This question has been asked before, and I have answered it in this, The Fluxus Blog, before. But that was a long time ago, and the question, “What is Fluxus” continues to be asked.
For readers looking for a simple answer, contemporary Fluxus artist, Allan Revich has summarized Fluxus into just four characteristic ideas:
Four Fluxus Characteristics
Fluxus is an attitude. It is not a movement or a style.
Fluxus is Intermedia. Fluxus creators like to see what happens when different media intersect. They use everyday found objects, sounds, images, and texts to create new combinations of objects, sounds, images, and texts.
Fluxus works are simple. Art is small, texts are short, and performances are short.
Fluxus is fun. Humour has always been an important element in Fluxus.
While these four principles are not absolute, they represent an excellent shorthand to understanding Fluxus.
For readers interested in learning more about the dual nature of Fluxus, please read on.
The answer to “What is Fluxus” has two parts:
Part One: Fluxus as an Idea
Fluxus cofounder, Dick Higgins saw Fluxus as an idea, a way of being in the world. It was more that a movement, and more than a group of specific artists. He elaborated this point of view very concisely in his short paper, “A Child’s History of Fluxus“.
Higgins explicitly rejected a notion that limited Fluxus to a specific group of people who came together at a specific time and place. Dick wrote, “Fluxus is not a moment in history, or an art movement. Fluxus is a way of doing things, a tradition, and a way of life and death.”
The artist and art historian, Owen Smith, has published extensively on the subject of Fluxus as an Attitude. His book Fluxus: History of an Attitude, is highly recommended.
Part Two: Fluxus as a Group of Artists
The Fluxus Movement began in the early 1960s, founded by George Maciunas and Dick Higgins, and built on ideas first articulated by artists like John Cage and La Monte Young, both of whom are primarily known as composers. There was significant influence from the Dada movement of the early 20th century, and from ideas circulating at Black Mountain College in the late 1950s.
A number of other contemporary events are credited as either anticipating Fluxus or as constituting proto-Fluxus events. The most commonly cited include the series of Chambers Street loft concerts, in New York, curated by Yoko Ono and La Monte Young in 1961, featuring pieces by Yoko Ono, Jackson MacLow, Joseph Byrd, and Henry Flynt; the month-long Yam festival held in upstate New York by George Brecht and Robert Watts in May 1963 with Ray Johnson and Allan Kaprow (the culmination of a year’s worth of Mail Art pieces); and a series of concerts held in Mary Bauermeister‘s studio, Cologne, 1960–61, featuring Nam June Paik and John Cage among many others. It was at one of these events in 1960, during his Etude pour Piano, that Paik leapt into the audience and cut John Cage’s tie off, ran out of the concert hall, and then phoned the hall’s organisers to announce the piece had ended. As one of the movement’s founders, Dick Higgins, stated:
Fluxus started with the work, and then came together, applying the name Fluxus to work which already existed. It was as if it started in the middle of the situation, rather than at the beginning.
Maciunas especially, believed that he was creating a movement that was club-like. He was famous for pronouncing which artists in his circle were either “in” or “out”. This has had some significant effects on the perceptions of Fluxus after his death. Fluxus cofounder Dick Higgins saw Fluxus somewhat differently. He (and many of his contemporaries) saw Fluxus as an Idea. An idea not bounded by dates in time or membership lists.
The artists active in Fluxus today share the idea of Fluxus as an Idea.
Tenth Annual Fluxlist Fluxfest:
to be Held in Toronto in 2019
Chicago 2017. Performance of event score by Allen Bukkoff
The first Fluxlist Fluxfest was held in New York City in conjunction with Matthew Rose‘s 2009 A Book About Death event at the Emily Harvey Foundation. Over the decade since then, the Fluxlist has presented at least one Fluxfest every year. First in NYC, and then in Chicago, with occasional other Fluxus festivals in other cities and states.
For the first time ever, Toronto, Canada has been chosen as the site for the Fluxlist Fluxfest.
Venues are being lined up. Dates are being firmed up. But mark your calendars today for the third weekend in June!
Planned dates (2019):
Thursday June 20th for “meet and greet”, though Sunday June 23rd.
