Twitterature & Fluxus

Twitter + Literature = Twitterature

Twitter is a social networking web application in which members post brief notes to each other in a manner similar to Facebook “status updates”. Each post is limited to a maximum of 140 characters, including spaces, punctuation, and “hash tags” (more on these later).

IMHO (“In My Humble Opinion” – get used to cute acronyms if u r tweeting on Twitter) the vast majority of Twitter posts or “tweets” are not really worth reading by any public broader than the tweeter’s personal peer network. It is hard for me to imagine that a worldwide audience for the inane pronouncements of self-absorbed net-kids exists. For example (…you KNOW that you wanted one!), a trending topic today is something called “sweetest day” and this is a typical post, “HAPPY SWEETEST DAY PPL!!!!!!!!!!” from a young woman who calls herself “reese_21“. There are thousands of tweets today with some variation of this message. So, what makes Twitter interesting to the Fluxus Blog? Two things:

  1. Each tweet is limited to a maximum of 140 characters. One of the characteristics of most Fluxus work is its brevity. The creative potential that is built into Twitter with its enforced brevity is an open invitation to Fluxification. Event scores, instructions, collaged haiku, haiku-based poems, very brief fluxpoems; all lend themselves beautifully to the technically imposed limits of Twitter.
  2. The “hash tags” to which I alluded earlier. A hash tag is simply a word (no spaces please; the word, “word” being loosely applied here)  preceded by a hash mark, term used to describe what is also known as the “number sign” or the “pound key” on a computer or cell phone keyboard. Hash tags are searchable symbols that can be used to link individual tweets together. They are the magic symbols that permit online communities of twitterers to organically grow. For example visiting and searching for #haiku will display the posts of everybody that tagged their work with “#haiku”. Twitterati sometimes use more esoteric tags like, #twaiku or #micropoetry to filter out the noise of a too-busy tag. The hash tags are also what permitted Iranian democracy activists to disseminate information to each other and to the world, using the tag, #iranelections.

There are a few members of the contemporary Fluxus community currently using Twitter. I use it primarily to post traditional haiku, but also post fairly frequent Fluxus-oriented micropoems. Perhaps a critical mass of Fluxpeople will begin tagging their work #fluxus one day soon?

A Book About Death: The Afterlife Begins

September 10, 2009 marked the opening of an installation of staggering scope at The Emily Harvey Foundation Gallery in New York City. An American artist residing in Paris, Matthew Rose, invited hundreds of artists from around the globe to participate in the creation of an unbound book on the theme of “death”. Appropriately enough, the exhibition and associated book, were titled, A Book About Death. Each participant was asked to submit an edition of 500 postcards, which were to be exhibited, and then freely distributed at the September 10th opening. The remaining postcards would remain availble for free distribution at the gallery until the show closed on September 22nd.

The opening was a spectacular affair that included performances by a troupe of international performance artists, many of whom were associated with Fluxus. The normally much quieter Emily Harvey Gallery space was overwhelmed (and almost overrun) by the hundreds of people that showed up for the opening. At one point there was a lineup that stretched down the street (Broadway) and around the corner, as the gallery space filled to capacity and a couple hundred people waited for their turn to enter. All in all Mr. Rose and the EHFG (with much help from Christian Xatrec) put together an exceptional production.

…But all of that is not really what this particular blog post is about. A Book About Death was promptly reborn into an active afterlife within only a few days of the gallery closing the show. The first twinge of this afterlife came about upon the acceptance of a complete copy of ABAD into the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). For the many contemporary Fluxus artists that participated, this assumes added significance as it provides a contemporary counterbalance to the acquistion of the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Collection of Fluxus Art in February 2009. The Silvermans ammassed one the largest collections of early Fluxus works, but its scope was mostly limted to Fluxus prior to 1978.

Aside from the activity in New York City, editions of A Book About Death are beginning to be exhibited elsewhere. The first major exhibition is opening in Los Angeles at Otis College of Art and Design. This exhibition is special because it will be a reprise of the original exhibition since an attendee at the original opening, Mara Thompson (with a little help from her friends), was able to collect enough cards to organize a second free distribution event. Another re-exhibition is pending for Montreal, Canada.

Social networks like Facebook are also buzzing with more plans for more exhibitions everywhere. Welcome to the Afterlife!

Another Chapter in The Fluxus Mystery

In this chapter we learn that Fluxus is actually dead. We will also learn that Fluxus is alive and well and living in… everywhere.

I don’t think many Living Fluxus artists really believe that they (we) are part of a magical posthumous George Maciunas Fluxus Group. From what I have heard and read, George was fond of including and excluding people in “his” Fluxus as he saw fit… so who knows what he would have done with us? Maybe he would have loved us, and maybe he would have decided that we were not worth caring about. I believe that many artists, writers, historians, etc. have worked around this issue by accepting the two-part or three-part (Part 1 = GM; Part 2 = Worked with GM and kept working; Part 3 = Working today within the Fluxus meme) idea that I proposed in the first note I posted. It is an attempt to be respectful of the Fluxus One era, and of George Maciunas, who was unarguably the keystone to that era — while acknowledging (what to me is an equally inarguable reality) that Fluxus continued on/continues on unabated after he died.

