FLUXUS, FLUXION, FLUXSHOE: THE 1970s
The 70s saw Fluxus in flux, and this state, fluxion, is evident across the surprising range of Fluxus activity from 1970 to 1982. It is impossible to follow every thread of Fluxus through the 1970s: the scattering of documented exhibitions, performances and discourses fail to give any indication of the actual spread of Fluxus ideas. However, a debate within and around Fluxus as to its actual constituency continued, throughout the decade, in the form of drunken debates and letters to periodicals; in the blossoming field of Correspondence Art; and in the composition of catalogues, collections and exhibition tours.
Several changing versions of Fluxus survived, among them an increasingly conventional art movement, circumscribed by major retrospective shows and documented in official publications. In parallel to this grew an international network of comrades - including some from the 'original' Fluxus tour — connected by ideology, by friendship, by shared working practices. This host of laid-back activists often prepared to travel anywhere to perform, read, play, or simply connect with like minds, generated a set of hilarious and libertarian ideas which were passed from hand to mouth — or from mailbox to mailbox — across the provinces of the coca-colonised world, mostly on a level which generated no more objective evidence than a fading mimeographed flyer, saved for posterity by accident rather than design.
The first great monument of Fluxus history, happening und fluxus, opened the decade a scant few years after Fluxus was given a name; and closer still to the realisation that 'Happenings' were an international and formally recogniseable phenomena. The exhibitions were accompanied by a graphically utilitarian series of catalogues whose rudimentary use of chronology and alphabet posited a Fluxus firmly in the realm of advanced art activity, linking it explicitly with a documentable happenings movement: unfortunately the association created by the title also implied stylistic parity. The fact that some artists were upset by the comparison offered by the show's title illustrates some issues that have continued to dog Fluxus: who has the right to define it, and on what bases should those definitions be made?
Based largely on the personal collection of Dr. Hans Sohm, he and the co-organiser, Harald Szeemann, mounted an important and impressive exhibition. Beset by difficulties and personal antagonisms — although to what extent these were apparent to visitors is no longer clear — the show generated a document which has become a landmark in the history of Fluxus. In addition to an annotated chronology of actions and events from 1959 to 1970, which takes up more than half the book, the catalogue of the exhibition included a general bibliography covering the same span, and an inclusive alphabetical list of artists or artist groups from Andersen to Zaj, with details of published work, photographs, and bibliographies for each.
happening und fluxus was matched at the close of the decade in with a similar, if rather more deliberately selective series of emanations. 1981 saw the impressive public launch of the Silverman Collection, and, in celebration of Fluxus' official twentieth birthday, three exhibitions, a festival, and a symposium were held in Wiesbaden. The catalogues generated by this flurry of historic activity both attempt chronologies and alphabetical lists, but again, reflect different views of Fluxus. The Wiesbaden birthday, riven with contradictions, argument and celebration, stands in sharp contrast to the Silverman's Fluxus, which has passed exclusively through the 'pure process' of 'the great organiser,' George Maciunas.
The Silverman Collection was opened to the public in an exhibition held at the Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, from September 20th to November 1st, 1981. The show highlighted published objects from Gilbert & Lila Silverman's considerable accumulation of Fluxus ephemera. Organised around the central principle that the presence of George Maciunas is the most appropriate measure of Fluxus-ness, it naturally presents a picture of Fluxus which some artists have repudiated. Tomas Schmit did so in his contribution to the catalogue which accompanied the Cranbrook show. Offering reproductions of enormous numbers of objects and graphic material, many the product of Maciunas' fascinating and fertile brain, it carries, without editorial comment, an enumerated catalogue of objects, boxes, documentary fragments generated by historic events, posters, postages stamps, games. The first of several such catalogues, documenting their holdings, it continued the Silverman's enduring contribution to Fluxus scholarship.
