluxus

Fluxus - An art movement begun in 1961/1962, which flourished throughout the 1960s, and into the 1970s. Characterized by a strongly Dadaist attitude, Fluxus promoted artistic experimentation mixed with social and political activism, an often celebrated anarchistic change. Although Germany was its principal location, Fluxus was an international avant-garde movement active in major Dutch, English, French, Swedish, and American cities. Its participants were a divergent group of individualists whose most common theme was their delight in spontaneity and humour. Fluxus members avoided any limiting art theories, and spurned pure aesthetic objectives, producing such mixed-media works as found poems, mail art, silent orchestras, and collages of such readily available materials as scavanged posters, newspapers, and other ephemera. Their activities resulted in many events or situations, often called "Actions" -- works challenging definitions of art as focused on objects -- performances, guerrilla or street theatre, concerts of electronic music -- many of them similar to what in America were known as Happenings.

Fluxists

Fluxists include Joseph Beuys, George Brecht (German, 1926-), John Cage (American, 1912-1992), Robert Filliou (French, 1926-1987), Henry Flynt (American, 1940-), Ken Friedman, Al Hansen (1927-1995), Geoffrey Hendricks, Dick Higgins (American, 1938-), Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995), Alison Knowles (American, 1933-), George Maciunasz, Jackson MacLow (American, 1922-), Larry Miller (American), Charlotte Moorman (American, 1940-1994), Yoko Ono (Japanese-American, 1933- ; married to the "Beatle" John Lennon), Nam Jun Paik (Korean-American, 1932-), Daniel Spoerri (Swiss, 1930-), Benjamin Vautier (French, 1935-), Wolf Vostell (German, 1932-), Robert Watts, Emmett Williams (American, 1925-), and La Monte Young (American, 1935-), among many others.

Joseph Beuys

The following is excerpted from the book Energy Plan for the Western Man, pgs. 128-9. It concludes a 1982 interview.

The original Fluxus concerts were organized by people whose interest was in sound rather than painting or sculpture. Hence the link with John Cage, La Monte Young, and even Stockhausen and those concerned with electronic music. But their attitude was a revolutionary one and went against the traditional idea of the concert. Works were often presented simultaneously or followed quickly one after another. Often nothing more than a piano, a ladder and a pail of water were provided. The rest was improvised.

There were as many different ideologies and interpretations of Fluxus as there were people, and the chance to work with people of different opinions was one of the most challenging aspects. Anything could be included, from the tearing up of a piece of paper to the formulation of ideas for the transformation of society.

My first concert (apart from Beethoven at school and Satie at the opening of my exhibition in Kleve in 1960) was at the Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal in 1963. Dressed like a regular pianist in dark grey flannel, black tie and no hat, I played the piano all over- not just the keys- with many pairs of old shoes until it disintegrated. My intention was neither destructive nor nihilistic. "Heal like with like"- similia similibus curantur- in the homeopathic sense. The main intention was to indicate a new beginning, an enlarged understanding of every traditional form of art, or simply a revolutionary act.

This was my first public Fluxus appearance. I participated in compositions by George Maciunas, Alison Knowles, Addi Koepke and Dick Higgins and presented two of my own works. On the first night I performed a "Concert for Two Musicians". It lasted for perhaps twenty seconds. I dashed forward in the gap between two performances, wound up a clockwork toy, two drummers, on the piano, and let them play until the clockwork ran down. That was the end. The Fluxus people felt that this short action was my breakthrough, while the event of the second evening was perhaps too heavy, complicated and anthropological for them. Yet the "Siberian Symphony, section 1" contained the essence of all my future activities and was, I felt, a wider understanding of what Fluxus could be.

[The Fluxus artists] held a mirror up to people without indicating how to change things. This is not to belittle what they did achieve in the way of indicating connections in life and how art could develop. --Joseph Beuys

Krautrock

In the late '60s, there was a concerted attempt to create a distinctively German popular music. Liberated by the influence of Fluxus (LaMonte Young and Tony Conrad were frequent visitors to Germany during this period) and Anglo-American psychedelia, groups like Can and Amon Dόόl began to sing in German --the first step in countering pop's Anglo-American centrism. - Jon Savage [...]

Yoko Ono [...]

When John Lennon and Fluxus artist Yoko Ono made 'happenings' together in the late 1960’s their bed-in for peace, for example: the love-affair between art and rock began to flourish.

