Author: Eric Andersen
What is ......?
text by Eric Andersen, Translated by Mary Graham
Fluxus is probably the phenomenon in the art world of the 20th century that historians and other scholars have the most difficulty grasping. The reasons range from a simple lack of will to downright laziness. Although the contribution to the debate by many artists may have been by way of droll misleading comments, we have never shirked from clarifying the issue, if and when interest was shown. For the most part, though, historians suppose that living artists are just out to make trouble. Most art historians and mainstreams curators continuously try to persuade the public that Fluxus was a movement, albeit an art movement, an all-out American affair. When these frenzied grumblings are connected to large economic interests one can into the bargain often find such a peculiar designation as Fluxism. But this is pure rubbish. Fluxus emerged almost as a creation to the sad truth that art for more than two hundred years found its classification within 'isms' and was resigned to being reduced to stereotyped personal expression. Fluxus stood in complete contrast to this world and became at least two incompatible entities. It was one thing in Europe in the years 1962 and 1963 and later something entirely different in the USA, at the time George Maciunas, without any tremendous success, attempted to transform the lot into one form and one strategy. The term Fluxus was first used in Europe and it was also here that the first Fluxus Festivals were held, the first venue was Wiesbaden and then Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, Paris, Amsterdam and many other places during 1962 and 1963.A quite unique new departure had taken place simultaneously in Europe, the USA and Japan in the late Fifties and early Sixties. A completely different understanding of art, which a few years later would be dubbed Inter Media by artist and scholar Dick Higgins.
While in the USA and Japan this new view of art only penetrated in mega centres like New York, the West Coast, Tokyo and Osaka, in Europe around 1960 it had spread largely to all major cities. Piero Manzoni was working in Milan and later Chiari in Florence and Marchetti in Milan. In Madrid and Barcelona Juan Hidalgo, Esther Ferrer and Charles Santos. In Paris and Nice Yves Klein, Daniel Spoerri, Robert Filliou, Ben Vautier and Nouveaux Realistes. In Cologne Tomas Schmit, Ben Patterson, Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell, Emmett Williams in Darmstadt and Zero in Düsseldorf. Willem de Ridder and Wim Schippers in Amsterdam, Arthur Køpcke and myself in Copenhagen, and Bengt af Klintberg and Pistolteatren in Stockholm. The list goes on and on. Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union presented an entire chapter onto itself, which I choose not to dwell on here.
We all found ourselves in marginalised positions but were steadily and calmly creating the necessary platform for our work, which had already from a hesitant start pointed in all possible and totally different directions. George Maciunas's role in Europe was to assemble us at the first festivals, to which he together with Alison Knowles and Dick Higgins brought along a succession of new scores and performance directions from La Monte Young, George Brecht, Bob Watts, Yasonao Tone and many others, who could not participate personally. Although these festivals represented the first major public platform for our work we were all at odds with George Maciunas when he tried to organise us into a group, with a common strategy and aesthetic. He himself stood out as the most amazing, self-contradictory mixture of neo-Dadaism and Leninism. He tried manifestos. We all disagreed. He tried to create unity. We all disobeyed. He wanted to appoint us ambassadors of Fluxus. Everyone disassociated. But we were at the same time rather amused by his innumerable slogans, diagrams designed to show the true connection and all the other propaganda material that gushed from him. His Utopia developed with headquarters, regions and branches with generals, majors and corporals. A fantasy on which mountains of books have been published almost forty years on. What we did in the meantime in actual fact was to establish an international artist network, with wide ranging mail art activities. As far as I am aware, Fluxus was the first international network to be set up by artists themselves. A type of pre-PC database and a net for art and communication. The main actors in this network were Dick Higgins, George Brecht, Ben Patterson, Yasonao Tone, Ben Vautier, Robert Fillou, Willem de Ridder, Bengt af Klintberg, Arthur Køpcke, Tomas Schmit, La Monte Young, Alison Knowles, Bob Watts, AY-O, Eric Andersen, Nam June Paik, Emmet Williams, George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, Philip Corner, Wolf Vostell, Mieko Shiomi, Takako Saito.
It would be hard to find greater differences of expression, temperament, position and opinion than among these artists. There was one thing common to most, but not all: an understanding of art as Inter Media. The most common misconception being floated is that Inter Media was born following the development of 486 processors in the Eighties and that the phenomenon is unthinkable without a definite medium: a computer with a very fast processor. Inter Media, however, does not have any definite form or scale, or attach itself to particular circumstances. As the term implies it does, on the other hand, find a place between other media. This view of art was first conceived in the period 1958-62 and has constantly changed form ever since. It cannot by definition be categorised as a thing, only as methods. Inter Media rejects art and communication as production. Instead, it seeks by means of constant innovation to conduct fundamental research in human articulation. The oeuvre here is not a demarcated unit. The work is open and undergoing constant change, because it includes the spectator. You can but participate in such a work, also by means of mere reflection.
It is quite telling that the terminology we used in the late Fifties and early Sixties has now been appropriated by the media world. The main terms at that time were: Globalism, Simultaneity, Network Structures, Events, Occurrences and Interaction. This is what brought us together and this is almost the opposite of what George Maciunas tried to move Fluxus towards when he returned to New York. For him Fluxus was an international avant-garde, which should fight cultural imperialism, and change society and its cultural institutions. In New York from 1964 and up through the Seventies he tried to style Fluxus. The rest of us remained quite unperturbed. He was well regarded as a very capable organiser and graphic designer but publishing work in the way he did was quite different from our manners.
It is interesting to note that no art historian has been fit to point out that by far the majority of the artists who participated in the Fluxus festivals of 1962 and 1963 could only on very rare occasions work with George Maciunas, after he established his headquarters in New York. Rather, George Maciunas, must be remembered as the amazing initiator he was. Both when the network was being established in 1962 and Soho in New York was being developed via artist cooperatives. Myths about Fluxus abound then as now. They went to such extremes in the Seventies that the art reviewer on one of Copenhagen's main dailies Politiken solemnly declared that Fluxus was an art movement founded by Joseph Beuys. Beuys' attachment to the network was always periphery, although his work had been immensely influenced by a Fluxus visit to Düsseldorf in 1963.
Another rather amusing notion is that Fluxus is a type of neo-Dada anti-art movement with John Cage as father and Marcel Duchamp as grandfather. We were, of course, very fond of them both, both as people and artists, but it can never be said that either was the most important prerequisite for Inter Media. We were just as enthralled by Manzoni, Yves Klein, Man Ray, Marinetti, Malevich, Buñuel and many, many more. And besides Ben Vautier's lush coquettishness not much of the anti-art label can be attributed to anyone.
-- Eric Andersen, Translated by Mary Graham
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