Skip to content

Poetry has historically been associated with the physical sense of hearing. It has been thought of as an auditory art, unlike painting or drawing which have always been thought of as visual arts. Poetic texts were therefore seen as signs representing sounds, thus a poems rhythm was very important, and until recently most Western poems also tended to rhyme. In the 2oth century artists, writers, and poets for the first time took notice that while poems might have been meant to be read aloud, they never-the-less existed primarily as text typed or written on a printed page. In fact, poems could be seen primarily as text drawings or drawings using text as the page-marking medium. The first artists to widely exploit this idea were the Dada group following the first world war. One group led by Tristan Tzara explored the boundaries of poetry using text to represent sounds by playing with syllabic sensations and pseudomeaning in their work. Another group of Dada artists began to experiment with poetry as a form of visual expression, first within the confines of graphic design with poster and broadsheet designs, but eventually artists like Kurt Schwitters began using text purely for its visual qualities.

While the Dada text-as-graphic idea remained influential in poster design, the art world became more enamored with Dada's bastard child, visionary surrealism (while surrealism and Dada are somewhat interchangeable, to the general public Dada remains unknown and surrealism means "Salvador Dali") exemplified by artists like Dali and Magritte. This state of affairs persisted until the late 1950s when a new generation of artists began to rediscover the Dada artists (like Marcel Duchamp) and their ideas. Around this same time and into the early 1960s creators in all media began to be interested not only what their medium could be used to create -- but in what their medium actually was. John Cage recognized that music consisted of two basic elements; sound waves and the human perception of sound waves. Poets began to experiment with moving their text around on the printed page. Visual artists began to recognize that all paintings consisted only of pigments applied to flat surfaces and began to emphasize that idea in their work.

George Maciunas and the Fluxus artists of the 1960s became interested not only their medium, but in the whole idea of what a medium was. Dick Higgins described Fluxus as being about "Intermedia". Once again, only this time to an even greater extent, artists began to play with text as a visual medium. Text as Intermedia allowed text to function on multiple levels; as graphic elements and as poetic texts at the same time. Fluxus attempted, and continues to attempt to push against the boundaries where media intersect each other. Mail art, sound art, found art, video art, and visual poetry are important area where today's Fluxus artists continue this push.

Below is a visual poem of my own creation that illustrates this multi-dimensional aspect of Fluxus visual poetry. It uses found and altered text, text as a purely visual element, and original text as a flexible expression from which each viewer may draw her own inferences and meanings.

[[image:yesterday-man.gif:Yesterday Man by Allan Revich:center:1]]

The creation of any work of art is a semiotic exercise.

The study of semiotics is concerned with the use of signs and signifiers, primarily as they are used in language and linguistics, but also in other forms of communication including visual art. Historically, artists have been concerned with how best to represent the way people in the artists' culture experience reality. Artists throughout history have struggled with the problem of representation. They developed rendering techniques like perspective drawing and shading. They developed new techniques to render color with pigments suspended in various binders and eventually gained portability with oil paints in tubes and water colors in small blocks. Artist also began to incorporate different symbologies and to incorporate the prevailing cultural iconography into there artworks, as they struggled to move beyond pure visual representation into religious and later emotional representation. Eventually artists became so competent at representing prevailing cultural realities that they began to rebel and to attempt to represent their own individual perceptions of reality. This development coincided with the technology of portability using oil paint tubes, and so was born Impressionism. More inward looking artists began experimenting with cubism not long after this.

Then everything changed.

The optimism of technological innovation gave way to a profound pessimism and despair among many artists in Europe after the first World War. Many artists had seen first-hand the death and destruction rendered upon men by their fellow men with the aid of technology. Some artists felt that modern western culture had reached its end-point and that there was no longer any need to represent a fatally flawed reality. Reality was horror. But artists, being artists, had to created something - but this new "something" would be a rejection of all that came before - it would be an "anti-art". Thus, out of the ashes of the "Great War", arose dada. Dada played with language and images in new and unexpected ways. Randomness, chance, and chaos were introduced as virtues for the first time in Western history. Dada turned the art world (and the music world and the literary world) on its head. But... as radical as dada was, it was still concerned with traditional ideas of representation. In a semiotic sense dada changed the signs and signifiers, and changed what artists intended to signify too. But it was still a "modern" (as opposed to postmodern) art form. Anti-art was still art and dada was still art concerned with representing the cultural, historical, political, and sensory realities of the day.

Another world war.

