By Ken Friedman
This article is published as:
Friedman, Ken. 2002. “Cuarenta Anos de Fluxus.” Fluxus
y Fluxfilms,1962-2002. Berta Sichel, editor, in collaboration with
Peter Frank. Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, 41-83.
Copyright © Ken Friedman 2002. All rights reserved
This text may be quoted and printed freely with proper acknowledgment.
Forty Years of Fluxus
By Ken Friedman
1.1 The birth of Fluxus, more or less
The fortieth anniversary of Fluxus celebrates the first organized
Fluxus festival in Wiesbaden, Germany. While this is convenient
for exhibitions and festivals, emphasizing a time and place obscures
as much as reveals.
Emmett Williams once wrote, “Fluxus is what Fluxus does –
but no one knows whodunit.” This concise description makes
two radical statements. The statement that no one knows “who
done” Fluxus rejects the idea of Fluxus as a specific group
of people. It identifies Fluxus with a frame of action and defines
Fluxus as a cumulative, aggregate of Fluxus activities over the
past forty years or so. While Emmett is famous for playful conundrums,
he may not agree with this reading of his text. Dick Higgins did.
Dick explicitly rejected a notion that limited Fluxus to a specific
group of people who came together at a specific time and place.
Dick wrote, “Fluxus is not a moment in history, or an art
movement. Fluxus is a way of doing things, a tradition, and a way
of life and death.”
For Dick, for George Maciunas, and for me, Fluxus is more valuable
as an idea and a potential for social change than as a specific
group of people or a collection of objects.
As I see it, Fluxus was a laboratory. The research program of the
Fluxus laboratory is characterized by twelve ideas:
the unity of art and life,
presence in time, and
1.2 Ideas and
The Fluxus idea is distinct from the specific group of people. The
Fluxus idea existed long before the specific group of people identified
At different times, many experimental artists, architects, composers,
and designers have been involved with Fluxus, closely or at the
margins. They created, published, exhibited, and performed under
the Fluxus label or in the Fluxus context. This gave a tangible
form and shape to the Fluxus idea.
The idea involved a community larger than the specific group.
The Fluxus idea implies model-making and paradigm formation. This
article will consider some of the models and paradigms that are
essential to understanding Fluxus.
New models in mathematics precede and lead to new applications in
physical science. New paradigms in art emerge when the world-view
of the larger society within which art is embedded begins to shift.
Changes in vision transform culture and science as they reshape
history. These changes are visible in the shifting paradigms of
The sciences of transdisciplinary complexity came into their own
during the decades in which Fluxus emerged. Fluxus and intermedia
were born just as technology shifted from electrical engineering
to electronic engineering.
The first computers used punch cards and mechanical systems. These
systems date back to the Jacquard loom of 1801 and the Babbage computing
engine of 1834. The computing systems in use when Fluxus began were
based on the Hollerith punch-card system of the 1890s.
Computation science was still in its infancy in 1962, along with
early forms of cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and the
neurosciences. Chaos studies had not yet emerged as a discipline,
but the foundations of chaos studies were already in place.
Fluxus grew with the intermedia idea. It had strong foundations
in music, Zen, design and architecture. Rather than pursuing technical
-- or technological – solutions to artistic problems, Fluxus
artists tended to move in a philosophical vein. The work was both
direct and subtle. This proved to be a blessing, and most Fluxus
work avoided the dead-end solutions typical of the 1960s approach
to art and technology.
The experiments in art and technology that typified the 1960s were
as important as they were ultimately without purpose. Their importance
lay in the effort to explore new media and new possibilities. Nevertheless,
the tendency of the artists to focus on technical solutions rather
philosophical implications rendered the work both spectacular and
shallow. At the end of the day, art and technology was retinal painting
write large. It was seemingly modern because it echoed the dramatic
forms of the world around it. Like the belching smokestacks and
grinding wheels of 1930s murals, it echoed the time in a way that
made it meaningful to those who saw it while giving it what would
become a quaint patina as the technology on which it was based changed.
