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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! 

Much of the Fluxus attitude consists of what has also been termed postmodernism. The postmodern attitude is partly based on the idea of the simulacrum, described by Jean Baudrillard as a copy without an original. Baudrillard says in his essay, Simulacra and Simulation, "Of the same order as the impossibility of rediscovering an absolute level of the real, is the impossibility of staging an illusion. Illusion is no longer possible, because the real is no longer possible. It is the whole political problem of the parody, of hypersimulation or offensive simulation..." Fluxus art and artists often use postmodern playfulness as a tool to expose the unseen and unstated, yet often obvious, contradictions and hypocrisy in the ideas and beliefs that our modern society accepts as "known facts". Given Fluxus origins in the late 1950s and early 1960s it should be stated that postmodernism owes at least as much to Fluxus as Fluxus owes to postmodernism. Fluxus was in all the right places at all the right times to influence the postmodern philosophers and writers.

For me, much of the Fluxus attitude consists in making the mundane seem magical through the use of simple, playful experiments and exercise that take place where different media intersect.

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.

Ken Friedman and Dick Higgins felt that the 12 ideas of Fluxus should be seen as a set of characteristics that can be found in Fuxus works, but that it is not necessary for any single work to include all 12 ideas. Rather they felt that most Fluxus works incorporated some of these ideas to various degrees, such that a work may be high on one scale, moderate on others, and have no characteristics of other scales. Since Higgins co-founded Fluxus with George Maciunas, and Friedman worked with both of them, their ideas need to be carefully considered. In particular, Ken Friedman continues to write about Fluxus and his thoughts on the subject carry considerable weight.

My own feeling is that, much as Owen Smith described "Fluxus as an attitude", it does remain possible to distill what I might call "the essence of Fluxus", without in any way contradicting the variability model of the 12 ideas scale as described by Friedman. I think that nearly all Fluxus works incorporate the four points that I propose to varying degrees, but that individual works and artists often also include one or more of the 12 Friedman/Higgins ideas. Three of my four points are actually included in the 12 ideas.

  1. Intermedia
  2. Simplicity
  3. Playfulness (fun)

The fourth point "Fluxus is an attitude" has been thoroughly discussed by Owen Smith in his book, Fluxus, The History of an Attitude. I think that the "attitude" alluded too by Smith might also be considered as a synthesis of the 12 ideas. I.E. The Fluxus attitude is expressed within these 12 ideas.

Below is a very brief extract from Ken Friedmans 40 Years of Fluxus essay in which he lists the 12 ideas:

"...As I see it, Fluxus was a laboratory. The research program of the Fluxus laboratory is characterized by twelve ideas:

  1. globalism,
  2. the unity of art and life,
  3. intermedia,
  4. experimentalism,
  5. chance,
  6. playfulness,
  7. simplicity,
  8. implicativeness,
  9. exemplativism,
  10. specificity,
  11. presence in time, and
  12. musicality." (Friedman, 1998, The Fluxus Reader) (numbers and bold text added by author - not in original text)

The Fluxus artistic philosophy can be expressed as a synthesis of four key factors that define the majority of Fluxus work:

  1. Fluxus is an attitude. It is much more than an art history movement, or a style locked between a pair of dates.
  2. 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.
  3. Fluxus should be simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief.
  4. 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..

Friedmans 12 point list from Forty Years of Fluxus can be read here. The complete associated essay (Forty Years of Fluxus), can be found at http://www.artnotart.com/fluxus/kfriedman-fourtyyears.html

Owen Smith's book, Fluxus: The History of an Attitude (out of print) can still be found for sale on Amazon.com

 

Cecil Touchon, a Fluxus artist, collage artist, and curator of the Ontological Museum has several book works for sale at the Ontological Museum's Lulu.com storefront.

A couple of outstanding samples are shown below. Be sure to visit the International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction too!

 
Sell People Things They Don't Need.
This is the first book of Massurrealist Poetry. The following poetry has been constructed rather than invented. This is a distinction similar to the difference between a drawing and a collage. A drawing is completely fabricated by the artist while a collage is constructed from preexisting parts which have been carefully arranged or even haphazardly arranged! These arrangements are often disjointed, surprising and serendipitous.

Print: $14.99
Download: $7.50

The Fusion Series
Cecil Touchon explores the boundaries between art and poetry in these elegant and intimate papiers collages composed of bits of lettering and the empty spaces between them. Stripped of literary meaning, these works rely on composition, rhythm and visual movement to convey their meaning which is ambiguous and intuitive. These works are constructed from distressed street posters that have been carefully edited into inlayed bits of printed matter creating passages that move from figure to ground and then reverse back to figure through gentle curves, irregular grids and subtle shading techniques. Snippets of lettering almost become recognizable letters or perhap proposals for a new poetic alphabet but always slip back into forms and spaces creating enigmatic and open, simultaneously plausible interpretations.