A clip from the show at Emily Harvey, as part of Matthew Rose’s ABAD
Performances from Fluxlist Fluxfest 2011 in New York City.
Performances at Printed Matter
Fluxus and Minimalism emerged at about the same time, and in reaction to the same tendencies in the art world. Both sensibilities evolved partly as a reaction against the post war (WWII) dogma of Abstract Expressionism. More importantly, they were both artistic revolutions against the art establishment. But there was an important difference that cannot be ignored. Whereas Fluxus had its roots in the anti-art aesthetic of Dada, Minimalism had its roots in the same milieu as the art world that it rebelled against. Inevitably, Minimalism became subsumed into that art world. Fluxus remains to this day as a small but important bastion, standing against the tyranny of artistic orthodoxy.
I like Fluxus. I create Fluxus artworks.
I like Minimalism. I create minimalist artworks.
I see myself as an anti-artist, and an artist, at the same time. And this causes me some cognitive dissonance. How does one resolve this dissonance?
There remains a core commonality in Fluxus and Minimalism, despite their differences. Both Fluxus and minimalism are meant to be accessible. Both rejected a prevailing aesthetic that was being imposed by critics, historians, academics, and a ruthlessly mercenary cabal of collectors and art dealers. Both stood out as artist-centred, and artist organized. And even though the “art stars” of Minimalism moved into the realm of art dealers and collector/market driven commercialism, the minimalist (deliberately not capitalized “m”) aesthetic and life-orientation remains accessible to any artist who is drawn to it.
The two works above are some of my most recent pieces, in which I’ve attempted to merge the anti-art ethos of Fluxus with the minimal aesthetic of Minimalism. I’m not sure if I’ve succeeded with my new series of works on paper, but my goal is to hang on to the minimalist aesthetic and my inherent Fluxus sensibilities.
And of course, I can never really leave the Fluxus community and the “fluxiest” aspects of Fluxus, in which Intermedia supersedes any single medium.
Allan Revich (me), throwing a pebble into each corner of the universe. Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2010
Fluxus and Minimalism emerged at about the same time, and in reaction to the same tendencies in the art world. Both sensibilities evolved partly as a reaction against the prevailing orthodoxy of the gallery/collector oriented art world.
This article is not about the 21st century minimalist lifestyle.
It might be true that most of the visual art being purchased, is bought purely for its utility as wall decoration. It may also be true that a majority of visual artists are content creating an oeuvre of pretty pictures. But good art, real art, serious art, transcends decoration. The best art is analogous to the best literature—it makes us think. It causes us to question. It induces wonderment.
Artists attempting to create work that is capable of defeating the demon of decor are faced with considerable challenges. Historically, even in non-Western, or ancient cultures, the most culturally important artists would have their creative fates enslaved to religion. Whether it was Catholicism or Animism, the role of the serious artist was often the role of shaman. Artists that wanted to tackle tangential projects needed to find a way to support themselves. They often also needed to find a way to protect themselves, since when art was meant to serve religious orthodoxy, any art that failed in that regard was often considered threatening. Usually with disastrous consequence to art and artist alike.
Detail from the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Michelangelo.
Nevertheless, the most important art of every era and culture transcended mere decoration. Even if the artists creating it were slaves to their cultural masters. Very few artists at work before the 18th century have left us a body of work that transcends any combination of religion, politics, or decoration. One possible exception being the brilliant polymath, Leonardo da Vinci, whose private sketches serve only his own purposes.
Some time, I’d place it near the end of the 19th century, visual artists in the Western European tradition, began to break free of the shackles of cultural and religious hegemony. A new phenomenon emerged. The idea of artists creating art that was purely for their own interests. The best (most commonly referenced) example of these were the Impressionists. A group of artists who tried to push the limits of observation and experimentation to its limits.
Finally, there was an art for artists.
Starry Night Over the Rhone (Nuit Étoilée sur le Rhône). 1888, Vincent van Gogh.
