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In Latin and other languages, “Fluxus” literally means “flow” and “change.” Similarly, the related English word “flux” is used variously to mean “a state of continuous change”,”a fusion.” Fluxus ideas were prevalent well before the 1960’s, growing with the idea of intermedia, but first summarised, exemplified and presented in a festival jointly organised by the German, Joseph Beuys, and Lithuanian-born architect and designer, George Maciunas.
It was Maciunas’ desire to show the work of a specific group of people, sharing the same thoughts on art at the time and it was he who coined the name Fluxus. The Fluxus performance festival held at the Dï¿½sseldorf Art Academy on 2-3 February 1962 was a significant historical marker in the early development of the Fluxus group. Numerous Fluxus and Fluxus-type festivals and activities continued to be presented in Europe throughout the 1960’s after which the focus shifted to New York. Fluxus has been described as “the most radical and experimental art movement of the sixties.”
Fluxus differs from most art in being purely conceptual. 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 poems, mail art, silent orchestras, and collages of such readily available materials such as scavenged posters, newspapers, and other ephemera.
Their activities resulted in many events or situations, often called ‘Actions’ or as known in the USA, ‘Happenings’, which were works challenging definitions of art as focused on objects. Street theatre was very popular as were other performances such as concerts of electronic music. An account given by the American Fluxartist Dick Higgins described the sort of happening you would expect at one of his Fluxconcerts. This particular description is from the concert at Dï¿½sseldorf and it had become a kind of set piece for these festival performances. Higgins described his arrangement, Constellation No 4 as follows:
“Each performer chooses a sound to be produced on any instrument available to him, including the voice. The sound is to have a clearly defined percussive attack and a delay which is no longer than a second. Words, crackling and rustling sounds, are excluded because they have multiple attacks and decays…Each performer produces his sound as efficiently as possible, almost simultaneously with the other performers sounds. As soon as the last decay has died away, the piece is over.”
A person, who attends a Fluxconcert, after the first shock, typically gets caught up in the spirit of it and begins to enjoy it, without consciously knowing why. What the recipient sees is coloured by his or her perception of it and instinctively he or she is matching horizons, comparing expectations, participating in the process; the more actively he or she does so, the more likely they will be able to enjoy the experience.
In 1981 Dick Higgins Wrote a list of nine criteria that he suggested central to Fluxus:
2. experimentalism and iconoclasm
3. intermedia (a term employed by Dick Higgins to describe an art form appropriate to people who say there are no boundaries between art and life)
4. minimalism or concentration
5. an attempted resolution of the art/life dichotomy
6. implicativeness (an ideal Fluxus work that implies many more works)
7. play or gags
9. specificity (work to be specific, self-contained and to embody all its own parts)
Clearly not every work is likely to reflect all nine of these characteristics or criteria, but the more of them a work reflects, the more typically and characteristically Fluxus it is. Similarly not every work by a Fluxartist is a Fluxwork; typically Fluxartists do other sorts of work as well. The group pioneered these ideas at a time when their thoughts and practices in the world around them were distinct from the art world and different from the world of other disciplines in which Fluxus, would come to play a role.
Like Duchamp, many Fluxus pieces (most notably the performance ones), are often characterised by their taking of a very ordinary event from daily life, and their being framed as art by being presented on stage as a performance situation. A collection of Fluxus works will inevitably include some pieces which are untransformed from life. Their significance is their ability to transform viewers’ horizons.
According to Joseph Beuys, Fluxus intended to “purge the world of bourgeois sickness . . . of dead art,” to “promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art, anti-art, promote non art reality . . .” and to “fuse the cadres of cultural, social, and political revolutionaries into a united front and action.”
I was particularly interested in the work of Joseph Beuys on view at the Tate Modern. He was a shaman, showman, teacher and tireless debater. He used the detritus of daily life in his work; materials representing energy such as fat, felt, wax, honey, and copper, iron, bronze and batteries. His use of felt and fat in particular relates back to his near death experience in World War II when he used the two materials to keep him warm.
Most of his pieces have changed through time, relying as they do on materials that decay, ferment, dry up, or change colour. “Since life is in a constant state of flux,” he reasoned, “art, in order to bring itself closer to life, must be similarly ephemeral.” It was thus, in change, that Beuys sought to bring about the ultimate unity between art and life.
Many of the Fluxartists were poor and could not afford to work with fine and costly materials. The sense that if Fluxus were to incorporate some element of ongoing change – flux -that the individual works should change. Many objects therefore were made of ephemeral materials, so that as time went by the work would either disappear or would physically alter itself. A work such as this made a strong statement rather than a work that would last throughout the ages in some treasure vault. Many of the Fluxartists work, such as Robert Fillous’s works have disappeared into thin air. A good example of this is the work we looked at in the lecture last week entitled ‘The artists breath’ by Yves Klein.
