What Does Fluxus Look Like at the Dawn of the 21st Century?
Before this question can be addressed, it must first be acknowledged that from the very beginnings of the Fluxus “movement” there has never been a universally accepted definition of Fluxus. There has even been reluctance to call Fluxus a movement at all, hence the quotation marks in the previous sentence. However, if one accepts the view of Fluxus expressed by Dick and Hannah Higgins, Ken Friedman, and Owen Smith, it is possible to agree on a range of work, activities, and world views that constitute Fluxus. So starting from there… what does Fluxus look like today?
I propose that Fluxus today has settled into three streams:
- Historical Fluxus
This stream is popular with curators and collectors because it constrains Fluxus within static boundaries of time, place, and activity. By defining Fluxus in purely art historical terms, Fluxus works produced in the 1960s and 1970s by a small group of artists become highly marketable commodities within the dominant art market economy. The fact that the works collected were often created as a reaction to, and rebellion against the art market only adds to their ironic and iconic commercial value. Interestingly, there are also groups of contemporary artists who prefer the historical Fluxus viewpoint. These artists often enjoy performing historical Fluxus event scores in the same way that military history buffs reenact historical military battles. The group “Secret Fluxus” comes to mind when discussing current historical practice, and the Silverman and Rutgers collections of Fluxus artifacts represent the market-based historical practice.
- Contemporary (Post-Historical) Fluxus
Existing on the opposite pole from historical Fluxus is a group of contemporary artists who use intermedia ideas similar to Fluxus, but with little concern for historical Fluxus. Some of these artists are reluctant to call themselves or their work “Fluxus”, instead preferring to see themselves as part of something new that coincidentally shares many Fluxus sensibilities. Others in this group call themselves Fluxus artists but do not feel a need to connect with the Fluxus of the past. Historical Fluxus for this group is important only as a starting point for their current work. The group known as FluxNexus comes to mind when discussing the new Fluxus-like but not Fluxus art.
- Continuing Fluxus
The Continuing Fluxus group of artists, writers, and theorists see themselves as part of a continuing Fluxus tradition and practice. This group remains in contact with as many of the first generation of Fluxus personalities as are willing to remain engaged. Within this group there is some difference of opinion as to whether the work that they do is “Fluxus”, or “Fluxus-based”, or “Fluxus influenced” – but there is a common bond of respect for the continuing practices of the first and second genration of Fluxus artists and a shared view of being part of a third wave of Fluxus, if not a true third generation of Fluxus. Many of these artists are members of the Fluxlist, the e-mail based Internet community founded by a group of first and second generation Fluxus artists and theorists.
The three categories above represent what I consider to be the three dominant Fluxus streams of the early 21st century. Like anything else Fluxus in nature, the borders between and around these streams are themselves in flux. There are many artists influenced by Fluxus who work outside all three streams, and there are other artists whose work overlaps 2 or all 3 streams.