The art and technology project of the 1960s was astonishingly publicized
as pathbreaking art despite its modest intellectual means. One can
recall artists like Cork Marcheschi, a sculptor whose installations
of electrical whirligigs illustrated basic principles of electromagnetism
in darkened rooms filled with sparking, clacking, buzzing pieces
of equipment. At their best, Marcheschi’s installations suggested
a loopy hybrid combining Don Herbert’s long-running television
science program, “Watch Mr. Wizard,” with the quiet,
polished ambience of a collection of early physical apparatus by
way of a rickety 1950s amusement park. Nevertheless, there was a
Mr. Wizard explained scientific principles in a lucid manner, linking
them to fundamental forces in nature. This was an education in principles
of science. This involves more than facts, and certainly more than
the random facticles that embellish USA Today. It was a lesson in
learning to think. In his own quiet way, Mr. Wizard demonstrated
the quiet dignity of ancient experimental instruments. He was the
“curator of experiments” to a generation of young scientists
and engineers. Lacking that informative substance, Marcheschi’s
mechanisms ultimately lacked the gravitas that raised them from
mere entertainment to entertainment in a more generous and expansive
Despite the inherent beauty of the mechanisms on which Marcheschi
based his work, he exploited scientific principles rather than illuminating
them in playful and elegant ways. It would have been possible to
frame the work in a different and more substantial way. A bit of
thought and humility would have helped. Instead, the atmosphere
of a cheap amusement park came to dominate the enterprise. Marcheschi's
work was rooted in a central motif of shabby gadgetry. He moved
on to public art for airports and salable boxes that whirl and hum.
These works lack the dignity of Marcheschi’s art and technology
installations. Marcheschi’s transformation from the heritage
of Tesla to the histrionics of Mr. T explains why Fluxus never found
a home in art and technology.
Marcheschi’s serious work was hard to sell. His cheap tricks
did. It is sometimes possible to get lucky and sell philosophical
work. It is rare. In this situation, interesting artists choose
philosophy and forego the sale, Marcheschi chose to avoid philosophy
and go for the sale.
One is reminded of an occasion when one of Plato’s pupils
asked the value of mathematics, In response Plato told a slave to
give the youngster a coin, “For he must have profit on everything
That is the story of art and technology.
At its worst, art and technology was an arena in which pompous,
self-centered egotists like James Lee Byars tried to work with serious
scientists and engineers. The result was predicable.
Byars believed himself an immortal talent. His claque of dealers
and self-centered supporters nurtured his illusion. Anyone sensible
predicted that Byars would earn little more than a footnote in history.
The unpredictable element in the adventure was the location of Byars’s
It occurs in the memoirs of the great physicist and Nobel laureate
Richard Feynman. Feynman describes his encounter with an artist
at the art and technology show mounted by the Los Angeles County
Art Museum. Feynman’s description of an “absolute faker
… the biggest faker … always dressed funny … (in)
a big black bowler hat” is unmistakable.
Between Marcheschi and Byars, there were many others. We remember
the big names like Robert Rauschenberg and Merce Cunningham, and
we forget most of the rest. The results were more or less the same.
New paradigms engender new technology as well as new art, but few
technologies give birth to interesting art forms.
It is too soon to tell whether much interesting art will emerge
from the technologies of the past for decades.
Buckminster Fuller noted a three-decade time lag between innovative
paradigms and their wide practical adoption in useful technologies
and behaviors. Many of the new disciplines have only now been around
for thirty years. Some are not yet a decade old. The time may not
yet be ripe for obvious application in visual art.
Electronic processors and video equipment gave rise to new art forms.
Artists could exploit these obvious technologies. Significantly,
the paradigms on which they operate are not new.
Electronic music, for example, began with electrical equipment rather
than the electronic equipment that is available today. Electronic
music was called electronic music because the term seemed more workable
than electric music or electrical music would have been.
The first electronic music was created with wired circuits and electrical
tubes, not with transistors and computers. The early equipment used
to generate electronic music was resembled an old-fashioned telephone
switchboard in appearance and operation. This technology was generations
older than the modern computers that generate electronic music today.
The equipment available to artists and composers in those days was
analog equipment, wired, and arranged by hand. It was very different
from the powerful workstations that now contain more computing power
than the early mainframes.
The past and present of technological art and electronic music are
merely an example. The technological applications of electronic
art are still primitive, even if the paradigms are not. It seems
that video and the electronic arts are still in their primitive
stage. Video has passed out of its Stone Age and entered the Bronze
Video is now a recognized art form, as electronic music, electrostatic
printing, electrostatic transfer and electrostatic printmaking have
become. The media are now distinct and simple but the artistic results
are not often powerful or elegant.
