Fluxus and Fluxfest

The Big Ideas in Small Art show is running concurrently with Fluxfest 2019

Fluxfest 2019 will have two main components. One is the Toronto Fluxfest Pride mail art project, which will be on exhibition at the Sheldon Rose Gallery for the duration of BiISA show. The second component is a series of performance art events, the first of which will be held during the opening of both shows on Friday, June 21, 2019.

What’s a Fluxfest?

Essentially, a Fluxfest is a performance art festival, during which Fluxus Event Scores are performed. Event Scores borrow theri name and concept from the workd of music, and are usually just brief, mundane, or humorous actions meant to be performed by participating artists. Fluxfests have been a part of Fluxus since the beginnings of Fluxus in 1960s. 

Here is how one of the earliest Fluxfest performances is described in Wikipedia.

In 1962, Maciunas, Higgins and Knowles, traveled to Europe to promote the planned Fluxus publication with concerts of antique musical instruments. With the help of a group of artists including Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell, Maciunas eventually organised a series of Fluxfests across Western Europe. Starting with 14 concerts between 1 and 23 September 1962, at Wiesbaden, these Fluxfests presented work by musicians such as John CageLigetiPendereckiTerry Riley and Brion Gysin alongside performance pieces written by Higgins, Knowles, George Brecht and Nam June Paik, Benjamin Patterson, Robert Filliou, and Emmett Williams, among many others. One performance in particular, Piano Activities by Philip Corner, became notorious by challenging the important status of the piano in post-war German homes.

The score—which asks for any number of performers to, among other things, “play”, “pluck or tap”, “scratch or rub”, “drop objects” on, “act on strings with”, “strike soundboard, pins, lid or drag various kinds of objects across them” and “act in any way on underside of piano”[44]—resulted in the total destruction of a piano when performed by Maciunas, Higgins and others at Wiesbaden. The performance was considered scandalous enough to be shown on German television four times, with the introduction “The lunatics have escaped!”[45]

Contemporary Fluxfests, particularly those organized by members of the Fluxlist (an online community founded by Fluxus co-founder Dick Higgins and associates), generally consist of a mix of event score performances, with many of the scores performed from the historical record (freely available in The Fluxus Performance Workbook), and new event score written by contemporary artists, or by the performers themselves.

What is Fluxus?

The answer to this question depends partly on who you ask!

The historical aspect is generally accepted by everyone familiar with the “movement”, so we’ll start there.

Fluxus evolved from the art philosophical ideas that emerged in western art during the late 1950s. Influenced by the ideas coming out of Black Mountain College, and particularly by the composer John Cage, a group of like minded artists congregated. The name “Fluxus” was coined for them by George Maciunas in 1960, and the first Fluxus events were organized in 1961. Co-founded by Maciunas and Dick Higgins, early members included, Jackson Mac LowLa Monte YoungGeorge BrechtAl Hansen, Henry Flynt, and Yoko Ono.

The Fluxus movement and membership were often in turmoil, as George Maciunas was know for his mercurial temperament as much as for his intelligence and creativity. Nevertheless, the movement persisted, and remained relatively intact until his death in 1978.

Fluxus After Maciunas

After the death of Maciunas, the movement lost some momentum, and some historians and academics fix the demise of Fluxus with the date of Maciunas own demise. This view was not universally accepted by many Fluxus artists.

Fluxus co-founder Dick Higgins, and several other original Fluxus artists continued to produce art, publish, perform, and organize Fluxfests. Maciunas and others argued that Fluxus was never dependant on any individual, and was not an “art movement” as generally understood by the art world establishment. Rather Fluxus was a “way of being”, more of an attitude than a movement. Together with the Fluxus artist Ken Friedman, Fluxus was defined as being “characterized by 12 ideas”, articulated in Friedman’s article, 40 Years of Fluxus.

Higgins and Friedman co-founded an online community in 1996 called the Fluxlist. This launch of Fluxus into the virtual world brought Fluxus to a new audience, and encouraged younger artists from around the world to adopt the Fluxus Attitude and associate themselves in one way or another with the Fluxus movement. Higgins died suddenly in 1998, and Friedman eventually stopped participating on the Fluxlist.

Fluxus After Higgins

With Higgins gone, Friedman ensconced in academia in another field, and many of the other original artists having moved in one way or another, the mercenary machinations of the art market, combined with the history making machinery of academia, declared Fluxus dead, and assigned it to a chapter of Art History.

This came as a surprise to the artists that were either continuing to create Fluxus works, or were newly adopting the Fluxus Attitude, and writing new scores, and creating new artworks, Fluxkits, etc. 

And so it is today that Fluxus is dead to some, and very much alive to others, including to the writer of this article. After all, even according to its originators, Fluxus was never a movement confined to a moment in time, or a select group of individuals. It is an attitude.

The Fluxus Attitude

Once more, courtesy of Wikipedia,

Fluxus is similar in spirit to the earlier art movement of Dada, emphasizing the concept of anti-art and taking jabs at the seriousness of modern art.[119] Fluxus artists used their minimal performances to highlight their perceived connections between everyday objects and art, similarly to Duchamp in pieces such as Fountain.[119] Fluxus art was often presented in “events”, which Fluxus member George Brecht defined as “the smallest unit of a situation.”[119][120] The events consisted of a minimal instruction, opening the events to accidents and other unintended effects.[121] Also contributing to the randomness of events was the integration of audience members into the performances, realizing Duchamp’s notion of the viewer completing the art work.[121]

The Fluxus artistic philosophy has been defined as a synthesis of four key factors that define the majority of Fluxus work:

  1. Fluxus is an attitude. It is not a movement or a style.[122]
  2. Fluxus is intermedia.[123] Fluxus creators like to see what happens when different media intersect. They use found and everyday objects, sounds, images, and texts to create new combinations of objects, sounds, images, and texts.
  3. Fluxus works are simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief.
  4. Fluxus is fun. Humor has always been an important element in Fluxus.

So, Fluxus lives on and Fluxfest 2019 in Toronto will be proudly carrying the Fluxus Flag.


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