Fluxus: Dead or Alive — Owen Smith (part 2)

A dialogue with Owen Smith:


I agree that the view that you put forward is the most sensible and practical approach to the question. It also seems to correspond closely to views expressed by Dick Higgins and Ken Friedman who have addressed the question in the past. I think that it also corresponds to the views of most of us on the Fluxlist who respect (greatly) the work and ideas of the first Fluxus artists, while continuing to produce new Fluxus and/or Fluxus inspired work.

I think that the answers that I seek arise from two questions:

1) How to deal with critics, curators, and historians who insist that Fluxus only existed at a particular time in history, and that it only involved the group of artists who produced work that they called Fluxus within that time frame?

I know that one could choose to either ignore or confront them – but what about a “middle way” towards mutual understanding? ~ Allan

Yes, a middle way would seem the best – the curator types would have to admit that there is an ongoing tradition at least (and they are blind if they don’t not see it) and the artists will have to admit that they are part of a tradition not the “original group.” Now, yes this is separation of new and old seems counter to aspects of a Fluxus sensibility and, in fact, it is counter – at the same time historical distinctions are still valid and useful. The same way context/history is not only necessary but central to how we “make meaning” in general it is valid in all aspects of understanding of the whole issue of Fluxus, what it is and what it is not. Fluxus’ history and its current strains/traditions is a major focus of the two issue that Ken and i did not Visible language. I have a section of artists statements on Fluxus and its influence on them from 12 current practitioners (and several on the Fluxlist) including Alan Bowman, David-Baptiste Chirot, mekal and, Sol Nte, and Walter Cianciusi. In the end I personally will come down to a different question and that is is it interesting? (there is plenty of stuff called Fluxus that is not very interesting and much stuff that is “not Fluxus” that is quite interesting). ~ Owen

2) How to deal with issues within the current community of practitioners who seem divided between those that feel they are producing “new Fluxus work” and those who feel that they are producing new work, of no particular school or movement, but “in the Fluxus tradition”?

Maybe these are both questions for which definitive answers can never be found and for which the only solution is ongoing dialogue… ~ Allan

Well answers are always less interesting then good questions. As to how to address this – in part you have to let the artists speak for themselves, but also realize that the audience will also have their own voice in the matter. This way they the answer of is it new work or part of a tradition will be answered collectively by both artist and audience, kind of like the art coefficient idea of Duchamp’s but applied not to “is it art?”, but “what kind of art is it?” ~ Owen

Owen Smith is the author of Fluxus: The History of an Attitude

Web Site www.ofsmith.com

Fluxus: Dead or Alive — Owen Smith (part 1)

A response from Owen Smith:

My own point of view is that there is a historical Fluxus that is what it is (not dead, but more set or determined in a way) but there is also fluxus as a view and practice that is alive and well. This is another way Fluxus is like Zen – both have a history and an ongoing practice that are related but not determined one (present, evloving and changing) by the other (past, more set if not fixed) – I had a great conversation with George Brecht a number of years ago about this concept and he agreed that this is a useful way of looking at Fluxus.


Fluxus: Dead or Alive — Higgins / Bukoff

This quote by Dick Higgins is from Allen Bukoff’s Fluxus Portal site at http://www.fluxus.org/.
Fluxus means change among other things. The Fluxus of 1992 is not the Fluxus of 1962 and if it pretends to be – then it is fake. The real Fluxus moves out from its old center into many directions, and the paths are not easy to recognize without lining up new pieces, middle pieces and old pieces together.
Higgins seems to infer that Fluxus is both dead AND alive. Of course his argument could also be restated as, “The Fluxus of 1972 was not the Fluxus of 1962”, or for that matter that the “Fluxus of 1963 was not the Fluxus of 1962” – so it would be hard to conclude that Higgins had the final word on the matter.

Fluxus in Space and Time

A while back I began making labels that said “Fluxus Free Zone” and then applied them in public spaces. I continue to do so. Part of the “Fluxusness” of this project was its Intermedia aspect via the interface between art/design/technology/literature/high-art-low-art/etc. But as I began experimenting with the “Red Circle with Nothing in it” project I began to realize that another more challenging theme was running through my Fluxus works.

That is the theme of changing a space by defining or by transforming it. In the case of the Fluxus Free Zones the space is public and is defined by the time that the label remains in affixed to its substrate and by its visibility within the public space. The Red Circle project defines a smaller physical space – the page on which it appears – but the red circle with nothing in it also defines a much larger metaphysical space through the implicit existential questions it raises.

Fluxus: Dead or Alive

In a nutshell, it seems to me that Fluxus is dead if (and only if) it is defined as a movement in art and culture associated with the group of artists who came together in the early 1960s with George Maciunas at its centre. However, if Fluxus is defined as an approach to art and culture centred around the idea of Intermedia, then it remains very much alive.
I am strongly inclined towards the latter view.
The question may never be finally settled, especially given the tautological nature of the “Fluxus is dead” argument… I.E. If Fluxus is defined as a movement that existed between 1962 and 1978, or between any other relatively arbitrary dates, than the definition itself precludes the possibility that Fluxus is still alive.
The artists who were originally involved in Fluxus’ early days have not been consistent either. The sense that I have been able to discern from their statements is that they believe that the Fluxus that they knew and worked in has indeed passed away…but that the ideas and ideals that they worked from continue to live in contemporary art practice, including contemporary Intermedia. So for them the question is, “is Intermedia the same as Fluxus?” Here again I would argue that the answer is, “yes”.

cHaiku (18 syllable Haiku)

Readers of the Fluxus Blog will know that I have been working on my own variation of Haiku poetry – writing 3 line haikus that are 3, 6, and 9 syllables for a total of 18 syllables. Now that I have an established rule-form for my Haikus I have decided to give them a name of their own. I am calling them cHaiku. Chai means “life” in Hebrew and the letters that spell the Hebrew word “Chai” also represent the number 18. Since my 3-6-9 Haikus are 18 syllables and since at least one line must be about life or nature, I am calling them cHaiku.

Rules for Chaiku:

  1. Total 18 syllables
  2. First line 3 syllables
  3. Second line 6 syllables
  4. Third line 9 syllables
  5. At least one of the lines must be directly related to life or nature

Readers of the Fluxlist, the Fluxlist Blog, or will find several examples

Painting with Fluxus: From Kubota to Touchon

Fluxus has been closely associated with nearly all media forms over the years. In many ways Fluxus formed the foundation of multi-media art in the 20th century. Fluxus is after all synonymous with the term “intermedia”. Interestingly, Fluxus has never been closely associated with the most traditional of all artistic media, painting.

I suppose that part of the reason for so little Fluxus work to be constructed using traditional painting is that Fluxus arose as an anti-art movement (by some definitions) and thus painting on canvas was rejected by many Fluxus artists. Fluxus has also been concerned with the theory and technology of intermedia (the intersections of different media) which would tend to preclude the use of any single dominant medium such as painting. When painting has been part of Fluxus, it has usually been as a constituent medium in a mixed-media work. Shigeko Kubota created her “vagina paintings” in the 1960s for example but these works were primarily perfomances in which the resulting painting was of secondary evidentiary importance.

But there is really no compelling reason that painting can not be Fluxus. One artist that has been making paintings which are both Fluxus and “traditional” paint-on-canvas is Cecil Touchon. Cecil’s “post-dogmatist” paintings often use collages as thier models. He will assemble a collage and then “paint a picturre” of his collage using painstaking trompe l’oeil techniques. The resulting paintings are simultaneously beatiful, visually fascinating, and conceptually rigorous and interesting. His work can be seen on his website at http://cecil.touchon.com/.