A failure of philosophy is the problem. Too many artists are entranced
with the physical qualities of media and unconscious about ideas.
Art is burdened by attention to physical media and plagued by a
failure to consider the potential of intermedia.
1.4 From Technology
The equipment available to artists today does far more physically
than the art requires. Most videos, for example, are long on technique
and short on content.
Computerized graphic design often illustrates the problem. Graphic
designers explore the capacity of a computer to set hundreds of
complex graphic objects on a page with multiple layers and hitherto
impossible effects while they remain unaware of such simple issues
as legibility and basic communication theory.
The technical power available to computer-based designers outstrips
their design ability in many cases. The result has been an avalanche
of complicated, trendy typography and fussy, mannerist design created
to look up-to-date rather than to communicate.
The most powerful use of computers in science is creating elegant,
simple solutions to complex problems. When artists use the mechanical
power of the computer to complicate rather than to simplify, it
suggests that they do not understand the paradigms of the new technology.
They have merely learned to manipulate the equipment.
The explosion of unworkable Web sites loaded with bells and whistles
is another example. Empirical research in psychology and cognition
demonstrates that Web site visitors want ease of use, fast download
times, and user-friendly navigation features. The vast majority
of the world’s home users surf the Web over simple modems
and copper-wire telephone connections. Sensible designers –
and intelligent university-based design students – recognize
the fact that the astonishing power of broadband connections makes
their computing environment entirely different than the online experience
of the ordinary users for whom they design Web sites. Most designers
These same problems are reflected in the ways that artists use the
Web and digital media.
The art forms that will one day emerge from computation science
and chaos studies haven’t yet reached the level of video and
electronic music, as basic as they still are. The physical forms
of computation science or chaos are not as simple or as obvious
electronic music or video.
Right now, technology dictates the use of media and technological
frenzy inhibits the learning process. It may even be that evolution
demands the creation of many dead ends on the way to interesting
The computer-generated images presented today as computer art or
the fractal images of chaos studies are simplistic presentations
of an idea. They are laboratory exercises or displays of technical
virtuosity, designed to test and demonstrate the media and the technology.
They are the intellectual and artistic equivalent of the paint samples
that interior designers use to plan out larger projects. They may
be interesting and useful in some way, but only people shopping
for paint find them relevant.
In contrast, Fluxus suggested approaches that are simple rather
The level of complexity in any given work was determined by philosophical
paradigms and not by available technology. This is an important
difference a technological age.
It is distinguishes Fluxus forms as humanistic forms, forms determined
by the artist rather than by the tools. It shaped the roots of intermedia
as opposed to multimedia. The idea of simplicity owes as much to
the Fluxus refusal to distinguish between art and life as to the
intellectual curiosity that characterizes Fluxus artists.
are More Important than Technology
The paradigms of any complex, transformative era are its most interesting
features. Paradigms born today will transform the global environment
tomorrow. This is the environment in which Fluxus took shape and
the environment in which Fluxus continues to grow. It hasn’t
led to an art of technical applications, but an art of subtle ideas.
Some of those ideas have been complex, but few have been complicated.
Many have been simple. Few have been simplistic. (Simplistic Fluxus
works do crop up as thought experiments or as demonstrations in
the tradition of Diogenes or the Hodja.)
The essence of Fluxus has been transformation. The key transformative
issues in a society don’t always attract immediate notice.
Transformative issues involve paradigm shifts. When paradigms are
shifting, the previous dominant information hierarchy holds the
obvious focus of a society’s attention until the shift is
complete. One simple example of this phenomenon can be seen in the
expectations we had for videophone compared to what we thought of
For decades, journalists hailed videophone as the coming revolution
in telecommunications. Videophone appeared to be a natural marriage
of television and telephone. It was a great idea. It made for fascinating
illustrated articles in magazines and great snippets on TV shows.
By contrast, telefax was humble, almost primitive. Users could send
a message, but they could not talk and see their message at the
same time. On an emotional level, therefore, telefax seemed closer
to telegraph than television, nowhere near as exciting as videophone.
In the end, it did not matter that telefax lacked excitement. Telefax
was useful. It was application-oriented and user-friendly. It was
simple and flexible. As a result, telefax became the most profound
development in communications technology of the 1980s and early
At first, the telefax was so obvious that it was almost overlooked.