The criterion which filters the Silverman collection, understandable though it is, created a Fluxus without the messy, uncategoriseable, vague and shifting connections which often seem to characterise European Fluxus. Sharp differences, however, are not always easy to find, for much as the scene in Europe included a host of American visitors who put their individual stamp on interpretations of Fluxus from Rejkavik to Rome, so Maciunas made Fluxus a vehicle for a variety of aesthetic, social, political and art-historical experiments as the decade progressed. The strict reading of Fluxus implicit in the collection, whilst being evolutionary in some ways, and of necessity being museologically correct, cannot do justice to the kinds of American Fluxus activities which developed on the west coast, outside New York, or even through Charlotte Moorman's New York Festivals of the Avant Garde, which Maciunas deprecated almost obsessively, it seems. However, he continued to expand the Fluxus canon almost up to his death, including such media-pranks as Twelve Big Names, of April, 1975; the development of the Flux-labyrinth; and the continuing tradition of New Year reunions — a tradition disparaged by one European artist as, "joky, parties with colored drinks and manipulated food."
Perhaps Maciunas would also have cavilled at the twentieth anniversary in Wiesbaden, which offered an ironic celebration of Fluxus' advance toward Art History. Spread throughout the town, occupying not only the Museum where Fluxus began, but a local kunstverein and another commercial gallery, Harlekin Art, whose owner Michael Berger was one of the sponsors of the occasion, the exhibitions travelled to Kassel and closed in Berlin's daadgalerie, after a series of historic and contemporary performances. Wiesbaden opened with a weekend of concerts and parties with a combination of history and current practice. This was a prescient mixture of Fluxuses; not quite the Fluxus later to be known through catalogue essays, centred on objects, multiples and endless texts; nor yet the heroic Fluxus which generated that frenzy two decades before; but a shifting coalition of artists united by their past, and surrounded by a network of supporters; comprised of new friends, collectors, the occasional dealer, and, increasingly, historians in embryo. Fluxion was evident in the rancour which existed at times between artists, as well as in aspects of the exhibitions and celebrations. During the weekend of opening events, Fluxus was represented by such stylistic variations as Geoffrey Hendricks' meditative ritual installation, an aggressive electronic opera by Wolf Vostell, and Giuseppe Chiari's gestural music. In addition there were concerts of early Fluxus works, sometimes performed by the composers; a reinterpretation, by the artist, of Ben Patterson's Lick; and opportunities to play fluxping-pong and other such games in the museum. Alongside the Fluxlabyrinth was its apparent antithesis — the tie that Paik used to begin the first ever Zen for Head, preserved as a reliquary; and in a piano-concert scene that surely opposed Maciunas' idea of Fluxus, Fred Rzewski's hands were filmed in close-up, for German T.V.
The monochrome catalogue that accompanied the exhibitions echoes the graphic severity and apparent neutrality first adopted by happening und fluxus. Once again, documentary evidence of past Fluxus events was shown with a wide variety of contemporary work ranging from astrological charts by Ludwig Gosewitz to Yoshimasa Wada's instrumental installations. Although leavened by Filliou and William's anarchic cataloguing system, thrown in as an aside, the texts included are serious and written with an eye to history. The infra mince element within Fluxus is evident in the illustrated chronologies and itemised personal narratives that supplement the essays, by a wide variety of voices — from Henning Christiansen to Henry Flynt — including Jackson MacLow's genesis of An Anthology and Emmett Williams' reportage. The catalogue makes no claims, however, to complete historical coverage, and is organised around individual artists rather than publisher or medium.
A similar alphabetical and individual-oriented approach had been used some years earlier by Harry Ruhe, in his thorough and wide-ranging index, Fluxus, the most radical and experimental art movement of the sixties. (Published by 'A', Amsterdam 1979.) This ring-bound document resulted from his earlier exhibition of Fluxus at Gallery A in Amsterdam, 1976. The ruggedly stylish book provides an expanded and expandable reading of Fluxus: the editor quoted Maciunas' blacklist in his introduction, but offered fair justification of his inclusions. Ruhe's Fluxus was fluid enough to contain tenuous historic connections such as Marcel Alocco and Tamás Szentjoby, along with more traditionally contentious inclusions such as Joseph Beuys. Obscure entries such as Bob Grimes and Bob Lens or George Landow and Dan Lauffer form an informative exploration of Fluxus ideas which, appropriately, opens with Maurizio Nannucci's 150 questions on the subject.
