Fluxus

maciunas manifesto

Fluxus—a name taken from a Latin word meaning ‘to flow’—is an international network of artists, composers and designers noted for blending different artistic media and disciplines in the 1960s. They have been active in Neo-Dada noise music and visual art as well as literature, urban planning, architecture, and design. Fluxus is sometimes described as intermedia.

The origins of Fluxus lie in many of the concepts explored by composer John Cage in his experimental music of the 1950s. Cage explored notions of indeterminacy in art, through works such as ‘4’ 33″,’ which influenced Lithuanian-born artist George Maciunas. Maciunas (1931–1978) organized the first Fluxus event in 1961 at the AG Gallery in New York City and the first Fluxus festivals in Europe in 1962.

While Fluxus was named and organized by Maciunas, the Fluxus community began in a small but global network of artists and composers who were already at work when Maciunas met them through minimalist composer La Monte Young and poet Jackson Mac Low in the early 1960s. John Cage’s 1957 to 1959 Experimental Composition classes at the New School for Social Research in New York City were attended by Mac Low, Al Hansen, George Brecht, and Dick Higgins, many of whom were working in other media with little or no background in music. Another cluster of artists was connected to each other through Rutgers University. Many other artists were invited by Cage to attend his classes unofficially at the New School.

Marcel Duchamp and Allan Kaprow (who is credited as the creator of the first ‘happenings’) were also influential to Fluxus. In its early days Fluxus artists were active in Europe (especially in Germany), and Japan, as well as in the United States.

La Monte Young had been asked to guest-edit an issue of a literary journal ‘Beatitude East’ and that effort led to the proto-Fluxus publication called ‘An Anthology of Chance Operations.’ Maciunas supplied the paper, design, and some money for publishing of the anthology, which contained a more or less arbitrary association of New York avant garde artists at that time. By the end of 1961 before ‘An Anthology of Chance Operations’ was completed, Maciunas had moved to Germany to escape his creditors. From there, he continued his contact with the New York artists and sent out announcements about a series of ‘yearbooks’ of artists works under the title of ‘Fluxus.’

Fluxus encouraged a ‘do-it-yourself’ aesthetic, and valued simplicity over complexity. Like Dada before it, Fluxus included a strong current of anti-commercialism and an anti-art sensibility, disparaging the conventional market-driven art world in favor of an artist-centered creative practice. However, it differed from Dada in its richer set of aspirations, and the positive social and communitarian aspirations of Fluxus far outweighed the anti-art tendency that also marked the group.

In terms of an artistic approach, Fluxus artists preferred to work with whatever materials were at hand, and either created their own work or collaborated in the creation process with their colleagues. Outsourcing part of the creative process to commercial fabricators was not usually part of Fluxus practice. Maciunas personally hand-assembled many of the Fluxus multiples and editions.

The art forms most closely associated with Fluxus are event scores and Fluxus boxes. Fluxus boxes (sometimes called Fluxkits or Fluxboxes) originated with George Maciunas who would gather collections of printed cards, games, and ideas, organizing them in small plastic or wooden boxes.

The idea of the event began in Henry Cowell’s philosophy of music. Cowell, a teacher to John Cage and later to Dick Higgins, coined the term that Higgins and others later applied to short, terse descriptions of performable work. The term ‘score’ is used in exactly the sense that one uses the term to describe a music score: a series of notes that allow anyone to perform the work.

Event scores, such as George Brecht’s ‘Drip Music,’ are essentially performance art scripts that are usually only a few lines long and consist of descriptions of actions to be performed rather than dialogue. Fluxus artists differentiate event scores from ‘happenings.’ Whereas happenings were sometimes complicated, lengthy performances meant to blur the lines between performer and audience, performance and reality, Fluxus performances were usually brief and simple. The Event performances sought to elevate the banal, to be mindful of the mundane, and to frustrate the high culture of academic and market-driven music and art.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s (their most active period) they staged ‘action’ events, engaged in politics and public speaking, and produced sculptural works featuring unconventional materials. Their radically untraditional works included, for example, the video art of Nam June Paik and the performance art of Joseph Beuys. The often playful style of Fluxus artists led to their being considered by some little more than a group of pranksters in their early years.

After the death of George Maciunas in 1978 a rift opened in the movement between a few collectors and curators who placed Fluxus in a specific time frame (1962 to 1978), and the artists themselves, most of whom continued to see Fluxus as a living entity held together by its core values and world view. Different theorists and historians adopted each of these views. Fluxus is therefore referred to variously in the past or the present tense.

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