Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dada to DiY, Part II, John Held, Jr.

Cage's influence broadened, when he lead a class in musical composition at the New School for Social Research in 1956. Among those attending were Allan Kaprow, Dick Higgins, Jackson MacLow, George Brecht and Al Hansen. Higgins relates that the structure of the class, "would be that, before the class began, Cage and George Brecht would get into a conversation, usually about 'spiritual virtuosity', instead of the virtuosity of technique, physique, etc. This would continue as the people arrived, then gradually expand, until the subject matter became hard to follow." (Kostelanetz, John Cage: an anthology, New York, 1970/1991, p.122-123

Maciunas did not attend the Cage class, but participated in the electronic music class the following year taught by Richard Maxfield, which attracted many of the same students from Cages' class. Nearing his death in 1978 in an interview with Larry Miller, Maciunas described 1959 as a pivotal year. So 1959 is a very influential year. We have Nam June Paik, playing [his] first piece. Vostell doing [his] first piece, Alan Kaprow doing [the] first Happenings, Dick Higgins and Yves Klein. Well, he was already before that, but he culminated, let's say, by then. Ben Vautier doing his first piece by signing... everything: continents, peace, famine, war, noise, end of the world and especially human sculptures. That's something important to know because later Manzoni copied it.

Gestures... he had first gestures appearing then in 1959 and not in 1968 with Acconci and people like that. And we have first postage stamps of Bob Watts, a lot of card music that is written on cards like of George Brecht and [the] first concept art of Henry Flynt. Then that goes on to 1960. And Fluxus comes in 1961, late in '61. Actually, you could say officially early in '62. Because in '61 I had a gallery which did everything that later Fluxus did but did not use that name. (Ubi Fluxus, Page 228)

Through the connections made at the New School, he recruited post-Cagian downtown artists for a series of evenings at his AG Gallery in 1961. This was a continuation of similar evenings organized LaMonte Young and Yoko Ono at Ono's Chambers Street studio. Maciunas also undertook the publication of Young and Jackson MacLows' Anthology, and the Wiesbaden, Germany, September 1962 Fluxus Festival, which included performances by Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Robert Filliou, Nam June Paik, Emmett Williams, Wolf Vostell and Arthur Koepcke.

In an essay by Maciunas, read in the same year (1962), titled, Neo-Dada in Music,Theater, Poetry, Art, Maciunas states that,The anti-art" forms are directed primarily against art as a profession, against the artificial separation of a performer from (the) audience, or creator and spectator, or life and art; it is against the artificial forms or patterns or methods of art itself; it is against the purposefulness, formfulness and meaningfulness of art; anti-art is life, is nature, is true reality - it is one and all. Rainfall in anti-art, a babble of a crowd is anti-art, a sneeze is anti-art, a flight of a butterfly, or movements of microbes are anti-art. They are as beautiful and as worth to be aware of as art itself. If man could experience the world, the concrete world surrounding him (from mathematical ideas to physical matter) in the same way he experiences art, there would be no need for art, artists and similar "nonproductive" elements.

The following year, Maciunas drafted a Manifesto, interspersed with dictionary definitions of the world flux, which summed up the aims of Fluxus:

Purge the world of bourgeois sickness, "intellectual," professional & commercialized culture, PURGE the world of dead art, imitation, artificial art, abstract art, illusionistic art, mathematical art, - PURGE THE WORLD OF "EUROPANISM"!
PROMOTE A REVOLUTIONARY FLOOD AND TIDE IN ART, Promote living art, anti-art, promote NON ART REALITY to be grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes and professionals.
FUSE the cadres of cultural social & political revolutionaries into united front & action.

These three principles: the purging of commercialized, intellectualized culture; the promotion of a new art; and the fusion of revolutionaries of every stripe, were at the heart of Maciunas' agenda.

Maciunas elaborated upon the these points in 1965, constrasting the traditional aims of art with those of Fluxus Art-Amusement.

To justify artists's professional, parasitic and elite status in society,
he must demonstrate artist's indispensability and exclusiveness,
he must demonstrate the dependability of audience upon him,
he must demonstrate that no one but the artist can do art.