Also ring-bound, and intended to expand, though smaller in size and scope, Fluxus International & Cie., likewise added to the well-known Fluxus stable, but took pains to distinguish new associates such as John Armleder, Patrick Lucchini and other members of the Ecart Performance Group, in a section labelled 'Fluxus voyage.' Featuring texts and event scores by Fluxus artists and an essay by Charles Dreyfus, the catalogue is an early effort to analyse Fluxus historically, stylistically, and philosophically. It is organised using a complex classification system, illustrating different versions of Fluxus, and is composed of history, music, words and posters, using charts, manifestoes and artists' statements, a chronology of events from 1951 to 1964, and a section devoted to 'mail-art' — a fertile breeding ground for Fluxus ideas.
Beside the institutional sanctions offered by these efforts — a first retrospective; a double-digit anniversary; and the public launch of a private collection; Fluxus effectively disappeared during the 70s. Those events that were reviewed in international journals tended to be regarded as "Flux-funny reincarnated revival reminders of Fluxus' contribution to the 'sixties." After Maciunas' death of cancer in 1978, such efforts as Jan Van der Marck's George Maciunas Memorial Collection at Dartmouth College Museum & Galleries, served to reinforce either the perception that Fluxus finished at some point during the 60s, or that with the passing of Maciunas, the Fluxure ceased.
The increasingly official and academic historification of Fluxus visible in these shows, however, also ignores any number of sympathetic attempts to proselytise the idea, or extend the network. Occurring mostly at a less 'heroic' level than early developments, and subsequently lost in the authentic-object-oriented machinations of museum history, these examples of 'applied flux' offer salutory lessons in the power of that combination of humour, intermedia and imagination that fueled Fluxus.
Fluxshoe was the second Fluxus exhibitions to occur in England — a little known but fascinating example of how Fluxus was understood in that country at that time. It offers an exemplary opportunity to witness Fluxus as it survived the 70s for many artists, both new converts and early adherents. It can be regarded almost as a laboratory study, a sample of Fluxus culture growing, mutating, and being exposed to the various viruses of a particular time, place, and set of personalities, each of whose understanding of the original — obviously somewhat different — combined to create a travelling circus of experiment and adventure.
The provincial, personal, almost extra-curricula nature of Fluxshoe acts as another parallel with the general fate of Fluxus before its resurrection as Art History. Just as Fluxshoe avoided London and its sophisticated art establishment, so a greater part of the documented Fluxus activity that occurred in the 1970s took place in secondary sites of culture, powered by one or two hard-core missionaries. Places like Liege, Milan, or Seattle hosted Fluxus events or exhibitions in the second half of the decade, none of which accurately reflected the heroic Fluxus of the 60s, although each was blessed with the presence of a founding Fluxist. Apart from New York's annual reunions or the occasional get-together, and aside from Rene Block's outpost in Berlin, and again, temporarily, in New York, Fluxus 'flourished in semi-obscurity' beyond the limits of the art world.
Fluxshoe, which began in the small university city of Exeter, was conceived by Mike Weaver, a young academic who had met Maciunas in the early 60s through his interest in 'concrete' poetry. Fluxshoe was originally to have been a modest exercise, consisting mainly of photocopies and publications, but as it happened, with the additions and changes that organiser David Mayor allowed, it became a lesson in the living development of art, of the idea of Fluxus. Fluxshoe does not equal Fluxus; but if Fluxus had originally developed through a socially shared idea, then Fluxshoe promoted the idea enthusiastically, very effectively, and with an antipathy to organising principles which amounted to anarchy. Chance, opportunity, proximity, personality and willingness-to-help were the final arbiters of entry, acceptance and continuing involvement — although not necessarily in that order. By mixing contemporary ideas with historic work, and by allowing artists from many different backgrounds to perform whatever they felt most appropriate, Fluxshoe, like the correspondence art network that helped fuel it, was itself continuing the Fluxus tradition.
Fluxshoe, (the name stems from an inspired typing error) was one of numerous seeds sown and nurtured by Ken Friedman, but grew into an international festival of live, graphic, and published artworks with dozens of participants, hundreds of correspondents, and thousands of spectators. Moving to the operational base of Beau Geste Press — a low-tech co-operative art-publishing venture run by a commune headed by Martha and Felipe Ehrenberg, David Mayor, and others — the tour was basically sponsored by government and regional grants, and, although very different, each show was centred upon the same portable and flexible core of Fluxus material: mailed stuff from Friedman and his infinite correspondents; a number of fluxboxes sent by Maciunas; and a large amount of printed matter given or loaned by artists, by Dr. Hans Sohm, and other interested individuals.
