Fluxus and Judaism

OK… Let me begin by stating that I don’t think that Fluxus has anything whatsoever to do directly with Judaism.

But… As someone who was born Jewish, became Israeli, and believes in no religion at all; and yet still identifies himself as “Jewish”, I can see some interesting parallels between Fluxus and Judaism.

While for most people living in Western-style liberal democracies Judaism is defined simply as just a religion, for most Jews (and for most anti-Semites) Judaism is a religion AND a race AND a nationality. It is fairly easy to argue that Judaism is not a nationality in the most commonly used western sense, and it is also fairly straightforward to argue that Judaism is not a race in the most commonly used western sense. Yet, it is difficult to argue that Judaism is not some sort of unique hybrid of all of these things together. It may not be any one of these things individually, but it most definitely IS all of these things together. I could go on… but that is not the primary purpose of this blog post.

So let’s get back to Fluxus. For most people with some familiarity with art history, Fluxus has been pigeon-holed as just another “art movement”. But Fluxus is not really an art movement in the conventional sense of that term. For people that practiced (and continue to practice) Fluxus, Fluxus is also an attitude towards creating art and towards living life. Fluxus is a philosophy of art making and for living creatively in the world.

And here is where it gets interesting… It is not hard to argue that Fluxus is not a “philosophy”. It is easy to make arguments to support the idea that Fluxus IS an art-historical movement. It is fairly straightforward to dismiss the idea of Fluxus as an attitude. But to make these arguments and dismissals, one has to ignore the feelings/positions/attitudes of the people who are most involved in Fluxus – AND to dismiss the preponderance of evidence that supports the idea that Fluxus is much more than just another art history movement. That’s because Fluxus is best viewed as a hybrid that includes important elements of an art history movement, a philosophy, and an attitude. It may not be any one of these things individually, but it most definitely IS all of these things together.

So you see, Fluxus really is like Judaism – even if it does have nothing to do with Judaism!

It Don’t Mean Nothin’

Something Else from Cecil Touchon

Over the course of the past few weeks a lively discussion about Fluxus has been taking place on Facebook. Recently, Cecil Touchon posted this interesting commentary to that discussion:

Fluxus as a group, by keeping it open and alive is a new strategy that previous art groups have not been able to pull off in the past but – due to most of us understanding how all that works, we are circumventing that burial. All of this discussion is really about all of us who were not originally associate with fluxus back in the 60’s and 70’s staking our claim to the “type”or genre that could be called fluxus. I was born in ’56. I have been doing fluxus-like stuff at least since ’75. I didn’t know you had to join a group – I would have thought that rather stupid at the time. I lived in Saint Louis not NYC but a number of us were engaged in the same sort of work. The same was going on world wide. Fluxus is really just a basket of many trends that were current then as they are now. Now we use the term Fluxus as a banner so that we can all find each other who have been working in relative isolation but who share a common ‘something’ what we all identify as dada/fluxus/avant/pop/retro/whatever. If fluxus came up with any new ideas that were not already in the ‘air’ (which is questionable) then we have to ask, why should those new techniques, traditions, etc be ignored. No, when we all see new ideas that need to be incorporated into contemporary practice, we do it. If it falls under the name ‘fluxus’ then you might as well call it fluxus. The root ideas of fluxus encourage such treatment and we, in my opinion, are being generous to fluxus by retaining the name and honoring the hard work already done by all those known and unknown. We are at the point where constant newness is a little bit stupid as a strategy. With the advent of the internet, we know too much to think we are doing something no body did before. Previous generations could maintain such arrogance by being ignorant of those things happening at a distance.

So the old museum model of pedigree based on who knew who, where and when is now an antiquated tehnique and not valid as a way to track things and influences. Ideas now spread world wide in a few minutes.About Fluxus, the tension in the current discussions around Old School Fluxus and New and Improved Fluxus is based on two different and diametrically opposed things:

  1. The desire to cap Fluxus around the lifetime of George Maciunas and then build a collection of works (like the Silverman’s) based directly on Maciunas and his direct circle and his reach. This is like building the bible and then separating out the Apocrypha. That is what has been going on. From the collection point of view there has to be a cut off point or the collection can never be consider complete in accord with the mindset of collectors. When the items in the collection are clearly defined, then value can be added based on how ‘authentic’ any particular thing is in relation to the collection perimeters. Then everything else is something else; not the collection. Then other collectors can collect with confidence that they are collecting relevant and recognized items. It is like real estate or church sanctioned saint’s relics.
  2. Then there is Fluxus the idea and the community. That is a lot more sloppy, more open ended, and impossible to capture by history or by collection. It is dynamic, wide reaching and involves so many players across so many decades that it is impossible to deal with it. That is what all of us today are involved in and then the whole conversation is the interaction between these two perspectives: the collectors and the creatives or practitioners. The hard part is on the collectors if they are trying to apply old collecting concepts to an idea like fluxus that has always intended to defy and deflect those ideas. That is at the root of everything in Fluxus being anti collectible and performance based by converting it to conceptual ideas that transcend the objects or ephemera that contain them. Fluxus art is like the moon reflected in a lake. You can see it but it is not the moon, just a reflection. But that has not stopped anyone from figuring out how to collecting it – it has in fact created a whole new way of collecting and understanding what is collectible over the last couple of decades. Even Fluxus has economics.

Conclusion: I think today we need to understand how this attempt at anti-collect-ability was something of a failure and to then rethink how to approach art and capitalism in less of an adversarial way. Maybe even accept and embrace it. Then mess with it! I think it best not to work against things when instead we can work with them.

Cecil Touchon

More information about Cecil is available at http://cecil.touchon.com/ or through this Google Search