The seeds of demonic decoration were thus sown…
The art of the Impressionists is today considered to be beautiful. In its time it was considered revolutionary. Radical. Even dangerous. Art for art’s sake, art created by artists for their own purposes was virtually unheard of until this time. It was an art that truly defeated the demons of decoration. And yet…
Today the art of these radical artists adorns dorm rooms on cheap poster paper. It can be found on coffee mugs and pillow cases, or trampled underfoot on cheap throwaway rugs. Only a tiny minority of artists and art history buffs still appreciate this art for what it truly was, and should truly remain.
As the twentieth century dawned and progresses, the same fate seems to have overtaken nearly every major art movement. Non-representational art such as abstract expressionism, geometric abstraction, and even pop art, have moved from underground artist studios, through avant garde galleries, to the walls of banks and multinational corporations.
Once again, what began as a revolution in visual representation, ended with a whimper, on the walls of Ikea furnished apartments in suburban cultural wastelands.
There must be some way out of this place!
I am far from the first artist to notice this phenomenon. It is a big reason that I was attracted first to Dada, and later, to Fluxus.
Dada emerged from the ashes and ruins of the First World War. Artists, sickened by the death, destruction, and depravity of warfare, needed an art that could not be usurped. That by its very nature was resistant to being hung on walls to decorate living rooms and bedrooms. Art that would be difficult. Art that would be meaningful, precisely because the semiotic references and inferences would be non-obvious. Art that was for a revolution that could not be co-opted by men with money, or powerful people with mainstream (but ultimately destructive) agendas.
Allan Revich performs while reading the Dada Manifesto
Fluxus began in the 1960s, but grew out of a similar confluence of disillusionment and experimentalism. Fluxus was generally much less nihilistic than Dada, and was more self-consciously concerned with the media and cultural milieu in which the associated artists worked. Fluxus artists tended to create works that could be documented, presented and re-presented, even sold or traded; and yet remained somewhat ephemeral, and difficult to usurp commercially into the dominant culture.
Fluxus Manifesto by George Maciunas
The two most common “products” of Fluxus artists were the Fluxbox or Fluxkit, and the Event Score. Fluxkits were either limited or open editions of collaborative works. Sometimes offered for sale, and often traded among the project participants. Often the works were traditionally attributed, but were left unsigned, making their commercial values difficult to quantify. Even in the case of some of the groups most famous members, like Yoko Ono, works can be located for sale today for prices that would bankrupt commercially oriented artists like Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons.
Where can we go from here?
Aye, there’s the rub. It seems that artists who want to create serious art that is capable of defeating the demons of decoration are in bind. In a sense there really is no way out of it.
One might try creating ugly art, but even art that some feel is ugly, will be found to be attractive enough for someone’s wall. There are subject matter games that can be played. For example, while even the most “difficult” abstract (non-representational) art will find a home on the wall of a bank or law firm, nudity and sexually provocative content is still taboo in the staid world of corporate interior decoration. But even sex and nudity are now consumed as entertainment and titillation, and not so much for artistic integrity or conceptual intentionality.
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
~ William Blake, circa 1793, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Opening the doors of perception
There is no way to escape the demons of decoration when it comes to any work of art that is intended to be hung on a wall. Works that exist in three dimensions (sculpture) is similarly doomed to decoration. Still, there is a way to create art that transcends its own destiny.
Do it anyway. Artists creating two or three dimensional works can continue to create work that is layered with meanings that go beyond the decorative. While their (our/my) work is mostly consumed because of its decorative value, the work will always have more embedded in it for the artist, and for whatever minuscule audience cares to search for it. I’ve tried to accomplish this in my paintings and drawings by working with asemic text, and by using minimalist landscapes to suggest deeper layers of meaning. Something approaching a religious experience accessible even to hardcore atheists.
Do the Dada. Dada may be dead, and Fluxus might be getting long in the tooth, but that does not prevent either of these memes from remaining viable alternatives to working within the confines of the mainstream art markets. Chaos, confusion, entropy, revolution, and even downright silliness are fabulous ways to create artwork that is interesting, dynamic, and highly resistant to commercialization or decor.
Expand into other media, primarily temporal oriented media. Performance art, sound art, light art, action art, and any other activity that is hard to capture and package. Sure, you’ll need a trust fund or a day job, but so what? You’ve broken the shackles of commercial conformity.