After the end of the second world war, returning soldiers and educated refugees gave the United States a sense of renewal, hope and even optimism. Artists and writers began to think about the idea of representation itself. Artists began asking themselves if it was even necessary to try to represent any reality outside of the work of art itself. Art was created for its own sake. The work of art broke free of its moorings to any external reality. Each artwork became an autonomous object in its own right. Semiotics seemed no longer necessary. Art didn't have to represent anything. The seeds of postmodernity were sown. Eventually art theorists began to recognize that it was not possible to abandon semiotics. Everything signified something. Even an abstract expressionist painting that was created to exist as an autonomous object represented something. It represented the idea that it was created as an autonomous object. An idea that was so profound that it was widely rumored to have received CIA financial support in order to assist the United States in its propaganda efforts against the Soviet Union.

As artists began to realize that there was no way to break free of the semiotic activity inherent in their modern creations they began to gravitate to a postmodern world view. They began to use their art in new ways as tools to actively explore the semiotics involved in its creation. Art was created that referenced other art. Art was created not only for its own sake but outside of the art market system entirely. Artists created work that was never sold but was only traded with other artists. Art was created that was about creating art. John Cage experimented with music that was concerned only with the building blocks of music, which are pure sounds and the human perception of those sounds. Out of this new postmodern semiotic experiment and experience came Fluxus. Artists like George Maciunas and Dick Higgins started looking at all the media available to them, and then at how different media interacted with each other, and tried to create work that reflected the "intermedia" spaces and places that media met each other.

Fluxus represents the beginning of postmodern visual art. A small group of nearly forgotten artists and "oddballs" in the late 1950s and early 1960s changed everything. Those of us who continue to celebrate their work, and to create new explorations of the questions that they asked hope to see Fluxus recognized for the revolution that it represented.

Back in April of 2005 I wrote an article about one my young Fluxus colleagues, Crispin Webb. Crispin died suddenly in his sleep on November 23, 2006, a few days before his 29th birthday. Crispin was very active in the contemporary Fluxus community, and had already had several exhibitions of his work before his premature death. He was just finishing up his MFA degree from Bard College in New York and Ohio State University.

Crispin was always very adventurous in his work and never afraid to experiment or to take risks. Much of his work is still on view on his Web site at http://www.crispinwebb.org/ and on his Blog at maincrispin.blogspot.com/. A memorial to Crispin Webb has been posted by his friends at tributetocrispin.wordpress.com/.

[[image:crispin-webb1.jpg:Crispin's Baptism Performance:center:0]]

We will miss you Crispin.

Allison Knowles recently sent me this summary of her presentation for a panel discussion about John Cage and Nam June Paik:

Zone: Chelsea Center for the Arts
Panel Discussion: CAGE NAM JUNE

Notes about Cage and Paik;
Alison Knowles

I cannot imagine more unlike artists to compare which is what makes it so interesting.
Paik the western man and John the Eastern man. They were well positioned to try and understand each other. Each producing so much for the cultural pot of the time and coming from such philosophical opposite places.

Nam June extremely admired John, as a great pioneer whom he wished to know. He made a date and arrived at his hotel in Cologne. John was busy washing his white performance shirt in the kitchen sink " isn't it wonderful" he said surely with his wide grin and raspy laugh " that there is a fabric we can just wash and don't have to iron". Isn't that a wonderful thing.". Paik was utterly shocked that he would meet for the first time composer of this stature and find him washing out his shirt in the kitchen sink. That John would make no effort at a grand impression but rather be found doing whatever was next to be done.

The famous tie cutting incident we all know is appropriate to Paik and expresses the deep regard he had for John by making an action based in scandal. This was his strategy in performance art. People must be shocked into thinking.

Cage acknowledged Nam June as a force of nature that quite fascinated him.

Paik loved the attention of others and responded with humor and good feeling to everyone. Several years ago one could see him sitting on a bench outside a cafe at the corner of Spring street and Broadway just watching the girls go by.

After a thanksgiving dinner Upstate John and I decided to walk around the house. I don't know what prompted me to ask him what he was up to, what are you doing. With a soft sigh and that wispy voice he said " still in pursuit of emptiness".

Cage was the first composer to allow/ promote that what happens in his music is not what he may have had in mind. He made it possible for sounds, actions, images to exist that he had not conceived of, but rather given permission that sound artists, painters and poets were free to use his methods as well as their own to make music.

The first time I met Nam June was in Wiesbaden Germany at the 1962 Fluxus concert

Dick Higgins and I joined the mycological society of New York led by John Cage and Guy Nearing. I met John looking for mushrooms in the Hudson Valley.

~ From notes supplied by Alison Knowles, reprinted with permission. All rights reserved by A. Knowles.

Alison's work can be seen on her web site at http://www.aknowles.com/

The Fluxus Blog wishes to acknowledge the generosity of Alison Knowles in sharing her memories and experiences with us and our readers.

3

Featured Audio [[image:sm.jpg:Featured Audio:left:1]]

Fluxoidal One from allanr

uploaded: Oct 3, 18:15 | comments: 2 | views: 366 | favorites: 0 | duration: 3:05 min

Fluxus, according to Wikipedia, is “an international network of artists, composers and designers noted for blending different artistic media and disciplines." Here on Treemo, some Fluxus artists, including allanr, wastedpapiers and miulew, are sharing some audio that is certain to provoke and make you think about your sense of art.

4

Regular readers of the Fluxus Blog and others familiar with my writing will recognize that I have often stated that "all art is political". In fact, I have frequently made use of that simple statement in my artwork.

In today's edition of The Globe and Mail (a Toronto daily newpaper) here is an interesting editorial article in the "Comments" section by author Noah Richler. In his article Mr. Richler makes the argument that the novel is an inherently political form of literature. He discusses the novel in the context of narrative theories of understanding the world that we live in. He argues that there have historically been three kinds of meta-narative (grand stories) in human history:

  1. The creation myth: Societies still struggling to survive at the subsistence level have stories that explain the world as it exists for them. These protoreligious narratives place group interests above individual interests, with all members of the tribe subject to forces beyond human control over which they must struggle to survive. There are seldom any human heros in creation myths.
  2. The epic struggle: Societies that successfully overcome natural adversity eventually come into contact with other similarly successful societies. Often this results in conflict over resources and ideologies. Epic stories ususally tells tales in which special individuals lead their tribe to victory in heroic struggles against thier enemies. Richler says that the heroic figure "is there to rally the group or justify the privileged place of some within it".
  3. The novel: In 17th century Europe a new narrative form emerged that was called the "novel". Richler says that, "What was novel about it was the expression of liberal democratic secular societies that vindicated the place of the individual in society and regarded certain basic human rights as inalienable".

The novel is a political art form because it demands that the reader place himself into the lives of its characters. It allows its audience to transcend their own existence by imagining life from the perspective of the novel's invented character. Noah Richter describes the politicization inherent in the novel very well:

It is the mechanism of the imaginitave leap that makes all novels, whether Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada or Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment inherently and undeniably political. The novel elevates humans above governments - and gods, which is why it is obnoxious to the epic thinkers who do not subscribe to its more sophisticated values.

Islamists hate novels, while many Western politicians duck their mesage by not reading them. The novel is intensely political - and the narrative cornerstone of developed society. Few in the West recognize its dogma because it is so brilliantly alligned with the higher aims of liberal democracies. But others do.

"But others do." This final short sentence in the excerpt above is loaded with meaning. While the mass audience is oblivious to the political nature of art, artists and political masters are not. Artists struggle daily to express the individual and social narratives that they observe and experience. Political ruling classes struggle daily to suppress those narratives that do not support their agendas while they work to promote those narratives that do support their own agendas. Those of us fortunate enough to be living in Western liberal democracies must remain vigilant to protect our artists. Because our cultural creators are like the proverbial canary in the coal mine - when the canary stops singing disaster is close at hand.

Link to Article 

For many years the artist known as Dr Fluxbuxenstein and/or Ex Post Facto of Garland, Texas has been making, sending, modifying and exchanging Fluxus Bucks with like-minded souls around the world. Below is an example one of the Doctor's Fluxus Bucks that was modified in transit, and then further changed by me.

[[image:a-fluxus-buck.jpg:A Fluxus Buck by Allan Revich:center:2]]

More Fluxus Bucks are on view at;

http://jjsblog1.blogspot.com/ and at http://www.flickr.com/photos/juliej/

So, where is Fluxus at the beginning of the 21st century?

Well, it's not dead. Fluxus and the Fluxus attitude are alive and well and living in a town near you. Yes really. Even George Maciuanas, who many people in the "Fluxus is dead" camp associate with Fluxus, had this to say,

[Fluxus is] a way of doing things, very informal, sort of like a joke group. You know if you ask people like George Brecht, 'Are you Fluxus?' then he will just laugh at you. Its [sic] more like Zen than Dada in that sense.
~ G. Maciuanas in Fluxus: The History of an Attitude, p. 226, Smith, O. 1998

Owen Smith goes on to say that,

It will never be possible, or even desirable, to specify the full meaning of Fluxus, for like chance events in general (themselves a key element of many Fluxus activities), when defined they become part of a means-to-an-end rationality and thus are no longer truly indeterminate. It is this very quality in Fluxus, though that gives it its attitudunal strength.
~ Fluxus: The History of an Attitude, p. 227, Smith, O. 1998

While the original group of Fluxus associates may have broken up, Fluxus continues to live on as an attitude with many contemporary artists and writers. Fluxus also continues to thrive in several vibrant online communities. The best example of one of these communities is the Fluxlist, but there are others as well, including the Fluxnexus and the Fluxlist Blog. The artists associated with these communities continue to create work in the Fluxus vein. Some of these artists prefer to call themselves "Fluxus influenced", while others are comfortable applying the Fluxus label to themselves and to their work. There have also been groups of artists who have continued to perform old Fluxus event scores (Secret Fluxus in the UK), and other local groups who have continued as small Fluxus collectives, including one in New York city that I read about recently but have been unable to find references to for this article (if you know who they are, please send me an e-mail!).

The Fluxlist was founded in 1996 by a group of Fluxus artists that include Dick Higgins and Ken Friedman, two artists who have been associated with Fluxus since its early days. Over the years many new artists have become associated with the list and Fluxus continues unabated to this day. Writers like John M. Bennett and Jukka-Pekka Kervinen continue creating Fluxpoems. The painter Cecil Touchon creates paintings that are Fluxus. Artists like Allen Bukoff, Allan Revich, and Alan Bowman create visually oriented Fluxus. And a significant group of artists continue to create mixed media, multimedia and intermedia work, including Walter Cianciusi who maintains an up-to-date Podcast, Ruud Janssen who maintains a mail-art museum and stamp art gallery, and many others who continue to keep Fluxus alive in thier own ways.

Some Fluxus Artist Sites and Blogs:

  1. Fluxus is a mini-encyclopedia of aesthetic alternatives
  2. Fluxus is everywhere at once
  3. Fluxus is not between "this" and "that"
  4. Fluxus is healthy Anti-Art
  5. Fluxus is a weed that will not go away
  6. Fluxus is a "sui generis" cultural form
  7. Fluxus is a late night radio broadcast of three to five stations at once
  8. Fluxus is a One Man Show that got out of hand
  9. Fluxus is like a chicken bone the world art dog cannot cough up
  10. Fluxus is a Virtual Reality system where the glove doesn't work properly and the helmet doesn't fit

Composition based on text samples from "Al Hansen on Fluxus", pgs. 81-84, Beck & Al Hansen: Playing with Matches, Smart Art Press 1998

More "Top Ten Lists" are on the Digital Salon Fluxus Art Page at DigitalSalon.com

There is no special reason that an artist today should feel entitled to apply the fluxus label to their work or to themselves. But there is no special reason that artists working today need to refrain from using the Fluxus label either. Like all labels, the Fluxus label can potentially supply information and disinformation simultaneously.

Labels are like avatars or shortcuts. They are symbols for features common to all objects included in the set described by the label. But because they serve only as signs, many objects included in the set will differ from others in the same set by virtue of other features not common to the other objects. In the case of Fluxus there exist only a small collection of features common to all artists, artworks, and objects - and even this small set is often disputed. That may be why it is more useful to think of Fluxus as an attitude rather than as a movement or a group of specific artists.

If artists say that they produce Fluxus work, or Fluxist work, or Fluxus inspired work, there is a good starting point for understanding their work. If people describe themselves as Fluxus artists, one will (assuming one knows something about Fluxus) have a good idea about the kind of art produced. On the other hand the label in this case might also lead to confusion as the "Fluxus Artist" may or may not have been associated with historical Fluxus. There are really two groups of Fluxus artists. Those who began the Fluxus group (Maciunas, Higgins etc.) and inititated the attitude; and those who continue to create work with a Fluxus attitude. Some of the first group continue in the second group and some do not, while some in the second group began in the first group and others did not.

For example, Yoko Ono is a Fluxus artist who no longer (to my knowledge) creates Fluxus art, whereas Allen Bukoff may also be a Fluxus artist, but he became associated with Fluxus post-Maciunas. Then there is the large group of us who create Fluxus-inspired art which can be described as being Fluxus, Fluxus-like, Fluxus or something else. I don't think that it is inaccurate for any of these artists/writers/performers to describe themselves as Fluxus artists.

I think that the description of Fluxus as "an attitude" remains most useful. It allows for the historical entity of Fluxus that existed until 1978 - while also allowing for the living Fluxus being created from the late 1950s until (and beyond) the present day. Fluxus is (and was) always in flux, changing and evolving, and like Intermedia, it exists in more than one dimension simultaneously. There is the historical dimension, the attitudinal dimension, and a taxonomic (what kind of object) dimension to Fluxus - what Fluxus "is" depends on the dimension being described.

NOTE: To gain a better understanding of Fluxus as an attitude I highly recommend the book, Fluxus: The History of an Attitude by Owen Smith.

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)