The label “Fluxus” is the label that works. It is descriptive, and I think it is accurate. Today’s Fluxus work represents a continuation of the work that began in the 60s (the 50s if you include the pre-fluxus era of John Cage and Black Mountain College alumni).The passing of George Maciunas represents the end of a single chapter – not the end of the book. It was a really important chapter. The whole bool depends on it… but still, it was only one chapter.

WANTED: Dead or … well dead anyway!

There are a lot of people with very strong incentives to keep Fluxus dead. Dead Fluxus serves the financial interests of a group of collectors and museums. Art Historians like their movements to have beginning dates and end dates, it makes those litle time-bar graphs so much more appealing. And a small group of people who were close personally to George Maciunas worry endlessly that his legacy will somehow be diluted if Fluxus didn’t die with him.

When George Maciunas coined the name “Fluxus” and attached it to the work that he and a circle of likeminded people were making, something akin to Fluxus was already happening. This work was an amalgamation of ideas from Dada, Zen, John Cage, Ray Johnson, Black Mountain College. Many artists, writers, composers, and other creators were creating work that was very Fluxus even before George Maciunas attached a name to this work, and built a circle of like-minded creators around himself. I am confident that if there was no George Maciuans there would still have been a Fluxus – it would have been called something else perhaps, but the Fluxus meme already existed.

George Maciunas did not own Fluxus. He may have thought that he did, and it seems that there are 2 or three people who believe that he did, but there were many, many artists working contemporaneously with Maciunas who were also Fluxus, and subsequently there have been dozens, if not hundreds of artists (and anti-artists, poets, creators, etc.) who were, and still are Fluxus.

Fluxus happened. Fluxus is still happening. It is happening whether that is acknowledged by the School of Old Dead Fluxus or not. Of course, I would be thrilled if Living Fluxus was acknowledged by the remaining members of the Original Fluxus circle… but, whether Living Fluxus is acknowledged or not, there is the very real phenomenon of Contemporary Fluxus. That Fluxus is alive and well is not plausably deniable. The Fluxus meme is still alive, and creators around the world are working in the Fluxus milieu. The only way you can look up at the sun and say that it’s night time is if your eyes are closed, or you are blind.

Dead or Alive (still confused?)

I suspect that there will always be some confusion about the “life-status” of Fluxus. That is because there are really two parts to it. During Maciunas‘ lifetime the two parts were completely intertwined. After his death, I think that part of Fluxus died with him…but a vital and important part continued on without him. That continuing part is not … Read moresome sort of “new” fluxus, or “neo-Fluxus”. It IS Fluxus. It may be Post-Maciunas Fluxus, but it is still Fluxus.

My article was actually prompted by a book jacket note about Dada. It said that “Dada died in Paris in 1924“. The claim seemed absurd to me. Dada, like Fluxus, was/is and IDEA. Ideas do not die with the people that propose them. They live on until nobody is interested in them any more.

On the other hand, history is history. Marcel Duchamp and Tristan Tzara cannot be separated from Dada, and no discussion of Dada is coherent without them. George Maciunas was the engine that set Fluxus in motion. It is impossible to discuss Fluxus without celebrating/honoring/respecting his contribution.

Artists Die – Ideas Don’t

Fluxus is alive and well. Reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Fluxus is also dead.

How can Fluxus be alive and well, and dead, at the same time? Well, that goes to the essence of this blog post. Artists die. Ideas don't. People die, "movements" end, but ideas are not constrained by the limitations of the single human lifespan. Fluxus has always been more than an art movement. In fact it has been argued that Fluxus was never an art movement.

So, while the circle of artists who surrounded George Maciunas dispersed after his death in 1978, the Fluxus attitude persisted, and continues to persist today. The passing of Maciunas may indeed mark the death of the first Fluxus circle, but while Maciunas can be credited with both coining the term, and with building the first Fluxus circle of artists – the idea of Fluxus was not (and never was) dependent on him. Dick Higgins, a co-founder of Fluxus was still active until his death in 1998 – long enough (although sadly missed) to bring Fluxus into the Internet age. Higgins co-founded the Fluxlist, which has been instrumental in bringing new generations of creators into the Fluxus Attitude.

Chronologically, I would divide Fluxus into three main epochs:

  1. Original Fluxus: The cohort of artists who worked with Maciunas.
  2. Transitional Fluxus: The artists associated with Original Fluxus, who continued working within the Fluxus Attitude. These would include Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Ken Friedman, Al Hansen, and Nam Jun Paik (among others).
  3. Continuing Fluxus: This is contemporary Fluxus. The artists active in contemporary Fluxus are as infected by the Fluxus Attitude as the artists of Original Fluxus. They are no "less" Fluxus than Maciunas and his circle, even though most of them never met Maciuanas. While many of the know/knew/met the artists of Transitional Fluxus, this is by no means a pre-requisite to being a Fluxus Artist. Artists active in Continuing Fluxus include, Keith Buchholz, John M. Bennett, Allan Revich, Cecil Touchon, Reed Altemus, Ruud Jansen & Litsa Spathi and many others. The Venice based British artist, Alan Bowman, also continues to be active not only as an artist, but also as a bridge, binding together artists from all three epochs.

Fluxus is an idea. It is an attitude. It lives, and will continue to live for as long as there are people interested in living and working with it.