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What Does Fluxus Look Like at the Dawn of the 21st Century?

Before this question can be addressed, it must first be acknowledged that from the very beginnings of the Fluxus "movement" there has never been a universally accepted definition of Fluxus. There has even been reluctance to call Fluxus a movement at all, hence the quotation marks in the previous sentence. However, if one accepts the view of Fluxus expressed by Dick and Hannah Higgins, Ken Friedman, and Owen Smith, it is possible to agree on a range of work, activities, and world views that constitute Fluxus. So starting from there... what does Fluxus look like today?

I propose that Fluxus today has settled into three streams:

  1. Historical Fluxus
    This stream is popular with curators and collectors because it constrains Fluxus within static boundaries of time, place, and activity. By defining Fluxus in purely art historical terms, Fluxus works produced in the 1960s and 1970s by a small group of artists become highly marketable commodities within the dominant art market economy. The fact that the works collected were often created as a reaction to, and rebellion against the art market only adds to their ironic and iconic commercial value. Interestingly, there are also groups of contemporary artists who prefer the historical Fluxus viewpoint. These artists often enjoy performing historical Fluxus event scores in the same way that military history buffs reenact historical military battles. The group "Secret Fluxus" comes to mind when discussing current historical practice, and the Silverman and Rutgers collections of Fluxus artifacts represent the market-based historical practice.
  2. Contemporary (Post-Historical) Fluxus
    Existing on the opposite pole from historical Fluxus is a group of contemporary artists who use intermedia ideas similar to Fluxus, but with little concern for historical Fluxus. Some of these artists are reluctant to call themselves or their work "Fluxus", instead preferring to see themselves as part of something new that coincidentally shares many Fluxus sensibilities. Others in this group call themselves Fluxus artists but do not feel a need to connect with the Fluxus of the past. Historical Fluxus for this group is important only as a starting point for their current work. The group known as FluxNexus comes to mind when discussing the new Fluxus-like but not Fluxus art.
  3. Continuing Fluxus
    The Continuing Fluxus group of artists, writers, and theorists see themselves as part of a continuing Fluxus tradition and practice. This group remains in contact with as many of the first generation of Fluxus personalities as are willing to remain engaged. Within this group there is some difference of opinion as to whether the work that they do is "Fluxus", or "Fluxus-based", or "Fluxus influenced" - but there is a common bond of respect for the continuing practices of the first and second genration of Fluxus artists and a shared view of being part of a third wave of Fluxus, if not a true third generation of Fluxus. Many of these artists are members of the Fluxlist, the e-mail based Internet community founded by a group of first and second generation Fluxus artists and theorists.

The three categories above represent what I consider to be the three dominant Fluxus streams of the early 21st century. Like anything else Fluxus in nature, the borders between and around these streams are themselves in flux. There are many artists influenced by Fluxus who work outside all three streams, and there are other artists whose work overlaps 2 or all 3 streams.

Links:

The Fluxlist Blog

The FluxNexus

International Post-Dogmatist Group

Fluxus Portal

Ben Vautier

Allison Knowles

[[image:flux-pills_copy1.jpg:Fluxus Pills: Good for Nothing, Allan Revich:center:0]]

Sometimes one needs to sit back, relax a bit - and just chill out. Virtual Fluxus Pills are good for nothing, and that should be good enough to do the trick. So help yourself. Take a pill. Sit back and chill.

A dialogue with Owen Smith:

Owen,

I agree that the view that you put forward is the most sensible and practical approach to the question. It also seems to correspond closely to views expressed by Dick Higgins and Ken Friedman who have addressed the question in the past. I think that it also corresponds to the views of most of us on the Fluxlist who respect (greatly) the work and ideas of the first Fluxus artists, while continuing to produce new Fluxus and/or Fluxus inspired work.

I think that the answers that I seek arise from two questions:

1) How to deal with critics, curators, and historians who insist that Fluxus only existed at a particular time in history, and that it only involved the group of artists who produced work that they called Fluxus within that time frame?

I know that one could choose to either ignore or confront them - but what about a "middle way" towards mutual understanding? ~ Allan

Yes, a middle way would seem the best - the curator types would have to admit that there is an ongoing tradition at least (and they are blind if they don't not see it) and the artists will have to admit that they are part of a tradition not the "original group." Now, yes this is separation of new and old seems counter to aspects of a Fluxus sensibility and, in fact, it is counter - at the same time historical distinctions are still valid and useful. The same way context/history is not only necessary but central to how we "make meaning" in general it is valid in all aspects of understanding of the whole issue of Fluxus, what it is and what it is not. Fluxus' history and its current strains/traditions is a major focus of the two issue that Ken and i did not Visible language. I have a section of artists statements on Fluxus and its influence on them from 12 current practitioners (and several on the Fluxlist) including Alan Bowman, David-Baptiste Chirot, mekal and, Sol Nte, and Walter Cianciusi. In the end I personally will come down to a different question and that is is it interesting? (there is plenty of stuff called Fluxus that is not very interesting and much stuff that is "not Fluxus" that is quite interesting). ~ Owen

2) How to deal with issues within the current community of practitioners who seem divided between those that feel they are producing "new Fluxus work" and those who feel that they are producing new work, of no particular school or movement, but "in the Fluxus tradition"?

Maybe these are both questions for which definitive answers can never be found and for which the only solution is ongoing dialogue... ~ Allan

Well answers are always less interesting then good questions. As to how to address this - in part you have to let the artists speak for themselves, but also realize that the audience will also have their own voice in the matter. This way they the answer of is it new work or part of a tradition will be answered collectively by both artist and audience, kind of like the art coefficient idea of Duchamp's but applied not to "is it art?", but "what kind of art is it?" ~ Owen

Owen Smith is the author of Fluxus: The History of an Attitude

Web Site www.ofsmith.com

A response from Owen Smith:

My own point of view is that there is a historical Fluxus that is what it is (not dead, but more set or determined in a way) but there is also fluxus as a view and practice that is alive and well. This is another way Fluxus is like Zen - both have a history and an ongoing practice that are related but not determined one (present, evloving and changing) by the other (past, more set if not fixed) - I had a great conversation with George Brecht a number of years ago about this concept and he agreed that this is a useful way of looking at Fluxus.

Owen

This quote by Dick Higgins is from Allen Bukoff's Fluxus Portal site at http://www.fluxus.org/.
Fluxus means change among other things. The Fluxus of 1992 is not the Fluxus of 1962 and if it pretends to be - then it is fake. The real Fluxus moves out from its old center into many directions, and the paths are not easy to recognize without lining up new pieces, middle pieces and old pieces together.
Higgins seems to infer that Fluxus is both dead AND alive. Of course his argument could also be restated as, "The Fluxus of 1972 was not the Fluxus of 1962", or for that matter that the "Fluxus of 1963 was not the Fluxus of 1962" - so it would be hard to conclude that Higgins had the final word on the matter.

A while back I began making labels that said "Fluxus Free Zone" and then applied them in public spaces. I continue to do so. Part of the "Fluxusness" of this project was its Intermedia aspect via the interface between art/design/technology/literature/high-art-low-art/etc. But as I began experimenting with the "Red Circle with Nothing in it" project I began to realize that another more challenging theme was running through my Fluxus works.

That is the theme of changing a space by defining or by transforming it. In the case of the Fluxus Free Zones the space is public and is defined by the time that the label remains in affixed to its substrate and by its visibility within the public space. The Red Circle project defines a smaller physical space - the page on which it appears - but the red circle with nothing in it also defines a much larger metaphysical space through the implicit existential questions it raises.

In a nutshell, it seems to me that Fluxus is dead if (and only if) it is defined as a movement in art and culture associated with the group of artists who came together in the early 1960s with George Maciunas at its centre. However, if Fluxus is defined as an approach to art and culture centred around the idea of Intermedia, then it remains very much alive.
I am strongly inclined towards the latter view.
The question may never be finally settled, especially given the tautological nature of the "Fluxus is dead" argument... I.E. If Fluxus is defined as a movement that existed between 1962 and 1978, or between any other relatively arbitrary dates, than the definition itself precludes the possibility that Fluxus is still alive.
The artists who were originally involved in Fluxus' early days have not been consistent either. The sense that I have been able to discern from their statements is that they believe that the Fluxus that they knew and worked in has indeed passed away...but that the ideas and ideals that they worked from continue to live in contemporary art practice, including contemporary Intermedia. So for them the question is, "is Intermedia the same as Fluxus?" Here again I would argue that the answer is, "yes".

Readers of the Fluxus Blog will know that I have been working on my own variation of Haiku poetry - writing 3 line haikus that are 3, 6, and 9 syllables for a total of 18 syllables. Now that I have an established rule-form for my Haikus I have decided to give them a name of their own. I am calling them cHaiku. Chai means "life" in Hebrew and the letters that spell the Hebrew word "Chai" also represent the number 18. Since my 3-6-9 Haikus are 18 syllables and since at least one line must be about life or nature, I am calling them cHaiku.

Rules for Chaiku:

  1. Total 18 syllables
  2. First line 3 syllables
  3. Second line 6 syllables
  4. Third line 9 syllables
  5. At least one of the lines must be directly related to life or nature

Readers of the Fluxlist, the Fluxlist Blog, or will find several examples

Fluxus has been closely associated with nearly all media forms over the years. In many ways Fluxus formed the foundation of multi-media art in the 20th century. Fluxus is after all synonymous with the term "intermedia". Interestingly, Fluxus has never been closely associated with the most traditional of all artistic media, painting.

I suppose that part of the reason for so little Fluxus work to be constructed using traditional painting is that Fluxus arose as an anti-art movement (by some definitions) and thus painting on canvas was rejected by many Fluxus artists. Fluxus has also been concerned with the theory and technology of intermedia (the intersections of different media) which would tend to preclude the use of any single dominant medium such as painting. When painting has been part of Fluxus, it has usually been as a constituent medium in a mixed-media work. Shigeko Kubota created her "vagina paintings" in the 1960s for example but these works were primarily perfomances in which the resulting painting was of secondary evidentiary importance.

But there is really no compelling reason that painting can not be Fluxus. One artist that has been making paintings which are both Fluxus and "traditional" paint-on-canvas is Cecil Touchon. Cecil's "post-dogmatist" paintings often use collages as thier models. He will assemble a collage and then "paint a picturre" of his collage using painstaking trompe l'oeil techniques. The resulting paintings are simultaneously beatiful, visually fascinating, and conceptually rigorous and interesting. His work can be seen on his website at http://cecil.touchon.com/.

Premodernism: Reality is imposed from above, i.e. by the church, king, or feudal lord.

Modernism: The attempt to realize a universal shared reality based on observable phenomena. Jean-Francois Lyotard described these utopic universalized stories as "metanarratives".

Postmodernism: Reality is individually constructed and structured. Metanarratives are replaced by individual narratives and/or by narratives specific to specific sub-cultural groups.

What's the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

They aren't heterogeneous, and you can know lots of things and have no wisdom at all. Between knowledge and action there is an abyss, but that abyss shouldn't prevent us from trying to know as much as possible before making a decision. Philosophy is the love of wisdom. Philia is love and sophia is wisdom, so the duty to be wise is what philosophy is. Nonetheless, decisions don't depend exclusively on knowledge. I try to know as much as possible before making a decision, but I know that at the moment of the decision I'll make a leap beyond knowledge.

http://www.hydra.umn.edu/derrida/laweekly.html

What's the most widely held misconception about you and your work?

That I'm a skeptical nihilist who doesn't believe in anything, who thinks nothing has meaning, and text has no meaning. That's stupid and utterly wrong, and only people who haven't read me say this. It's a misreading of my work that began 35 years ago, and it's difficult to destroy. I never said everything is linguistic and we're enclosed in language. In fact, I say the opposite, and the deconstruction of logocentrism was conceived to dismantle precisely this philosophy for which everything is language. Anyone who reads my work with attention understands that I insist on affirmation and faith, and that I'm full of respect for the texts I read.

~From an interview in the LA Times when JD was 72 years old.

Japanese poetry forms have become very popular for writers of poems in the English language. Al Rocheleau, an expert on the technical and aesthetic aspects of good poetry has an excellent article about the use, misuse, and abuse of the haiku.

Rocheleau has a terrific short essay on the history and use of the haiku on his web site at http://members.aol.com/lucyhardng/pointers/form4.htm#forms6.

An excerpt from his description follows:

Haiku is an objective, Japanese short poem based on a nature theme, with three lines consisting of the following number of syllables per line-- five, then seven, then five. Note the stress of the word "Japanese"-- because this poem is definitely grounded in an eastern culture whose language and intent is far removed from western hands. With such change, comes expansion of the definition.

In Japanese poetic tradition, haiku is actually a relative newcomer. What has been known in the west as haiku are the first three lines ("opening part") culled from classic renga or from the five-line tanka of haikai renga, with a rule added that these short poems be nature based, containing a kigo, or nature word-- moon, wind, water, some type of flower, etc. The delivery of these poems is matter-of-fact, objective to the point where simplicity and clarity actually become transcendent. Haiku has often been identified as artistic equivalent (and sometime enhancer) of the practice of Zen Buddhism. By evoking the simple, one looks for the universal.

One should not confuse haiku with senryu, another three-line, 5-7-5 style that is NOT nature-based, but is much more open in both subject matter (including the human side of existence) and subjective viewpoint, incorporating at times, even humor and political content.

I have recently begun writing "haikus" of my own invention that are structured using a 3-6-9 syllable scheme. I like this scheme because it captures the essence of haiku (really senryu - haikus should be about nature) while also honoring western traditions/ideas. The "trinity" theme from European Christianity, the number 18 from Jewish tradition (the letters used to write the numeral 18 in Hebrew also spell the word "life") as well the visual effect on the page and the arithmetic effects are all appealing to me.

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