Fluxshoe, exemplifies the general style of Fluxus in the 70s in many ways; it was determinedly international and was constituted around a few 'stars' from the early days of Fluxus. Still relatively young, survivors from the first few years travelled widely, singly or in pairs, and spread their individual — and often different — interpretations of Fluxus at each venue. The first 'bonafide' Fluxus artist to appear during Fluxshoe, was Eric Andersen, who had been associated with Fluxus since 1963, when, with other members of the 'gruppe fra eksperimentalmalerskolen,' he'd given a Fluxus concert in Copenhagen. In 1972, one of Andersen's most notable contributions to the leisure activities of Falmouth was Random Audience, a participation piece in which he offered members of the public 'FREE DRINK, FREE MUSIC, FREE SEX,' handing out a printed notice to this effect, with the date and time of the offering handwritten on it. If anyone was brave enough to show up at the allotted time and place, they found a notice announcing a change of time and venue. If they were then persistent enough to catch up with him, he went armed with a bottle of whisky, a portable cassette player, a vibrator and a rubber vagina.
Fellow Danes Knud Pedersen and Per Kirkeby — both Fluxus artists by virtue of early association or published work — also appeared during the tour. Kirkeby performed an understated 'event' — a jigsaw puzzle that he failed to complete, despite the help of visitors. Pedersen organised, among other participatory actions, a two-balled soccer match — an entertaining and educative intervention into normal expectations: the deceptively simple addition of another ball into a standard game not only makes the match more complex, but can ask a whole series of questions about what constitutes art, a game, competition, a goal... The ludic gene that characterises fluxus is apparent in this tightly organised and fascinating public spectacle with two referees, which was recreated by Pedersen some twenty years later as part of a Tate Gallery exhibition.
Fluxus' early and vital links with Japan were well represented in Fluxshoe and Mayor's other concern, Beau Geste Press. Takako Saito infused both with her delicate aesthetic, and Mayor's base outside Exeter was visited by the Taj Mahal Travellers, or at least a contingent from that group, consisting of Takehisa Kosugi, Yukio Tsuchiya, Ryo and Hiroko Koike. Kosugi himself had been a cofounder, with Mieko Shiomi, of the experimental music group 'Group Ongaku,' in 1961, and had worked in the early- to mid-60s with a whole range of internationally renowned artists and musicians — from Toru Takemitsu to Robert Rauschenberg, including Ichiyanagi, Cage, Paik and Vostell. His involvement with Fluxus began early, and he had a collection of events published, which were included in the first Fluxus Year Box.
AyO was originally to have recreated the New York Fluxshop for Fluxshoe, but instead built a site-specific environment, threading string through the banisters of the stairs at the Museum of Modern Art. He also performed events so subtle that most people ignored them. It would seem that AyO's understanding of Fluxus meant that he felt justified in simply talking to people, perhaps performing very simple and delicate events, such as sitting and burning small pyres built of matches, watched only by one or two people. This rejection of formality — which pervades Fluxshoe to its core — is also typical of a variety of other Fluxus artists throughout the decade, from Robert Filliou's poetical Research at the Stedelijk (1972), which he used as a framework for extended, international and poetic conversations about the state of the world, to Maciunas' reliance on games and sports as a model for cheap, public performance art.
The international roster of artists who attended Fluxshoe included Canadians Paul Woodrow & Clive Robertson (W.O.R.K.S.), plus assorted European performers of varying stature, including Hungarian stamp-artist Endre Tot. It also provided performance opportunities for local talent, from novices such as Paul Brown to seasoned artists like Stuart Brisley.
An American then residing in England, Carolee Schneemann was perhaps the most experienced performance artist to appear in Fluxshoe. She had become most famous for her sensuous and visceral happening, Meat Joy, but she had been a radical filmmaker and performance-painter since the end of the 50s. Despite the fact that Schneemann had taken part in the Berlin Festum Fluxorum of 1970, and despite her consistent and persisting sympathies with Fluxus ideas, Maciunas advised Mayor that she was "...doing very neobaroque style happenings which are exact opposite of fluxhaiku style events...," revisiting disagreements about the constitution of Fluxus.
