Is Fluxus still relevant in 2016?
Let me make it easy for you dear reader. The (short) answer to this question is an unequivocal, “YES!“
If you’re still reading, I’ll assume that you have some interest in knowing why Fluxus, a “movement” from the early 1960s remains relevant (and dare I say important?) in the early years of the twenty-first century. Let me answer this in three parts. What Fluxus was. What Fluxus is. Why Fluxus is still important.
- What Fluxus Was:
This question has been answered many times, by many people, so I’ll provide an answer here, but won’t dwell upon it. Fluxus grew out of the art and attitudes of the avant-gardes in America, Europe, and Japan in the late 1950s. It was heavily influenced by a group of artists at Black Mountain College, and by the composer John Cage (who in turn was influenced by Zen Buddhism). By the early 1960s a small group of artists collected around the Lithuanian-American artist George Maciunas, who coined the term, “Fluxus” to describe the group and the art that they were making in 1961. One of those artists was the American, Dick Higgins, whose background in academia provided the group with much of its theoretical legitimacy.
Higgins drafted a 9 point set of criteria that he felt described what Fluxus was.…there are some points in common among most Fluxworks: 1 internationalism, 2 experimentalism and iconoclasm, 3 intermedia, 4 minimalism or concentration, 5 an attempted resolution of the art/life dichotomy, 6 implicativeness, 7 play or gags, 8 ephemerality, and 9 specificity. Later, Ken Friedman (an early member of Fluxus, and later, a respected Fluxus historian), expanded Higgins original 9 points into a 12 point thesis. And later still, Allan Revich (a contemporary Fluxus artist and theorist; and author of this blog) condensed the essence of Fluxus into a simpler and more elegant, 4 points. These four points are the essential elements that bind the Fluxus of the 1960s to the Fluxus of today:
- 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 fun. Humor has always been an important element in Fluxus.
- What Fluxus Is:
Today a number of artists throughout the world continue to work in the traditions and manner of Fluxus. These artists internalize the Fluxus attitude, and integrate it into their art-making. They mostly eschew the hyperactive capitalist pig-feeding frenzy that the so New York based art market has spawned, as well as the fluffy decorative object flea market that exists outside of the big money world of investment bankers and status-starved billionaires.
In the early 2000s a group of Fluxus artists, bound together at first by the online “Fluxlist” community (co-founded by Fluxus co-founder Dick Higgins) began to once again host and attend major international Fluxfests. First in New York City, and later in Chicago. These festivals have mostly been organized by St. Louis based, Keith Buchholz (first with help from Allan Revich of Toronto and support from the Emily Harvey Foundation in Manhattan, and later with help from artist Bill (Picasso) Gaglione and curator Tricia Van Eck). This group of artists has remained true to the Four Fluxus Ideas.
- Why Fluxus is Still Relevant:
The ideas and ideals of Fluxus form a perfect counterpoint to the twin evils currently dominating the international art market. Fluxus practices run completely counter to unbridled greedy capitalist money games, and to the reams of decorative pap and crap of the poster shops and home-decor markets.
Fluxus practice also provides the only real counterpoint to another emerging problem of the contemporary art scene—a problem that I consider more dangerous to art than even the big-money art market; academia. Partly because of the art market, and partly because of new political agendas (all of which are politically important), the academy has become completely dominated by hyphenated arts. Feminist-art. Liberation-art. Gender-art. Theme-art. Arts Informed Research art. As I mentioned (in parenthesis above) the ideas and ideals behind these politics are not a problem. In fact (IMHO) it’s “high time” that issues like gender and feminism became mainstream in academia! What is a problem, is that art that is NOT infused with another agenda seems to have become completely lost in the academy—with the sole exception of institutions bent on producing MFA graduates ready to compete in Money Game Art.
Finally, Fluxus provides something that the only other real alternate art movement, Dada, does not. Fluxus provides a sense of levity, and hopefulness, that is not necessarily a core part of Dada. Dada has its roots in the post WWI world of despair and hopelessness, so it’s often sad and nihilistic.
Fluxus may be the only artistic practice still capable of providing the special combination of gravitas and levity from which truly great and important art emerges.