Therefore, art must appear to be complex, pretentious, profound,
serious, intellectual, inspired, skillfull, significant, theatrical,
it must appear to be valuable as commodity so as to provide the
artist with an income.
To raise its value (artist's income and patrons profit), art is made
to appear rare, limited in quantity and therefore obtainable and
accessible only to the social elite and institutions.

To establish artist's nonprofessional status in society,
he must demonstrate artist's dispensability and inclusiveness,
he must demonstrate the selfsufficiency of the audience,
he must demonstrate that anything can be art and anyone can do it.

Therefore, art-amusement must be simple, amusing, unpretentious,
concerned with insignificances, require no skill or countless
rehearsals, have no commodity or institutional value.

The value of art-amusement must be lowered by making it unlimited,
massproduced, obtainable by all and eventually produced by all.

Fluxus art-amusement is the rear-guard without any pretention to urge to participate in the competition of "one upmanship with the avant-garde. it strives for the monostructural and nontheatrical qualities of simple natural event, a game or a gag. It is the fusion of Spike Jones, Vaudeville, gag, children's games and Duchamp.

In practicality, it was a rough road, marked by expulsions in a vein similar to the Surrealists and Situationists. Utopian in concept, in reality there were conflicts that arose and defeated Maciunas' vision. One of the major splits to occur in the ranks of Fluxus, was the protest of a concert by Karl Stockhausen, the electronic composer and a former professor of Cage, on September 8, 1964. Henry Flynt, the originator of concept art, joined Maciunas in the protest, along with Ay-O, Ben Vautier and Allen Ginsberg, the lone performer in Stockhausen's Originale, who joined the picket line. Other performers, such as Higgins, MacLow and Paik were expelled by Maciunas. Later, Flynt was told that Maciunas' action was based on his jealousy of Charlotte Moorman's New York Avant-Garde Festival, which attempted to coalesce the post-Cagian artists in competition with Maciunas. Fluxus continued, but without the radical social and political content that Maciunas first envisioned.

Despite the inter-factional splints of Fluxus, it's influence on contemporary art has been substantial. Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell practically invented a new artistic medium - video art. The artist book movement of the seventies was spurred on in great part by Dick Higgins' Something Else Press. Mail art developed out of the proto-Fluxus Yam Festival of George Brecht and Robert Watts, and by the activities of occasional Fluxus participant Ray Johnson. Robert Watt's postage stamps, postcard series by various members, including Filliou's Monsters are Inoffensive, Ben's Postman's Choice (in which the two sides of a postcard are addressed to different correspondents), and Maciunas Flux Post Kit 7, in which work by Watts, Filliou, Ken Friedman, and James Riddle contain the seeds that would germinate the international mail art movement. Cheaply produced multiples, and their international self-distribution, have also influenced the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) ethos.

There are many points of departure from which alternative cultural workers can depart and expand upon Fluxus. Maciunas was one of the leading pioneers of cooperative loft living in Soho, along with others like fellow Lithuanian Jonas Mekas, influential independent filmmaker and distributor. The Fluxus effect on independent film is considerable, with Maciunas, Yoko Ono, Paul Sharits, and Robert Breer, all having made significant contributions to the medium. Ono had one of the most significant impacts on popular culture, with her marriage to Beatle John Lennon, staging events like Bed In, and exposing an unprepared and often uncomfortable public to avant-garde music. Ono is a good example of how the Spectacle convulses in reaction to uncontaminated strains of avant-garde thought.

Ken Friedman was instrumental in the circulation of artist address lists, stimulating the spread of mail art. He was the founding editor of the New York Correspondence School Weekly Breeder, a zine from the late sixties, passed on to several other mail art participants, including Bill Gaglione and Tim Mancusi of the Bay Area Dada group in San Francisco. The title referred to the circle of correspondents that formed around Ray Johnson, a former Black Mountain student, and named by E. M. Plunkett in 1962.Johnson had been sending letters of an artistic nature since his childhood. Fascinated by both popular culture and artistic intelligentsia, by the mid-fifties Johnson's mailing list included artists, pop icons and socialites. By 1962, he was admonishing his correspondents to "add and send on" enclosed works to third parties, either known or unknown to his correspondents. In this way, the circles of mail art rippled outwards, gaining considerable momentum when the Canadian art collective General Idea began the publication of FILE "megazine," and popularized the concept of art through the mail.

