Or, What I Learned That Fluxus Was/Is/Isn’t/Might be/Should be/Could be
We could start with Dada. Some people have called Fluxus “neodada”. Some have called contemporary Fluxus neodada. Those people are wrong. So we won’t start with Dada.
Let’s start instead with John Cage. John Cage was not a Fluxus artist, and he had nothing directly to do with the founding of Fluxus. But he had one really cool idea that made Fluxus (and most art of every kind after his idea) possible. Cage realized that music (he was a composer) was all just sound waves in air. It wasn’t flutes, or pianos, or violins, or treble clefs and bass clefs, or 4/4 time or 3/4 time. It was just waves moving through the atmosphere at frequencies audible to the human ear. Most music was composed so that the composer or musician’s organization of the sound waves would bring pleasure to most of the composer/musician’s cultural contemporaries. But it didn’t have to. A composer, or musician, or artist could organize sound waves in whatever way they wanted, and they could use whatever tools they wanted to, to organize those sound waves. It wasn’t a great leap from there to the idea that visual art was subject to the same thinking. All visual art consisted of marks and forms, organized on surfaces or in space, and any artist could choose how to organize their marks and forms, and what tools to use to do so.
In the early 1960s a group of artists, led mostly by George Maciunas and Dick Higgins coalesced around the idea of Intermedia. The idea that art created in the spaces in which different media intersect would be more interesting than art confined to any single medium. George organized the first ever Fluxus Festival in Wiesbaden, Germany in 1962. For more than a decade after that ,the core group of artists were bound together by a relatively held-in-common artistic vision. The first manifesto was published by Maciunas, and subsequent manifestos of varying degrees of influence were published subsequently. The salient point is that, at least until the death of Maciunas in 1978, the IDEA of Fluxus and the PEOPLE of Fluxus were one and the same.
Then things get complicated…
As long as the idea and the people were one and the same, nobody had to think much about what would happen to the idea, once the people moved on to other things, places, or states-of-being. But Fluxus turned out to be a pretty darned good idea, and it was an especially good idea for artists that were either interested in working in intermedia, and artists who were not particularly interested in participating in the machinations of the Art World and its hyperactive commercialism, power politics, and money games.
Inevitably, a new cohort of artists emerged who had either loose affiliations, or no affiliation with the original group of Fluxus artists, but were deeply committed to the Fluxus ideas and ideals. Many of these artists consider their association to the Fluxus ideas to be deep enough to refer to themselves as “Fluxus artists”. These artists often point to statements by the original Fluxus artists, that make it very clear that they never considered Fluxus to be an art movement in the traditional art-historical sense, or as a “closed group” of artists whose participation in Fluxus required consent. In the words of Fluxus artist and historian, Ken Friedman,
“Dick [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.” ” http://www.iade.pt/designist/issues/001_07.html
Sadly, with the passage of time, it seems that some of the early Fluxus artists, perhaps feeling insecure about their own art-historical legacies, have taken to rewriting history: Doing so in a way that is simultaneously more favourable to the seriously moneyed art collector class, and to their perceived legacies. Seems, it turns out, that being part of an important art history movement pays higher dividends, than being an artist in the dwindling dusk of a lifetime, with nothing of consequence to show besides those spring days. In turn, this has led to a rather pathetic withdraw of support for the very artists most interested in preserving and honoring the legacy and work of the founding group of Fluxus artists.
Personally, I believe that the work and ideas of the leading Fluxus artists of the 1960s will easily withstand the tests of time. The artists who were footnotes then, will still be footnotes later. I also believe that the best way to be more than a footnote, would be for the surviving early Fluxus artists to embrace and participate in the new Fluxfests with the current generation of Fluxus artists. And those of us in that current generation, what of our artistic legacy? Most of us are too busy creating interesting, new, Fluxus artworks to worry about it!
PS: A HUGE shoutout to Yoko Ono is due here. Not only was she one of the most interesting and influential original Fluxus artists but she continues to support Fluxus Art and artists past, present, and future.