Music

[...] the musical portion led by composers and musicians such as Charlotte Moorman, Philip Corner, Yoko Ono and Daniel Goode, who went even further in rejecting notions of musical hierarchy: In considering all sound to be beautiful, they went so far on their agenda as to organize a remarkable series of concerts where even sensitive non-musicians could take part as performers. --Rhys Chatham

Eric Andersen

What is ......? By Eric Andersen, Translated by Mary Graham

Fluxus is probably the phenomenon in the art world of the 20th century that historians and other scholars have the most difficulty grasping. The reasons range from a simple lack of will to downright laziness. Although the contribution to the debate by many artists may have been by way of droll misleading comments, we have never shirked from clarifying the issue, if and when interest was shown. For the most part, though, historians suppose that living artists are just out to make trouble. Most art historians and mainstreams curators continuously try to persuade the public that Fluxus was a movement, albeit an art movement, an all-out American affair. When these frenzied grumblings are connected to large economic interests one can into the bargain often find such a peculiar designation as Fluxism. But this is pure rubbish. Fluxus emerged almost as a creation to the sad truth that art for more than two hundred years found its classification within 'isms' and was resigned to being reduced to stereotyped personal expression. Fluxus stood in complete contrast to this world and became at least two incompatible entities. It was one thing in Europe in the years 1962 and 1963 and later something entirely different in the USA, at the time George Maciunas, without any tremendous success, attempted to transform the lot into one form and one strategy. The term Fluxus was first used in Europe and it was also here that the first Fluxus Festivals were held, the first venue was Wiesbaden and then Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, Paris, Amsterdam and many other places during 1962 and 1963.A quite unique new departure had taken place simultaneously in Europe, the USA and Japan in the late Fifties and early Sixties. A completely different understanding of art, which a few years later would be dubbed Inter Media by artist and scholar Dick Higgins.

While in the USA and Japan this new view of art only penetrated in mega centres like New York, the West Coast, Tokyo and Osaka, in Europe around 1960 it had spread largely to all major cities. Piero Manzoni was working in Milan and later Chiari in Florence and Marchetti in Milan. In Madrid and Barcelona Juan Hidalgo, Esther Ferrer and Charles Santos. In Paris and Nice Yves Klein, Daniel Spoerri, Robert Filliou, Ben Vautier and Nouveaux Realistes. In Cologne Tomas Schmit, Ben Patterson, Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell, Emmett Williams in Darmstadt and Zero in Düsseldorf. Willem de Ridder and Wim Schippers in Amsterdam, Arthur Køpcke and myself in Copenhagen, and Bengt af Klintberg and Pistolteatren in Stockholm. The list goes on and on. Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union presented an entire chapter onto itself, which I choose not to dwell on here.

We all found ourselves in marginalised positions but were steadily and calmly creating the necessary platform for our work, which had already from a hesitant start pointed in all possible and totally different directions. George Maciunas's role in Europe was to assemble us at the first festivals, to which he together with Alison Knowles and Dick Higgins brought along a succession of new scores and performance directions from La Monte Young, George Brecht, Bob Watts, Yasonao Tone and many others, who could not participate personally. Although these festivals represented the first major public platform for our work we were all at odds with George Maciunas when he tried to organise us into a group, with a common strategy and aesthetic. He himself stood out as the most amazing, self-contradictory mixture of neo-Dadaism and Leninism. He tried manifestos. We all disagreed. He tried to create unity. We all disobeyed. He wanted to appoint us ambassadors of Fluxus. Everyone disassociated. But we were at the same time rather amused by his innumerable slogans, diagrams designed to show the true connection and all the other propaganda material that gushed from him. His Utopia developed with headquarters, regions and branches with generals, majors and corporals. A fantasy on which mountains of books have been published almost forty years on. What we did in the meantime in actual fact was to establish an international artist network, with wide ranging mail art activities. As far as I am aware, Fluxus was the first international network to be set up by artists themselves. A type of pre-PC database and a net for art and communication. The main actors in this network were Dick Higgins, George Brecht, Ben Patterson, Yasonao Tone, Ben Vautier, Robert Fillou, Willem de Ridder, Bengt af Klintberg, Arthur Køpcke, Tomas Schmit, La Monte Young, Alison Knowles, Bob Watts, AY-O, Eric Andersen, Nam June Paik, Emmet Williams, George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, Philip Corner, Wolf Vostell, Mieko Shiomi, Takako Saito.

It would be hard to find greater differences of expression, temperament, position and opinion than among these artists. There was one thing common to most, but not all: an understanding of art as Inter Media. The most common misconception being floated is that Inter Media was born following the development of 486 processors in the Eighties and that the phenomenon is unthinkable without a definite medium: a computer with a very fast processor. Inter Media, however, does not have any definite form or scale, or attach itself to particular circumstances. As the term implies it does, on the other hand, find a place between other media. This view of art was first conceived in the period 1958-62 and has constantly changed form ever since. It cannot by definition be categorised as a thing, only as methods. Inter Media rejects art and communication as production. Instead, it seeks by means of constant innovation to conduct fundamental research in human articulation. The oeuvre here is not a demarcated unit. The work is open and undergoing constant change, because it includes the spectator. You can but participate in such a work, also by means of mere reflection.

It is quite telling that the terminology we used in the late Fifties and early Sixties has now been appropriated by the media world. The main terms at that time were: Globalism, Simultaneity, Network Structures, Events, Occurrences and Interaction. This is what brought us together and this is almost the opposite of what George Maciunas tried to move Fluxus towards when he returned to New York. For him Fluxus was an international avant-garde, which should fight cultural imperialism, and change society and its cultural institutions. In New York from 1964 and up through the Seventies he tried to style Fluxus. The rest of us remained quite unperturbed. He was well regarded as a very capable organiser and graphic designer but publishing work in the way he did was quite different from our manners.

It is interesting to note that no art historian has been fit to point out that by far the majority of the artists who participated in the Fluxus festivals of 1962 and 1963 could only on very rare occasions work with George Maciunas, after he established his headquarters in New York. Rather, George Maciunas, must be remembered as the amazing initiator he was. Both when the network was being established in 1962 and Soho in New York was being developed via artist cooperatives. Myths about Fluxus abound then as now. They went to such extremes in the Seventies that the art reviewer on one of Copenhagen's main dailies Politiken solemnly declared that Fluxus was an art movement founded by Joseph Beuys. Beuys' attachment to the network was always periphery, although his work had been immensely influenced by a Fluxus visit to Düsseldorf in 1963.

Another rather amusing notion is that Fluxus is a type of neo-Dada anti-art movement with John Cage as father and Marcel Duchamp as grandfather. We were, of course, very fond of them both, both as people and artists, but it can never be said that either was the most important prerequisite for Inter Media. We were just as enthralled by Manzoni, Yves Klein, Man Ray, Marinetti, Malevich, Buñuel and many, many more. And besides Ben Vautier's lush coquettishness not much of the anti-art label can be attributed to anyone. -- Eric Andersen, Translated by Mary Graham

Link

1.     http://www.artnotart.com/fluxus/

CDs

1.     SYR 4: Goodbye 20th Century - Sonic Youth [2 CD, Amazon US]
Wildly influential four-piece Sonic Youth have self-released their version of a tribute to the 20th century: two discs of noisy interpretations of modern, experimental classical scores. The group has chosen composers whose works leave a great amount of innovation open to the performer. This chance-embracing approach--typified and in some senses originated by John Cage--is one of the crucial turning points of "new" music. What's great about this CD is that it demonstrates the freewheeling, decidedly unserious spirit behind this music, essentially combining the legacies of punk rock and out-sound. In addition to three late works by the chance-loving Cage, there are pieces by current Merce Cunningham collaborator Takehisa Kosugi, minimalist giant Steve Reich, "deep-listening" drone lover Pauline Oliveros, and Fluxus founder George Maciunas. Longtime collaborator Wharton Tiers, the young everything-ist Jim O'Rourke, and even some of the composers themselves join in on these exercises. The result is messy, fun, and anarchic, with occasional revelations (notably James Tenney's "Having Never Written a Note for Percussion"). It's not a disc to play all the time, but it is a challenging, enthused record that ideally will point listeners toward some of the most vital music of the last half of the last decade of the second millennium. --Mike McGonigal
[...]

Books

1.     Fluxus - Thomas Kellein [1 book, Amazon US]
This magazine-sized volume on the nature of the group Fluxus, termed a "catalog," contains two essays by recognized experts and 189 selected works illustrating 145 international neo-Dada intermedia objects, boxes, editions, artistic happenings, and musical performances orchestrated by Fluxus's founding father, George Maciunas. From his 1961 founding of the group until his death in 1978, Maciunas conceived of this variable international association as a drastic alternative to crass, materialistic "high art" and the fame afforded egocentric artists. Everybody was declared his or her own artist, and works were developed and disseminated through exhibitions, publications, mass-produced objects, "products," paper or boxed editions of cheap Fluxus items, photos, and films. Ironically, perhaps, many widely recognized artists did emerge from Fluxus (e.g., Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Nam June Paik), but none could match the "complex genius" of organizer Maciunas, who was "driven by a utopian vision of a new art and a new society." Recommended for larger contemporary art collections, especially for the bibliography.--From Library Journal Copyright 1995 Cahners Business Information, Inc