This was art not in the traditional sense, but a mirroring of the Lettrist Internationals potlatch gifting. It was a direct response to the commercialization of the artworld, and an attempt to find an alternative method of distribution. Johnsons' circle of friends included Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol, but he avoided the pomp and circumstance of recognition. His collage works of the fifties, incorporating aspects of popular culture such as portraits of Elvis and Lucky Strike logos, pre-dated Warhol. Johnson neither sought or embraced the spotlight of mainstream attention cast on the emerging Pop movement. Like Duchamp, he would participate with, but never join artistic movements. While others in his set were staging happenings, Johnson was performing nothings. While friendly with many of the Fluxus artists, Johnson held himself aloof from consistent association.

Yet Ray Johnson was not immune from the compulsion of Breton, Isou, Debord and Maciunas to excommunicate those unable to follow the purist line. "You have been dropped from the New York Correspondence School" became a disgrace to some, a badge of honor to others participating in the growing mail art medium. Despite his strong stamp on the movement, mail art grew exponentially. FILE spread the concept internationally, and mail art became an important means of ommunication between Western and Eastern bloc artists. Bolstered by international treaties, the postal system was one of the only available means of communication between artists separated by divergent political systems. Eastern European and Latin American artists embraced the medium to circumvent governmental suppression of individual freedoms,including the exchange of information with cultural colleagues.

In 1972, Jerry Bowles, the author of the article, "Out of the Gallery, into the Mailbox" appearing in the March-April issue of Art in America, wrote: In all of its various manifestations, the new movement might best be served by the label "community" art-because its real aim is to provide a system through which artists can communicate with each other, learn of joint interests, and promote the development of ideas. It is more than an anti-gallery stance (although the activity was ertainly precipitated by gallery elitism, unavailability, and the notion that the art scene is necessarily centered where the art business is). The informality of community matter what form the activity takes (notebooks, postcards, video exchange), the "product" remains simply the transmission process and is more "art-related" than art.

Mail art not only stimulated indirect communication with artists, but brought them into direct contact. One thinks immediately of Dana Atchely, who in the same year as the Bowles article appeared, toured North America showing the results of his Notebook (1969) and Space Atlas (1971), which had been assembled by inviting contributors to submit work. Over three hundred artists responded.

This in turn inspired similar assembled works, such as Bowles own Art Work, No Commercial Value, and Richard Kostelanetz and Henry Korn's Assembling editions. Today, the assembling is a mail art tradition, carried on by M. B. Corbett and his Tensetendoned, Pascal Lenoir's Mani Art (France), the ubiquitous Gaglione's Stampzine (composed of rubber stamp contributions), Claudia Pütz's Pips Dada and others, many of which have been researched by mail art historian Stephen Perkins in his recent catalog, Assembling Magazines: International networking collaborations from Hungary to Japan.

Atchely's journey of discovery inspired other mail art congregations, including the Deccadance, which took place in Hollywood in 1974, summing up the first wave of mail art activity. Artists from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto and Vancouver participated in the event, inspired in part by Fluxus artist Robert Filliou's 1963 concept of an Eternal Network of collaborating artists. Mail artists' use of the term networking, which began appearing frequently in the eighties, is rooted in this concept of a community of artists in "permanent creation."

Another mail art concept, Tourism, proposed by the Swiss artist H. R. Fricker, prompted a series of Worldwide Decentralized Mail Art Congresses in 1986. Wherever two or more mail artists met throughout the year, there a Congress would take place, the results of which were forwarded to Congress documentarians Fricker and Günther Ruch. This was followed in 1992 by a similar string of Networker Congresses, which attempted to bring together similar DIY cultures, such as my own Dallas congress, keynoted by the Rev.. Ivan Stang, from the Church of the Sub-Genius. Other participatory networks, such as zine, fax, flyposter, performance, rubber stamp, artist postage stamp and emerging telecommunication cultures, were also involved in the year's activities.

