Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Artist's Statements on Fluxus, ed. by Owen F. Smith

From a special issue of Visible Language on Fluxus

Twelve artists, active in various media, reflect on their relationship to Fluxus. Their comments reveal essential aspects of Fluxus that inspire their own work. The offerings are celebratory, ironic and questioning.

Fluxus & the far end of the Freeform-freakout Organization

I CAN NEVER DECIDE JUST WHAT IT IS about the other F-word that has been such a major influence (and a major hindrance) to my work and its development. Having little practical talent I have always had difficulty in expressing my ideas clearly, despite experimenting in many different media. My body of work, for what it is to date, is mainly a collection of half-finished experiments that includes most media from pencil and paper to digital music production. My problem being that I never feel that I have much ability in any of these media, I experiment and play and just see what happens. My very nature seems to prevent me from becoming proficient in any one area, just as it seems I'm going to master something I tend to change tack or even abandon the project altogether.

For many years I made interventions, in my working environment, usually written pieces and usually in offices. For fifteen years I worked in office environments, my studio space was a desk, my materials store the stationary cupboard. I never looked at what I was doing as art-to stick a tiny "be careful" sign, which could only be read by standing on a chair on a desk, was a natural mode in which I was able to express my ideas. I always had trouble in accepting that I was perhaps more comfortable doing this than I was when trying to draw or paint out my ideas as I had focused on doing throughout my schooling. Fluxus, as I first perceived it, allowed me to accept the fact that what I was doing was actually ok.

Stumbling across Fluxus, and my initial perceptions of it, gave me the go ahead to continue what I had been doing. I felt better that there were others doing similar stuff with a similar humor-and that was it initially.

Further reading and particular fascination with the performance and instruction scores marked the biggest change in my work, or rather my level of confidence and conviction. The score format allowed me to share my take on the world without necessarily trying to force my view upon the reader. One of my earliest scores, "Change the Sound of the Sea," invites the reader to do just that, however it makes no suggestion regarding how to do so. Here was one of the first times that I realized that if I regularly visualized one concept in many different ways, then I should allow for an audience to do so too. The score format also allowed me to overcome a severe lack of confidence in myself by allowing me to produce a piece, but leaving its execution up to someone else!

So I suppose the score is the element of Fluxus that has most concretely influenced my work, it is also the most easily published-most of the other things I do never reach the public eye; I'd have to own up to them then! It is the humor, however, an element that I feel is often overlooked, which truly inspired me. Further explanation of this I fear will have to wait for another badly written 500 words.

Evolving Fluxus


FROM MY INITIAL EXPERIENCES, COMES A FURTHER DEFINITION OF MY work, separated into three main camps: works which deal directly with language, based fundamentally on the visual poetry I've made; then comes works or activities that deal with the body, with games, with networks, with interaction, based mostly on my discovery and/or relationship to the Fluxus movement. Finally, there comes a series of works that try to coalesce these two, as a form of development or evolution of everything I've done so far, which could end with a life-long project that revolves around my own death.

One of the fascinating aspects of the Fluxus movements (I state it as a plural, for it is still, I believe, an ongoing and evolving experience, not constricted to a historical period) is its emphasis on community and interaction; the fact that anyone can be part of an aesthetic experience, informed by nature, by chance, by a previously set process of interaction with an everyday activity, leads us towards one of the aspects mentioned at the beginning: the setting up of the common, the domestic, the mundane, to a level that may not be necessarily "art" in the traditional sense, but that it may well be one of the most ecstatic experiences someone may have in his or her immediate future.

I started to do Fluxus performances for festivals, AVTEXTFESt, all pieces were done in the context of the festival, but pointing out that said festival, at least in the first case, was done in a public place that did not "expect" to "see a performance." Much to the surprise of the public, they unconsciously and then consciously, and then forthrightly, became part of the spectacle. This is the part of Fluxus that interested me the most, the fact that you could allow for a glimpse of what the distinction between art and life can do for the individual, even though that in the process, said individual may or may not be aware of this process.

Because I believe that Fluxus, as a movement, is an open-ended distribution of experiences, pretty much an ongoing, permanent struggle, I do not want to lead us towards a final destination, regarding the characteristics of Fluxus as a movement based on ideas and notions about the world and reality in general. So if I was to describe some other activities I've done, in a way, I can explain the artistic propositions that happened as a consequence of both the experiments in visual poetry and the discovery of the Fluxus experience.