Giancarlo Politi's Flash Art, sometime supporter of Fluxus artists collectively and individually, stirred this debate by accusing Fluxshoe of expansion to the point of confusion. A notice in this publication characterised Fluxshoe as a mere approximation of Maciunas' philosophy, and that the show included artists who 'never had any rapport with fluxus, neither ideological nor esthetic.' This generated a spirited but friendly response from Ken Friedman, who, in his capacity as 'director of fluxus west' (lower case was de rigeur at the time) repudiated the notice and quoted his own Omaha Flow Systems as proof that Fluxus was capable of divergence, difference, inclusion, and expansion. He argued that Fluxus sought to break boundaries, and that these included the rules of traditional art history as well as bourgeois social practice.
Other artists felt differently: Davi Det Hompson believed that Fluxus as such was over, and that shows such as happening und fluxus, Fluxshoe, and his own International Cyclopedia of Plans and Occurrences (1973), were proof of that. Admitting to being very much a second generation Fluxus artist, he was interested in taking the ideas that Fluxus had developed and continuing them — ideas about not rejecting any possible opportunities simply because they didn't fit conventionally acceptable standards; arriving at a careful balance between the overweening strictures of 'success' or 'selection'; and the 'anything goes' of some performances and happenings. One of the important ideas of Fluxus, for Hompson, was that personalities were less important than things and ideas, although he distinguished between Fluxus and conceptual art on the grounds that Fluxus wasn't simply ideas alone.
On the other hand Alice Hutchins, whose Jewelry Fluxkits were produced well into the 70s, thought Fluxus was still extant, but as a sideline, something given for enjoyment, for no money was ever made. Much more than for Hompson, Fluxus was centred on objects: she had never performed or written an event until offered the opportunity in Oxford, where she wrote and performed a site-specific event, 102 Stroke Piece, about an ancient college bell. She out-rang Great Tom, and handed round Bell's whisky: simple, friendly and unpretentious, it suited the intimate atmosphere of the evening, and won David Mayor's approval. Hompson performed a number of times in Blackburn: in the Museum, where he made Whispered Writings, a series of circular, delf-descriptive texts; and on the street, where he lectured using gestures, a blackboard and a gag over his mouth, so that no sense could be discerned — variations on Fluxus that were very much in keeping with other events seen on the tour.
Fluxshoe was a site of negotiation between classic Fluxus and the new directions taken by individual artists. Thus, under-funded reconstructions by the schoolboy duo Blitzinformation, who performed a series of early Fluxus events by Brecht, Schmit, Maciunas, etc., were complimented by their own Flux-inspired research into average measurements around Hastings, and a stylistic concept called fot. The Taj Mahal Travelers performed interpretations of early events, as well as creating their own piece — a twenty-four hour long jam session at Beau Geste's farmhouse headquarters.
For some purposes, the events most characteristic of Fluxus' early days — those labelled by Maciunas as 'mono-structural neo-haiku' — are at an advantage over other, more complex performances, in that they have a particular portability. The nature of the classic Fluxus 'event' — simple, funny, even elegant — is such that it creates its own atmosphere as part of the performance. The structure of events, based on the characteristic of being repeatable, yet unique each time they are performed, also distinguishes them from other live actions, and it is a knowingly inbuilt asset. It is one of the reasons that early Fluxus is so suited to historic exhibitions, because its intimate atmosphere can be conjured up by anyone willing to spend time, and a little effort, on their own version of events: much of the potential therein comes from the score, the particular notation used to describe many Fluxus pieces.
Nevertheless, not all Fluxus pieces work in this fashion. Many straddle the borderline between subtle, intimate event and complex action, and it is presumably this mixture that David Mayor wished to promote in the Fluxshoe. The valuable openness and multivalence of the Fluxus event, with instructions as flexible as they are specific, meant that, in Fluxshoe, Fluxus was allowed to live on and change form, evolving to suit the various personalities and circumstances of each situation. Occasionally the deviation was so radical that Fluxus may have been misrepresented: anyone who saw Ian Breakwell in Nottingham, or Su Braden at Oxford has a different idea of Fluxus to Dick Higgins' or others among the early Fluxus core. This is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly as few of that generation, or the subsequent generations of 'Young Fluxus' propagated by Maciunas, Friedman, Block et al, have ceased to elaborate personal styles of their own — each in varying proximity to their idea of flux. Giuseppe Chiari, when asked if he was still a Fluxus artist responded, "How could I say no, from the moment that Fluxus is only a name. Fluxus is the most indefinite thing I know..."
