What characteristics of an artwork serve to identify a piece as belonging to, or related to, Fluxus?
Historically many artists working in different media have related their work to Fluxus. Some of these artists belonged to a group surrounding the Lithuanian-American artist, George Maciunas, and the American artist, Dick Higgins. After the death of Maciunas, Higgins continued to promote Fluxus, eventually attracting a new generation of artists to the (non) movement, through the co-founding of an Internet mailing list—the Fluxlist. This new group of artists has continued the artistic practice of the first generation, while working towards maintaining the relevance of all generations, into the 21st century.
So what is Fluxus, and how can you know it when you see it?
The Fluxus artistic philosophy can be defined as a synthesis of four key factors that define the majority of work:
- Fluxus is an attitude. It is not a movement or a style.
- Fluxus is Intermedia. Fluxus creators like to see what happens when different media intersect. They use found and everyday objects, sounds, images, and texts to create new combinations of objects, sounds, images, and texts.
- Fluxus works are simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief.
- Fluxus is (usually) fun. Humor has always been an important element in Fluxus.
Fluxus artwork almost always exists in one (or more) of these three forms:
- Event scores
Event scores are similar to short musical scores or theatrical setting descriptions. Some are designed to be performed, and some are written to be read and imagined without ever actually being performed. Of those that are written to be performed, some may be designed to be performed only once and recorded (through written, photo, or video) documentation, while others are written so that they can be performed repeatedly. Associated artists who have made extensive use of event scores in their work include Yoko Ono and George Brecht. The musical compositions of John Cage and the “Happenings” of Allan Kaprow are also closely related to Fluxus event scores.
Fluxkits, also sometimes call Fluxboxes, are smallish (usually no larger than a shoe box or briefcase) objects, that are collections of other objects that hold meaning to the artist, and can be interacted with by the audience. Fluxkits have been produced as multiples in editions, and as unique, one-of-a-kind objects. Interactivity can consist of examination of the contents, rearrangement of the objects, or games in which the rules often resemble event scores. Artists who have received attention in the art-oriented mass media for their fluxkits and fluxboxes include George Maciunas (who coined the word “Fluxus”), Ay-O, and George Brecht. The first Fluxkits probably resulted from fresh interpretations of the work of dada artist, Marcel Duchamp, and have continued to influence present day Fluxus and mail artists.
A third indicator of relatedness is the concept of “Intermedia”. The important Fluxus artist, Dick Higgins, described Intermedia as a myriad of emerging genres that spilled across the boundaries of traditional media. In the intersections between the arts, mixed-media forms coalesced: Happenings, performance art, kinetic sculpture, and electronic theater (Higgins). Higgins suggests that Fluxus artists explore the territory that lies between art media and life media. The difficulty in using Intermedia as a determinant to identifying a particular artists or artwork as Fluxus is that it is not easy to identify what kind of objects exist in “the territory between art media and life media”. However, performance art, video art, installation art, mail art, and time-based artworks are closely related even if not identified as such by either the artist or art critics.
It is safe to say that any work that closely resembles an Event Score or a Fluxkit/Fluxbox, is either Fluxus, or is closely related. It can also be argued that the combination of artistic intent (the artist states that the work is “Fluxus”) with an intermedia presentation, is Fluxus.
And while I am aware of artists that believe that their work is Fluxus because they say it is, that claim, without other evidence, should be considered spurious.