Thirty Years of Fluxing Around


THERE ARE THOSE THINGS WHICH ARTISTS OFTEN DO AS THEIR SERIOUS work, and then there are all of the other things they do when they are playing and messing around in the studio or when hanging out with other artists. That range of other things tends to be Fluxus-like in nature-more concept-based, experimental, contemplative, humorous and expressed in a kind of private short hand. When translated into a more public language you have work that may appear unfinished, tentative and with a lot of open-ended and very loose ends. I think of this kind of art making as more conversational than lecture-like in nature, more private, informal, ephemeral and downright immaterial. This kind of art activity is the product of a shared mercurial mind-world where unfettered creativity, lucid imagination and the immediate cognition of a deeply intuitive mind are of the greatest value. I think this is why some like to relate Fluxus to Zen. I think Zen has a strong interest in this same range of mental activity in search of those moments of creative release and intuitive cognition of the spiritual world, a more fluid state that we are normally not cognizant of. Not that I can claim to know anything about Zen or for that matter Fluxus.

A lot of the well-known fluxsters are well known in part because of their interest in performance, theater and experimental music/sound. These things tend to be done live and in public via scheduled performances, festivals and the like.

I am primarily a visual artist. While I have engaged in the occasional performance, they have always been in the form of a personal ritual accomplished for my own internal reasons and have required no one other than myself as their witness with the location usually being my studio or out in nature.

It was never my fortune or misfortune to ever meet up with any Fluxus people in person. I have never been that interested. I have never been very interested in meeting anybody that didn't find his or her way naturally into my life. So anything of mine that could be regarded as Fluxus-like over the years was developed in relative isolation until coming across the Fluxlist gang on the Internet around 1998-99. When I did I was amazed to find a family of people who shared a very strong affinity with my way of seeing the world. I spent a lot of time with Fluxus after that and was especially moved by Ken Friedman's amazingly clear-headed way of looking at things. He may or may not be altogether right in his general ideas-I really couldn't say-but he is definitely clear-headed about them and you have to admire that.

My main like-like activities these last several years are in the realm of collage poetry and collage sound works. I have also been compiling early works that fit the Fluxus profile that go back to as early as 1975 meaning that this year 2005 represents a thirty year mark. Aside from these things, a broader activity has been working to short circuit the idea that an art movement has a beginning, middle and end, usually of a very short duration and involving a very small circle of associates. With the Internet and mass communication I do not believe that movements have such a cut and dried history or that they involve so few people. I notice that things, especially ideas and the influence of objects that contain ideas, live in a continuum and spread like a virus into the minds of artists all over the world and across many generations. I do not believe historians want to deal with the fact that all art movements are still being played out by whatever artists decide to embody them. This spread across barriers I think is especially notable in Fluxus history with its use of an international mail network and the continued life Fluxus clearly still has on the current generation.

Technology Ephemera & Zen Forevers


THE GREAT JAPANESE HAIKU POET BASHO WROTE THAT THE BASIS OF ART is change in the universe. And the French poet Charles Baudelaire first defined Modernism as a presentation of what is eternal in the ephemeral. To me Fluxus is very much a conjunction of the great Japanese and great French poets' statements. They meet in Robert Filliou's Eternal Network of Mail Art and in the Fluxus use of the most common elements found at hand to create performances, events, scores, sounds and images. In Fluxus, the emphasis on the conjunction of the eternal/ephemeral in a continual state of change has been what most inspires me about it.

I believe that what endures in Fluxus is this spirit of using the most ephemeral, common objects to create a memorable event. Fluxus is a form of tension between the chaotic and the controlled-with more chaotic elements being in Mail Art, with its beautiful embrace of everything being a work of art-to the more controlled aspects of performance directions, scores and scripts.

I also think the Fluxus presents a festival atmosphere, one of celebration, of joy. I think there is also a profound aspect of mysticism with Fluxus-one of open acceptance of the wonder of the moment, and how the moment can in a moment be a deep insight into the eternality of change-an acknowledgement of this. It is a mysticism that comes, I feel in part, from the conjunction of a Western technological use of machines and devices with the Eastern thought of Taoism and Zen. I find this especially expressed in the works of John Cage and Nam June Paik. Along with Dick Higgins, these are the only Fluxus artists (if Cage is considered one) I have met in person and heard and seen perform. (I have some versions of Zen text that were translated by George Brecht, with poetical versions by Dick Higgins.) Nam June Paik especially impressed me with his immense sense of humor. I audited a class he taught at MIT in the late 1970s and he was obsessed with Boston Bruins hockey games on TV. He had banks of TV sets on which endless hours of hockey played, run through a myriad distortions. The flow and controlled chaos of hockey was very much in tune with his thoughts on art. As a sports junky, I thoroughly enjoyed his appreciation and enthusiasm for the game in its visual aspects-the speed, the collisions, the continual strife and bizarre and sublime harmonies of the sport. What I deeply felt in Paik's approach was the sense of ACTION-action coming from an intense attention-a very Zen like approach in many ways. I also enjoyed his use of the found-beat-up, junked TV sets-the technological as the epitome of the ephemeral-cast off, out of date, thrown away in alleys and replaced with a bigger, newer, more expensive machine-or-a smaller, cheaper one! He had a great sense of humor-one that for me I feel is one of the best aspects of Fluxus.

Space, Process & Shakers...


I CAME TO FLUXUS IN THE SPRING OF 2OOO. I HAD BEEN WORKING ON THE piece "a mile in my shoes" (a collection of around 300 salt shakers stolen from restaurants, diners, hotels, antique shops and homes). In Fluxus we find complete freedom to be ourselves. Art becomes Life; Life becomes Art. With the Event, at times a mundane performance, the boundary between the two is blurred. Alison Knowles (one of the original Fluxus artists) was on the campus of the University of Maine to give a lecture associated with a Dick Higgins retrospective and I had arranged to have tea with her. We talked about our current projects. She was wonderful to talk with. She had a problem with the stealing part of "a mile in my shoes," and when Owen (my professor at the time) took her to a lobster lunch that day he stole the saltshaker for me. I mailed her photos of the shaker as well as observations I experienced while performing her piece "the identical lunch." In turn, she sent me her saltshaker from her kitchen. Two months later I sent her a loaf of bread with her saltshaker baked inside. Years before discovering Fluxus, much of my work could have been considered akin to the Fluxus mode of working. When I finally caught up to it, I felt right at home. I still don't think I would consider myself a Fluxus artist. I'll leave it to Ay-O, Eric, Henry, Ken, Geoff, Alison, Larry, Yoko, Nam June, Ben, Carolee, Lamonte, Emmett and George to decide if they still are. I've always been one to avoid labels and that's what interests me in Fluxus. They always said that Fluxus wasn't a movement, not even an art form, just a way of life. They successfully erased the boundaries between life and art. I took great pleasure in performing their works and it was only then that I really understood what they were doing. Since then I have been very influenced by the original Fluxus artists and have come to think of them more as my extended family than as merely a group of artists. Fluxus has and will continue to be an important and enjoyable departure point for my art/life work.

I consider my current video experiments to be a manipulation of space and process. I approach video more like a sculptor; the works should be approached as sculpture. Everything needed for the experience is available in a very short amount of time.

Video-sculpture is the process of creating a symbiotic relationship between the object and video; both have equal importance and in most cases one can't exist without the other. The combination of the two mediums creates a physical space for the video. The video and object combined construct an implied space. Water appears to fall from one screen to the other; a drip falls from the top bucket landing on cue in the bottom bucket, filling the void between the screens. The implied space adds wonder to the piece and takes the video away from the singular existence of a screen. Instead of viewing the piece as we do a video (from beginning to end) we begin to approach the piece as we do sculpture. I'm led to believe I should feel water dripping on my hand if I put my hand between the screens.

My approach is minimal and is derived from my experiments with Fluxus-the everyday-and desire to discover a material's limits and exploit its unintended uses. I seek ways to expand and discover my human boundaries, whether physical or emotional. The works incorporate short individual or private performances to explore the event in a way that offers physical and mental space between the viewer and myself. The camera, this space, provides me with that freedom. These works are documentation of my private performance and in essence a document of my life.

Above Copied from: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3982/is_200601/ai_n17183605/pg_1

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