George Maciunas planned to create a Fluxus Board of Directors which he would head from the Headquarters in New York. Maciunas wrote a letter to Thomas Schmit, in the form of a Fluxus manifesto, as which it is often referred. He stated that:
* Fluxus objectives are social and not aesthetic
* The gradual elimination of fine arts (music, theatre, poetry, fiction, painting, sculpture, etc.) was motivated by the desire to stop the waste of material and human resources and divert it to socially constructive ends such as: Industrial design, journalism, architecture, engineering, graphic-typographic arts, printing etc.
* The movement was against the art-object as non-functional commodity to be sold and to make a livelihood for an artist.
* It could have the function of teaching people the needlessness of art. Therefore teaching that a work should not be permanent
* Fluxus is therefore anti-professional
* Against art as a medium or vehicle promoting artists ego.
* Applied art should express the objective problem to be solved not by the artist’s personality or ego.
* Fluxus art should tend towards the collective spirit, anonymity and anti-individualism
* Fluxus concerts and publications are at best transitional and temporary until such time that artists find other employment. Maciunas states that it is of utmost importance that the artist finds a profession from which he can make a living.
* He says that there is no such thing as a professional revolutionary. Revolution is for participation of all and that a revolutionary should not practice something he is trying to overthrow or even worse, making a living from it, and that the best revolutionaries practice what they preach.
* Fluxartists should not make a living from their Fluxus activities but find a profession (like applied arts) by which he would do best Fluxus activity.
* The best Fluxus composition is a most non-personal, ready-made one.
* Fluxus way of life is 9am to 5pm working socially constructive and useful work – earning your own living, 5pm to 10pm spending time on propagandizing your way of life among other idle artists and collectors and fighting them, 12pm to 8am sleeping (8 hours is enough)
* You cannot live off your family because then you are being just as parasitic as artists living off the society, without contributing anything constructive.
Maciunas also calls the need for copyright arrangements.
* Authorship of pieces would eventually be destroyed, making them totally anonymous – thus eliminating the artist’s ego. The author would be Fluxus. Maciunas says “We can’t depend on each artist to destroy his ego. The copyright arrangement will eventually force him to it if he is reluctant.”
May I also add at this point, Robert. C .Morgan, art critic, writer, artist and poet says that ‘By creating the absence of authorship, Fluxus has revived itself as a significant tendency in recent art.’
However, no one really wanted to sign the manifesto set out by Maciunas. Dick Higgins says that ‘We did not want to confine tomorrow’s possibilities by what we today. That manifesto is Maciunas’ manifesto, not a manifesto of Fluxus.’
George Brecht notes that: “Fluxus encompasses opposites.” “Consider opposing it, supporting it, ignoring it, changing your mind.”
Clearly, with Fluxus, normal theoretical positions do not apply. They are not intended to do the same things as say a Jackson Pollock painting. It does not mimic nature in any narrative way. It does not attempt to move the listener, viewer or reader emotionally or intellectually. The Fluxartist does not even begin to reveal him-or herself through the work.
The reception of Fluxus, its popularity, influence and in general, its acceptance, varies considerably. A Fluxperformance or an exhibition of Fluxus works attended by a person uneducated about the Fluxus field is apt to having an interesting and pleasurable experience. For most avant-guard art, one needs to know quite a considerable amount of art history in order to get ones bearings enough to be able to fuse one’s bearings and horizons and experience pleasure. There is a progressive intellectualism of the audience, thus more ideas of what will, or should happen. The spectators of a Fluxwork have to learn that these ideas are not under attack and that they are simply irrelevant to the work at hand.
There are two bodies of people whose hostility towards Fluxus is profound. These are:
1. Groups of art professionals who work in art institutions and galleries. Fluxworks do not lend themselves easily to becoming precious objects which are sold or beautiful fetishes to immortalize the donor. It has more the quality of a souvenir or a sacred relic than or an exquisitely wrought product of fine craftsmanship.
2. Secondly, it is the artists who are ‘good’ in whatever it is that they do, but who are not good enough to be really secure in it.Such artists feel threatened by Fluxus.
Victor Cousin’s phrase of 1816 says of art: ‘It is done for the love of it -‘for its own sake’.
The Fluxus Collective believed that if value came to be attached to the work then great! But the work must be un-commercial in its very nature.
Fluxus is more important as an idea and a potential for social change than as a specific group of people or collection of objects, action and life activity. Fluxus tried to eclectically organise itself around the advantages of existing strategies at the same time that it attempted to avoid their abuses. Fluxus was committed to social purpose but opposed the authoritarian means by which it was historically achieved. Today, it is clear that the radical contribution Fluxus made to art was to suggest that there is no boundary to be erased between art and life.
The Fluxus movement does not present correct political or social views – all the elements behave democratically. Not one piece dominates another. The movement sees a world inhabited by individuals of equal worth and value. By chance, this movement entered the scene, and changed the worldwide view previously held. For a group of artists who sought the reunification of art & life, the current institutionalization of Fluxus is paradoxical, yet the subversive nature of their project; the challenge to hierarchy and authoritarianism, still persists today