Fluxus—a name taken from a Latin word meaning "to flow"—is an international network of artists, composers and designers noted for blending different artistic media and disciplines in the 1960s. They have been active in visual art and music as well as literature, urban planning, architecture, and design. Fluxus is often described as intermedia, a term coined by Fluxus artist Dick Higgins in a famous 1966 essay.
My friend and fellow artist, Keri Marion wrote a detailed response to my article, Postmodernism Revisited, which I have published (with her permission) in full below. I like her point of view and mostly agree with what she writes. My point about postmodernism being better described as "late modernism", refers more to philosophical relativism than to postmodern art and cultural activity.
There are several ways that postmodernism has been defined. One of the ways that it has been defined is as troubling to me as it is to many PoMo detractors. That being so-called "moral relativism". When human beings can no longer tell right from wrong we cease being human beings. I think that view is a corruption of postmodernism. Just because everyone has their own version of reality does not mean that each view is of equal value. If someone's reality is that it is OK for people to suffer needlessly - well my reality is that that person is wrong and should be stopped. But... for me postmodernism is mostly a descriptive term for the era that we live in.
- Jean Baudrillard
- Charles Bukowski
- John Cage
- Leonard Cohen
- Marcel Duchamp
It has taken me a while to get to this entry. Duchamp, for me, ranks with John Cage as a figure of such incredible importance to the arts that it is simply not possible to sum him up in a few short sentences. At least not with a sense of justice. But then, since I did it for Cage, I'll do it for Duchamp too! Just remember that this is only the twenty second elevator speech version. Duchamp was active in the early part of the 20th century primarily as a painter. While even his paintings were revolutionary for their time (he included the dimension of time, taking cubism to another level - and cubism was already considered revolutionary), his real revolution came with his exhibition of the "ready-made" as a work of art. He turned a urinal 90 degrees, called it "Fountain", and signed it "R. Mutt", he brought a shovel into a gallery and called it, "in advance of a broken arm", and he exhibited a found bottle rack as a finished sculpture. His actions angered and confused the general public, and also most of the artistic elite. People ridiculed him and his work. But these simple actions by an artist changed art irrevocably and forever. These works forced people to ask not only what is "good art" or "bad art", but "what is art"? What can be art? What makes an object art anyway? Who can make art? Who can decide what is or is not art? Marcel Duchamp changed not only the world of art. He changed the world.
- Jean Baudrillard
- Charles Bukowski
- John Cage
- Leonard Cohen
He was never closely associated with Fluxus, and his work falls pretty neatly into the modernist traditions of art and writing. So, why have I chosen to write about Cohen in The Fluxus Blog? I guess that the first connection that can be made between him and Fluxus is that one could make the argument that as a poet, singer, and songwriter, Leonard Cohen is engaged in the original Intermedia form. What could be more Intermedia than the intersection between poetry, music, and performance? I think that the argument is valid. But it is not overwhelmingly convincing. Fluxus was also about experimentation, humor, and postmodern philosophical ideas. Never-the-less, I think that poetic minstrels, like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, at the dawn of the postmodern era, deserve a place at the Fluxus table. I chose Cohen primarily because of one stanza in one song. The song is Famous Blue Raincoat, and the stanza speaks about a friend who has moved into the desert to build a small home and plans to live off of the land. Cohen says of his friend, "You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record." And for me, this moves Cohen's work outside of the modernist realm and into the realm of postmodern reflections on meaning and language.
Fluxus artist Walter Cianciusi has just published his wonderful new book of event scores, and it is available for purchase from Amazon.com. Event Scores has already received favourable reviews, including a review by Ken Friedman, one of the original Fluxus artists who himself produced numerous event scores. Friedman writes in part, "While there is still energy to be found in interpreting classical event scores, it is difficult to write new scores that convey the lively energy of earlier contributions. Cianciusi does this with works that balance subtle humor, meditative reflection, and a good sense of the tradition these works inhabit..."
If Fluxus is an attitude and not an "Art Movement" in the traditional art-historical context, what exactly is the Fluxus attitude?
While Fluxus objects and events tend to possess the physical attributes of humour, simplicity, and intermedia, they are also created from an attitude towards life and art that encourages globalism, chance, experimentation, temporal factors and the unity of art & life. These aspects of the Fluxus attitude should be very familiar to readers of this Blog because they are all ideas from Ken Friedmans "12 ideas of Fluxus" listed in the previous post!
In the post below I stated that Fluxus work nearly always contains four key elements, an attitude vs. an "art movement", intermedia, simplicity, and fun. I believe this to be true, but should also state that, as contained within the term itself, "flux"us is malleable and resists attempts to over-simplify its own definition. It can be (and often is) argued that there is no "one size fits all" definition of Fluxus and that even the four points that I see as commonalities will not adequately account for work that is clearly Fluxus, but does not conform or contain the four common features that I present.
The Fluxus artistic philosophy can be expressed as a synthesis of four key factors that define the majority of Fluxus work:
- Fluxus is an attitude. It is much more than an art history movement, or a style locked between a pair of dates.
- Fluxus is intermedia. Fluxus creators like to to see what happens when different media intersect.
They use found & everyday objects, sounds, images, and texts to create new combinations of objects, sounds, images, and texts.
- Fluxus should be simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief.
- Fluxus should be fun. If it isn't fun, then it isn't Fluxus
In a previous posting on the Fluxus Blog, I reduced Fluxus to 5 factors, based on Ken Friedmans 12 factors, and on Owen Smith's idea of explaining/defining Fluxus in terms of its being an attitude towards art, life and artmaking, as opposed to being pigeonholed as yet another art movement. I think that the five points are actually more than what is needed to accurately describe the core philosophical elements of Fluxus, so have further refined it to the four factors listed here..