Download: $12.95
Hardcover Print: $39.95

   

by Matthew Rose
April 9, 2007

In April, 1990 I had the first of three meetings with Ray Johnson, each on Long Island, and this first one at my house. He would visit me, he said, at 5 PM. On the dot. And he was there. On time. We talked in my kitchen drinking black coffee and moving through dozens of subjects from synchronicity to Joseph Cornell, to my problem with bees (they were living in the crook of my window) to the double Elvis prints Warhol did and Ray said were given to him, but were at that time hanging in the Larry Gagosian Gallery.

It was quite enlightening in many ways. Towards the end of our meeting I showed Ray my Macintosh SE computer. At that time I had e-mail, although no one was on the Compuserve Network – at least no one I knew. "Ray, want to see my computer work?" I said and flipped the button to turn it on. "Oh, no no no..." he said. I thought he might like the different typefaces I could produce in Pagemaker. No dice. Ray, famous for watching TV (or leaving it on for company or ideas) all day long, had zero interest in computers or networks. Well that was what he said. From what I understood, the mail and its paper,envelopes, stamps were enough for him; no attached jpgs or PDFs or iChat for this artist. Ray typed on some 1960s/70s typewriter (ask William Wilson what kind), and I could hardly entertain the idea of him sitting down and cranking out mass e-mails. Some time later I think I was speaking with Mark Bloch and I told him I hadn't received any mail from Ray in a while, but that I did get plenty of telephone calls. "So Ray is doing telephone art now?"

Ray would probably remind everyone here, though, that there were many Ray Johnsons in the world. He wrote them all. I'm certain most have e-mail.

MATTHEW ROSE
http://homepage.mac.com/mistahcoughdrop/

Fluxus has been associated with humor since its inception. In fact one of the features that differentiates Fluxus from many other art forms is what could be termed, its "fun factor". As has been said elsewhere, "if it isn't fun; it isn't Fluxus". This feature of Fluxus works has sometimes led to the art and artists associated with Fluxus to be dismissed as "not serious". But as every humorist knows very well, humor can also be serious. Fluxus tends to poke fun at the kind of art that takes itself too seriously. 

Fluxus humor takes two primary directions. The first, is as mentioned above, that by being deliberately funny, while also being "serious" art, Fluxus draws attention to the absurdities present in the conventional art market. Pointed humor forces us to ask uncomfortable questions about what we assume to be the unquestionable truth. But what makes the truth true? If I release a stone from my hand, I know that it will fall to the ground. But can I be as certain that one work of art is "great" while another is trivial? What makes it great? Is it valuable because it is important, or is it only important because it has market value? Maybe it is more valuable to make silly little toys and play silly little games.

The small scale and intimate (yet disposable) nature of Fluxus art is the other direction that Fluxus humor takes. Art that deliberately refuses to take itself seriously by consisting of brief, sometimes silly, events, or being made from found and discarded objects (trash), or of short and nonsensical sounding poems, demands to be taken seriously while simultaneously refusing to take itself seriously. Here again, humor is used as a tool to point to the absurdities of the generally accepted "reality" accepted as truth by our cultures.

Like a Shakespearean tragic comedy Fluxus makes us laugh so that we won't have to cry. If nothing is sacred, and if nothing is serious --- well that is a very serious state of affairs. N'est pas?

Cecil Touchon is an American artist who works with Fluxus. His website can be seen at http://cecil.touchon.com.Cecil wrote the following response to an art student who posted a question on the Fluxlist:

Fluxus is a lot like Post-Dogmatism. In post dogmatism – which is not post-fluxus - the key thing is the focus on the ‘threshold of becoming” that place where all things that have shape, take shape. It is the point of inception, the place from which the creative impulse rises where art is pure and our interaction with life is at it’s most powerful. To arrive somewhere close to this threshold is to have pealed away many layers of other intentions (and beliefs) that ‘sully’ our relationship with that creative impulse.

Starting in the late 1800’s let’s say, with the advance of psychology, there came to be a rising concern with finding this place of creative purity and we see a lot of experimentation going on where artists are attempting to find that threshold and attempting to understand the optimal state of being that an artist should be in when having found it and then what sort of art might be generated by that process. It was assumed from an early period that the state of childhood innocence and wonderment is the most likely starting point and so children’s art became highly prized and studied for the creative solutions children come up with. Being child-like has never been the goal of our culture but with artists taking an interest in the creative activities of children, there has been a significant increase in having respect for the state of childhood.

Seen in this light, Fluxus has done a great job of articulating issues that hamper free artistic development and encouraging the idea that everyone should engage themselves in creative activity. This has been done to some degree by attempting to develop processes that can be easily and cheaply documented and easily reproduced, encouraging the participation of those who would normally be a passive audience member. This is done through creating performance scores and the creation of simple objects that, by the mere apprehension of them, the viewer has engaged directly in a performance.