Mail art, and other forms of inter-artist exchange. Why not break free of the art market and gallery scene completely? Artists have been sending each other small pieces by mail for decades now. Mail art is unjuried, unsold, and unfettered. With the Internet it is now easily possible to connect with other artists around the world, and to begin creating, sending and receiving art through the postal system.
Web based art. Whether you build a blog, use a website, or participate on social media, the web is full of options and opportunities to create and exchange visual and multimedia content. Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook are full of wonderful and eclectic artwork and visual content. Yeah, I know… “if it’s free, then you’re the product”. But what the heck. Be the best damned product you can be, and get busy.
Thursday, May 25. Opening reception, connections… Don E Boyd and art networking. 4 to 7 PM, Joan Flasch artist book library, school of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Dinner to follow, at Italian Village.
Friday, May 26th.
Meet at 9 AM at Patisserie Toni for breakfast, followed by a visit to concrete happenings, the Wolf Vostell show at University of Chicago. Bring flyers, postcards, handouts … let them know we were there !
At 4:30 pm we regroup at the MCA plaza for Flux/Resist. A guerilla art parade with street performances which joins the larger public protests at trump tower. Bring signs, banners, handouts, ask others to send signs to carry …
8pm New York Correspondance school of Chicago Yearly meeting and dinner.
The berghoff restaurant.
Saturday May 26th
10am breakfast meet up at Patisserie Toni ,
12-12:30 arrive at UNUM Gallery .
Performance from 1-4? PM .
Dinner to follow at FEED.
End the evening with the Nightcap Party at Schwalbe House. Wear your favorite nightcap, bring your Ukeleles.
VIto Acconci, performance and video artist, who was hugely influential in the New York art world, and in the world at large, died on Thursday, April 28th in NYC.
Like many in my generation, I first became aware of his work in the early 70s through his piece, “Seedbed“, in which he built a ramp in a Manhattan art gallery, and lay hidden underneath it – masturbating while visitors walked above him. I fell in love with the idea of pushing art to new limits, and the feeling of artistic freedom and liberation from the constraints of the canvas.
George Maciunas (1931–1978) was a co-founder, and the self-appointed leader of Fluxus, an international community of artists, which was especially active in the United States, Japan, and Europe during the 1960s and 1970s. Today, the Fluxus network continues to thrive in the traditions established all those years ago by Maciuanas and his contemporaries.
George Maciunas, “Fluxshop Stationery (recto)” (nd), offset, printed in black, 13 3/4 x 6 3/4 inches (The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Archives, The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York)
Manhattan-based artist and filmmaker Jeffrey Perkins, who met Maciunas several times and has long been associated with many of Fluxus’s key figures, has been gathering research material and shooting interviews with surviving Fluxus luminaries for George, a documentary film he is producing that will chronicle the life and achievements of the avant-garde group’s legendary leader.
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:
Fluxus is an attitude. It is not a movement or a style.
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.
Fluxus works are simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief.
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:
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, 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.
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.
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.
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:
Fluxus is an attitude. It is not a movement or a style.
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.
Fluxus works are simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief.
Fluxus is fun. Humor has always been an important element in Fluxus.
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.
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.
Some Fluxus artists picketed the festival in 1964, others performed in it—a number did both.
Lecture Demonstration: Dear George…Love, Charlotte: Fluxus in the Annual Avant Garde Festivals Wednesday, February 10, 6:00pm Block Museum
“Dear George… Love Charlotte” will illuminate parts of a social and aesthetic network that connected Charlotte Moorman and the Annual Avant Garde Festivals to Fluxus, despite the protestations of Fluxus’ major-domo, George Maciunas. Originating Fluxus artists such as Alison Knowles, Dick Higgins and Jackson Mac Low were regular participants; Yoko Ono, Emmett Williams and George Brecht were represented in performance. Some Fluxus artists picketed the festival in 1964, others performed in it—a number did both. This international Fluxus family argued, celebrated, and created together or through the mail. Incorporating readings and events, Simon Anderson—Associate Professor of Art History, Theory and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Fluxus historian—will discuss their antics and perform some of their work, revealing a few of the elements that divided and conjoined these artists during this transformational period.
Block Museum of Art, Mary and Leigh
40 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, IL 60208 map it