The changing and varied interpretations were disseminated by two interconnected spheres of activity closely affiliated with Fluxus — Correspondence Art and small-press publishing; both were inextricably associated with Fluxshoe. The rise in popularity of Artists' Books, an increasing use of the international postal system as medium, and the widespread diffusion of Fluxus ideas outside the gallery system occurred simultaneously, but not by coincidence. Fluxus was formed around publishing, and sympathetic ideas were promoted from the beginning by efforts such as Vostell's dé-collage and Something Else Press. Fluxion was encouraged by dozens of small presses across the world — also connected by mail, and often identified with the same people — who published a wide range of Fluxus-inspired work, or work by artists who still felt an affinity with Fluxus. From Albrecht d's heavily political FlugFLUXblattzeitung to Pawel Petasz' nomadic mail-art magazine Commonpress, variations of Fluxus ideas permeated the art-world at a deliberately extra-institutional level. Only rarely did more commercial periodicals spread Fluxus ideas or widen the debate. Flash Art publisher Giancarlo Politi was a regular promoter of Fluxus ideas, co-operating with Maciunas on publishing projects; commissioning Ben Vautier and other sympathetic individuals to contribute artists' pages; and compiling a special edition on Fluxus, Happenings and Performance in 1978. This issue contained thoughtful commentaries by Higgins, Friedman, and Charles Dreyfus, as well as pieces by Takako Saito, Alison Knowles, George Brecht, and texts by Flynt, Vostell and others. Earlier in the decade, Britain's Art & Artists had given an issue over to Fluxus, priming a small audience for Fluxshoe; but it was usually more specialised, even esoteric, magazines that showed support, and further stretched the interpretation of Fluxus. From Art Press and Source, to the obscure Spanner, Canal or AQ, the audience was gradually extended, and new connections were formed.
Fluxus artists, with their accessability, ad-hoc attitudes, and ever-present humour were a very visible part of the small-press scene, and also quickly became legendary in correspondence art circles, which were rapidly developing across the world. Fluxus is consistently quoted as chief influence on the manners, mores and morals of postal art, which admitted neither jury nor fee. Fluxus was initially constituted through the mails, between people like Paik, Brecht, or Watts; and several, such as Higgins, de Ridder, even Maciunas, continued to operate in correspondence networks well into the 70s. Associated artists as diverse as Anna Banana and Robin Crozier were connected to each other and to Fluxus by post, and to Fluxshoe, which was quickly swamped with mail after the indefatigable correspondence artist Klaus Groh successfully challenged David Mayor's definition of Fluxus. Groh's International Artists' Co-operation organisation was in many ways similar to Beau Geste Press, but its international commitment meant a higher profile on the mail-art scene, with publication of irregular information sheets, which acted as databases for mail-art activity. Such centres created a network of artists who shared the 'attitude towards art' identified as Fluxus. They formed a community based on an international web, generating its own energy, which was a source of many alternatives from the conventional gallery system — helped by Ken Friedman's compilation of a huge address list, one of a number which were circulated virtually freely, through which sympathetic individuals, institutions, publishers and collectives were all potentially connected. Fluxshoe became one way of extending this network to the British provinces: admittance to the exhibition could, if so desired, mean more than simple visual access to published texts, or even sight of performances, although both of these were rare opportunities in themselves in 1972. With the almost guaranteed assistance of David Mayor, it would have been eminently possible for any casually inquisitive visitor to gain postal access to everyone concerned, to discuss live work with the artists present, to interact with the exhibition on a positive level: in short, to enter the network.
In the network, fluxion accelerated to the point where "[W]hatever one can say about Fluxus will have usually been true at one point or another..." It was a matter of 'innovated perception,' according to Mieko Shiomi, or, as George Brecht aphorised the problem, "if the flux fits, wear it."
What Fluxus was; who could or could not be considered Fluxus; where Fluxus had gone — all depended on who one asked, and where they stood in relation to the polarising events of the 60s. With the advent of another decade, however, a new generation of acolytes, artists, historians and fellow-travellers began to emerge; in the 80s, the territory was extended into a broader, more academic debate, shifting from personality and politics to identity and ideology.