These were general trends happening in the art world and in the culture at large at the time fluxus got started and, for me, fluxus became a basket that many related and not so related ideas got dropped into. The complexity of Fluxus rests in this fact and fluxus serves as a sort of smoking gun of the times in which it took shape. Our current experiment is to see if we can continue to keep shooting into the crowd with the same gun.

Cecil Touchon also maintains:http://fluxnexus.com, http://fluxcase.com, http://fluxmuseum.org and http://www.fluxshop.com/

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Recently, a graduate student named Claire posted some questions about Fluxus to the Fluxlist. Allen Bukoff, an artist who has been active in Fluxus for many years, and is one of the founding members of the Fluxlist, has posted a very interesting answer to her questions, which I am including in full here on The Fluxus Blog.

There are many different ways to understand Fluxus, no? Some are more useful than others (e.g., "Fluxus is about creativity" compared to "Fluxus is about art" compared to "Fluxus was the stuff George Maciunas was involved in"). A very broad way to understand Fluxus is to use the metaphor of the right and left brain--where the "right brain" is the intuitive, divergent, nonverbal, complex way of understanding things and the "left brain" is the rational, convergent, linear, verbal way of understanding things. With this metaphor, Fluxus can be thought of as the right brain's attempt to make the left brain act and operate (and enjoy things) like the right brain does. Fluxus is a set of activities, games, objects that the right brain uses to get the left-brain to play the right brain's game. This is not easy (one reason is that the left brain really likes to be the leader on all higher order cognitive tasks). And it is a "reversal" of much western intellectual history and accomplishment (even in Art). Our very verbal left-brained-tasked world is dependent on the left brain leading and using the right brain. While this strategy is powerful and has accomplished much (e.g., science and technology), it is incomplete. Fluxus COULD be thought of as the effort to explore, understand, and empower the right-brain's ability to lead and use the left brain for the purpose of extending human experience and advancing creativity.

I think this metaphor also helps explain the feeling that many of us have had that left-brain/analytic attempts to capture and analyze Fluxus are inherently misguided--they're essentially going in the wrong direction (i.e., ass-backward to the phenomenon). Yeah, even this one.

This is not about the right brain VERSUS the left brain, it's about how the two dance together (another metaphor) at certain times for certain tasks, and about who leads and to what effect. I think most of us recognize that Fluxus activities are both very right-brained AND very left-brained (e.g., good ones tickle the fancy and the funny bone of both). We might even view Fluxus efforts so far as being the exploratory "science" or "choreography" of this other important dance.

I think that this is a great fluxnarrative! It's different than other explanations that I can remember reading, but it is also an entirely comprehensible model of Fluxus, and it manages to look at Fluxus in a new way, without negating all of the "old" ways. The only "old" way that it does dismiss, is the "Fluxus as an Art Historical Movement Only", which has been dismissed anyway by artists who continue to work with Fluxus ideas. Allen Bukoff presents both an excellent explanation of what Fluxus is, and an excellent argument for why Fluxus continues to thrive today.

In a previous post I talked about Visual Poetry as being "poetry for the eyes". Fluxus, being Intermedia, is all about the spaces in which different media intersect, so audio art, sound art, and noise recording, can be described as "art for the ears". In the late 20th century many artists trained in traditional visual theory and technique began to expand their artistic practice into the aural sphere. The most common audible art is familiar to most people in the form of the "sound track" to a video. When artists began producing motion picture art, whether in "high-tech" films, or using "low-tech" video cameras, sound was often incorporated to accompany the visual elements. This work is commonly referred to as being "multimedia". But at around the same time as some artists were producing art videos without sound, other artists began producing art audios without video imagery. This audio art has become in effect a new type of "visual" art, although it is invisible to the eyes.

Examples of my own audio art are on my website at; http://www.digitalsalon.com/revich-fluxus.html. There are many other examples of work on the Fluxus Podcast, maintained by Walter Cianciusi.

Sound Art on Wikipedia

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Albert Einstein once said, "if you can't explain it simply, you probably don't understand it well enough". Somebody else once told me that whatever it is that you need to describe, you should be able to describe on an elevator ride. So, what is the simple, "elevator description" of Fluxus? Hmmm...

  • Fluxus is an attitude. It is not a movement or a style.
  • Fluxus is intermedia. Fluxus creators like to to see what happens when different media intersect.
  • Fluxus creators like to mix things up. 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, it isn't Fluxus.

Yes, I know that there's more to it than that (but really not that much). But I think that the five points above do a pretty good job of describing "Fluxus in a Nutshell". I could probably even get through them on an elevator ride. In fact, I think I'm going to print them out and keep them in my wallet for the next time somebody asks me about it!

And there is more HERE if you want it.

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