The most ambitious networkers were German networkers Peter Küstermann and his pARTner Angela Pahler, who traveled to five continents in a series of 173 congress meetings. Uniformed in the garb of antique postal workers, Küstermann and Pahler (later self-renamed the Netmails), hand-delivered messages from one networker to another in the course of their travels. Of the experience, Küstermann wrote :When our fathers travelled in uniform to other countries, that meant disaster. Who knows if our children will have to stay home because immense travelling costs due to the exhaustion of our natural resources will make such a journey a privilege of the rich? So: for us the chance of a longtime travel on a shoestring is also an obligation, to promote and intensify the network idea as a peace-creating force against mass society, racism, and commercialized art markets in a capitalist world...How shall we keep the network open if not by integrating more of them regularly? Their
unprecedented ideas means progress and development, if the network does not want to petrify alive.
This intermingling of various alternative cultures is a gradual process taking place over time as the various networks become aware of one another.

It was not until the mid-80's that Mike Gunderloy's Factsheet 5 brought the community of zine publishers into consciousness of one another. Previous to that, science fiction fanzines flourished as a result of letter columns in 1930 pulp magazines; small press literary and poetry chapbooks abounded; mail art publications experimented with new speedprint and photocopy technologies; anarchist and political journals shared a long history; pop culture fanzines centered on various fixations; the Amateur Press Association (APAs) was conducted in a codified manner; and punk zines were an ongoing international concern.

While these foundations of zinedom were reactions to a spectacular society, unwilling to voice the concerns of anything but consumer driven mass culture, other forces shaping the emerging network were at play in repressive societies, such as the Soviet Union, where self-publishing was a necessity in light of institutionalized disenfranchisment. In the forward to his 1974 book, Samizdat: Voices of the Soviet Opposition, George Saunders writes: Samizdat is a Soviet term coined by post-Stalin dissidents for the old Russian revolutionary practice, from the days of the czarist censorship of circulating uncensored material privately, usually in manuscript form nonconformist poetry and fiction, memoirs, historical documents, protest statements, trial records, etc. The name "Samizat" -Self-Publishers- is an ironic arody of such official acronyms as "Gosizdat," meaning State Publishers (short for Gosudarstvennoe Izdatelstvo). More colloquially, one might translate samizdat as the Do-It-Yourself Press. The message is clear: "If the bureaucrats won't print it, we'll get it around ourselves." (quoted in Fred Wright's Personality of Parade: A Psychoanalytic Analysis of the Zine Revolution, Kent State thesis, December, 1995, Page 5)

It was a short hop from the Do-It-Yourself Press to Book Your Own Fucking Life. Punk erupted in the mid-seventies in reaction to a stale musical climate, and the pent-up fury of a new youth culture. Like all explosions, there were rumblings preceding it. Greil Marcus has written of the Situationist connection to punk at some length in Lipstick Traces. There was also a Fluxus connection. Before the Velvet Underground formed in 1965, John Cale was playing in a group, the Dream Syndicate, fronted by La Monte Young, who had organized a series of musical events at Yoko Ono's loft. A warning appeared on the announcement for the programs: THE PURPOSE OF THIS SERIES IS NOT ENTERTAINMENT. (Please Kill Me, 4)

Punk wasn't entertainment either. It had more to do with youth seizing control of their own lives, participating at their own party by doing-it-themselves. Punk zines became the samizat of a culture that wanted nothing to do with the mainstream. Mainstream fascination with the punk phenomena accelerated the avant-garde dream of an authentic community of creators in contrast to a passive society of consumers, by infiltrating society at it's very foundation - it's youth. And although youth spins off a new flavor of the week, as is the want of the unending thirst spectacle, punk survives: flourishing as a result of structures, such as bands (TAZs), zines, and independent distros, that link the community. Cabaret Voltaire, if it existed today, couldn't accommodate the gate-crashers at its door. Those looking for the cutting edge of culture in music, the visual and performing arts, are legion. They need to look no farther then the flickering screens of their computer monitors to find a community sharing their concerns on the internet and world wide web. The Bohemian Diaspora has spread electronically, superseding the need for a Cabaret Voltaire or Black Mountain College that gathers the avant-garde in a specific time and place. A wired world carries the message of the avant-garde to a new generation with the means of sharing interests and knowledge across arbitrary barriers. The dung-heap of Dada has been fertilized by successive groups of avant-gardists into a flourishing mix of alternatives.

above copied from:

No comments: