Wednesday, November 4, 2009




"Fluxus goals are social (not aesthetic). They (ideologically) can be related to those of the 1929 L.E.F. Group in the Soviet Union and are set up like this: step by step elimination of the Fine Arts (music, drama, poetry, painting, sculpture etc etc). This motivates the desire to direct wasted material and human capabilities towards constructive goals such as the Applied Arts: industrial design, journalism, architecture, engineering, graphic and hypographic arts, printing etc, which are all areas that are closely related to the fine arts and offer the artist better career opportunities."

George Maciunas addressed these words to Thomas Schmit in a letter of January '64. At this time, despite the arguments over the 'News Policy Letter' of the previous April, it was still possible for Maciunas to view Fluxus as spearheading a radical new functionalist approach in the arts. Like Isou's Lettrisme of a decade and a half before, Fluxus was launched as an assault on all the separate categories of art, with the intention of fusing them into a single practice. Thus when successive keys on a piano were nailed down to create 'very new music', the act was not simply an iconoclastic attack on the idea of music as an artistic category - it was seen as a practical (functional) way of fusing the disciplines of music, theatre and poetry.

With similar intentions, Wolf Vostell had been blurring and distorting television pictures since 1959. In March '63, Nam June Paik presented an exhibition of television pictures which had been manipulated using magnets and other distorting effects at the Gallerie Parnass in Wuppertal. In May of the same year Vostell buried a television tuned into a live broadcast as part of a Yam Festival happening on George Segal's farm, South Brunswick, New Jersey. In September '63, Vostell led the visitors who'd come for the opening of his "Television De-coll/ages" in Wuppertal, to a quarry where he destroyed an operating television with a rifle shot.

The more aestheticised Americans, such as Brecht, Knowles and Higgins, were disturbed by the violence in the work of Paik and Vostell. This violent trend was continued in Europe - for instance Serge III would play a Nam June Paik "Violin Solo" using an instrument filled with concrete, thus when the violin was brought smashing down onto a table, it was the table, and not the instrument, that broke. However, Fluxus activity at this time is now seen by art historians as being centred on New York and the more hard edged actions of the Europeans tend to be given a lower 'status' than the mysticism of the North Americans.

When Maciunas returned to the States, he'd moved into 359 Canal Street, where Dick Higgins had a studio/loft. From here nearly twenty fluxus multiples were issued in 1964 alone. The multiples consisted of found objects purchased in the junk shops that lined Canal Street at that time. They were housed in a variety of boxes, the most uniform thing about them being the labels which Maciunas designed and had printed in some quantity. 1964 also saw the publication of the first "Fluxus Yearbox" - which consisted of approximately twenty envelopes bolted together, each containing work by a different fluxus artist. Although ostensibly a multiple, each copy varied slightly in content.

The number of live flux events continued to decline throughout the mid and late sixties. Initially this was compensated for by an increase in the number of fluxus publications, which included the house magazine "V TRE", as well as multiples by a variety of artists. The publications tended to be poetic in character, and reflect the success with which the aesthetic tendency toned down Maciunas's political stridency. However, in 1968 the Fluxpress partially redeemed itself by publishing Henry Flynt's pamphlet "Down With Art". In this text, Flynt discredited "scientific" justifications of art. He went on to demonstrate that it was subjectivity which distinguished art and entertainment from other activities. According to Flynt, there was an insurmountable contradiction in the fact that art objects existed independently of any subjective enjoyment of them; that art was produced independently of "people's" liking of it, and yet artists still expected their products "to find their value in people's liking of them". Because of this separation between production and enjoyment, the consumption of art is essentially alienated. Rather than accepting the alienated category of art, Flynt suggests that individuals can satisfy their subjective needs in spontaneous self-amusement and play. Flynt terms what he describes as 'experiences prior to art' "just-likings" or "brend".

One of the reasons for the decrease in fluxus activity during the late sixties was that from 1966 onwards Maciunas spent much of his time planning a fluxus co-operative building. After a couple of buildings fell through, Maciunas acquired 80 Wooster Street at the beginning of 1967. Like the Fluxhall and former Maciunas residence at 359 Canal Street, this building was located in the heart of New York's SoHo Robert Watts was the first fluxist to move into the building, and was followed by Maciunas himself. At the end of '67, the Filmmakers' Cinematheque installed itself on the ground floor, where it remained for two years. Maciunas went on to establish a series of other co-operative buildings in the area, and his example was soon imitated by others.

Like other utopian movements, fluxus engaged in speculation about possible improvements to the immediate environment. Maciunas's practical interest in real estate, found its theoretical reflection in "Fantastic Architecture" edited by Wolf Vostell and Dick Higgins (Something Else Press, New York, 1969). Vostell sets the tone of the book in his introduction:

"This documentation of ideas and concepts of a new polymorphous reality is offered as evidence of the new methods and processes that were introduced by Fluxus, Happening, and Pop. A demand for new patterns of behaviour - new unconsumed environments.
The accent in all the works in this book lies in change. ie expansion of physical surroundings, sensibilities, media, through disturbance of the familiar.
Action is architecture!
Everything is architecture!
A new life. Ruhm's Wien built of the letters in the German name for Vienna - Hollein's aircraft carrier as a city for 30,000 inhabitants - Oldenburg's alteration of the Thames - my super highway as a cathedral environment - are all utopias containing more breadth and visualisation of present-day thought than the repressive architecture of bureaucracy and luxury that imposes restrictions on people. Everything is forbidden.
Don't Touch!
No spitting! No Smoking!
No thinking!
No living!
Our projects - our environments are meant to free men - only the realisation of utopias will make man happy and release him from his frustrations! Use your imagination! Join in... share the power! Share property!"

Such conceptions of urbanism and freedom are very close to those of COBRA twenty years earlier and to the thinking of the Situationist International of a decade before. Similarly, the Flux-labyrinth exhibited at the Berlin Akademie der Kunst (5 September - 17 October 1976) is conceptually close to the aborted Situationist plan of '59-60 for building a labyrinth in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

In the late sixties Fluxus activities merged, to an extent, with those of hippies, freaks, and other drop outs. SoHo, the centre of fluxus activity in North America, was geographically situated at the heart of the East Coast hippie scene; and while fluxus undoubtedly exerted an often unperceived influence on the flower children, the freak life-style also left its mark on fluxus. The hippie influence appears to be the cause of the move away from concerts and other formal public presentations at the end of the sixties. The only live fluxus events in New York during '68 and '69 were New Years Eve fluxfeasts. The sensual and indulgent nature of the feasts place them in diametrical opposition to the severity of early fluxus manifestations.
Similarly, the fluxshow, fluxsports, and fluxmass, which took place at Douglas College, New Brunswick, New Jersey, in February 1970 were very different to early fluxus events and contrasted sharply with the fluxus activities still being carried out in Europe. For the fluxmass, the priests' assistants wore gorilla costumes, the sacramental wine was stored in a plasma tank and dished out through a hose, the wafers were blue cookies laced with laxative, the bread was consecrated by a mechanical dove shitting into it, smoke bombs were used as candles, and an inflatable superman filled with wine was bled. This was accompanied by sounds varying from recordings of barking dogs and locomotives to bird calls and gun shots.

The fluxmass was followed by similar events such as the fluxdivorce of June 1971, the fluxhalloween of autumn 1977, the fluxwedding of February 1978, and after Maciunas's death from cancer in Boston on 9th May 1978, the fluxfuneral. It hardly needs stating that these bizarre variations on traditional rites bear little resemblance to fluxus activities during the movement's 'heroic' phase. In an undated manifesto composed during this 'heroic' period, Maciunas had written:

"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 "EUROPEAN1SM" !...
(...)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."

Measured against these laudable aims, the later activities of fluxus can only be viewed as a degeneration from the movement's original intentions. However, despite this, fluxus never lost its utopian edge: in the mid-seventies a plan of Maciunas's to set up a Utopian colony on Ginger Island, in the Virginia Islands, was foiled when the owner died on the day the sale agreement was to be signed. Similarly, at the time of his death, Maciunas was planning to set up a utopian community on a farm in New Marlborough.

Above copied from: