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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:

  1. Fluxus is an attitude. It is not a movement or a style.
  2. 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.
  3. Fluxus works are simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief.
  4. 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:

  1. Event scores
  2. Fluxkits/Fluxboxes
  3. Intermedia

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:

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.

Intermedia:

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.

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.

  1. 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:

    1. Fluxus is an attitude. It is not a movement or a style.
    2. 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.
    3. Fluxus works are simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief.
    4. Fluxus is fun. Humor has always been an important element in Fluxus.
  2.  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.

  3. 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.

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