Videophone was such a dramatic idea that it held public interest
long before becoming possible as a practical, cost-effective technology.
It diverted public attention from the telefax while telefax quietly
transformed the way we sent and received messages.
That is the way it was with Fluxus.
Fluxus took shape in Europe, the United States, and Japan during
the 1950s. It started in the work and actions of many people. Their
activity went unnoticed most of the time. When it was noticed, people
did not give it much thought.
Nevertheless, the processes created and nurtured by the Fluxus community
were new paradigms for considering art, architecture, music, and
The artists, composers, architects, and designers who constituted
the Fluxus community worked with simple ideas. The ideas sometimes
seemed so simple that they were easy to ignore.
As often happens in developing paradigms, simplicity is a focus
for concentrated thinking. It generates depth, power and resonance.
That is how Fluxus survived and why Fluxus was never just an art
The environment also changes. Just as the telefax redefined the
way that people communicate, new media will once again transform
our way of sending and receiving messages.
Telefax was developed before the widespread availability of the
personal computer. Today, personal computers and the various ways
of linking them are beginning to replace telefax -- including computers
that emulate a telefax. The telefax that was once revolutionary
has become an entry-level technology.
In the middle of the 1800s, Pony Express redefined overland message
delivery speed. Pony Express lasted only two years before it was
replaced by the telegraph. The telegraph was later replaced by the
telephone, an invention that was once thought of as a special kind
of toy for transmitting musical concerts and news broadcasts.
Today, satellite-linked telephones, computer networks and e-mail
are shaping a platform that will slowly encompass the earth. This
platform will eventually make videophone possible through a new
technology unimagined by the original inventors of the videophone
concept. The technologies of Internet and the World Wide Web have
replaced Telefax with email and email attachments. Web telephony
and Web conferencing will bring the videophone to life for users
with good connections.
Despite the growth of advanced technology, the relatively simple
telefax remains useful and so do landline telephones. Today, as
in past times, there are situations in which older technologies
are better suited to modern applications than the more advanced
solutions. One example is the suitability of entry-level mobile
phone systems for developing nations that use a simpler and less
expensive technology than the GSM systems that are standard in many
Some technologies and paradigms will probably never lose their value.
Books are an example for reading. The human voice is an example
for speaking and singing. These are examples of simple paradigms
and technologies that are accessible and available under such a
wide variety of options that they will always be useful for some
Fluxus works in the same way. It is a useful series of paradigms
Fluxus was born at a transition point in worldviews. The era that
the English-speaking world once called the Elizabethan Age is only
now ending. This was the age of the pirate kings and colonial empires.
It was an age of gunpowder technology. The Western nations used
this technology to conquer and dominate the rest of the world.
The greater part of the world’s wealth and power were once
concentrated in Asia. The European kingdoms and cultures were primitive
in comparison with the Asian empires. Nevertheless, poor decisions
by Asian rulers virtually assured the European powers of global
dominance, despite their relative youth and poverty.
Two of the most significant decisions were the mandated destruction
of China’s ocean-going fleets and the closing of Japan. These
decisions were foolish, folly because powerful governments made
decisions that weakened the power of their nations. By closing themselves
off, China and Japan transformed themselves from the world’s
most developed nations into backward nations. By attempting to freeze
themselves in time, China and Japan cut themselves off from the
competition and evolution of a changing worldwide environment. This
would later place these two great nations at a comparative disadvantage
against nations that grew during the centuries in which they stood
This was far different case than the situations of India, Korea,
and Viet Nam. These nations found themselves in problematic situations
dictated more by historical circumstance than specific and bad decisions.
For any number of reasons, however, the ancient, wealthy, and powerful
empires of Asia were unable to innovate and compete effectively
against the vigorous and often ruthless expansion of the Western
The Asian powers had their own ruthless dynasties. The triumph of
the West did not occur because the West was willing to be immoral
where the East was spiritual and unprepared to resist. The main
issues were technological and economic. The West had a more effective
technology than the East, and Western technology was coupled to
a culture better able to innovate and initiate change.
The shifting balance of power between East and West determined the
shape of world power and the global economic system for roughly
five centuries. Those five centuries are now coming to an end.
A new era is taking shape now.
Empires, New Nations, and Beyond
We do not yet have a name for the new era, but it is clear that
a new time is emerging. Asia is once again a wealthy, powerful region.
It is expanding and transforming the world economy.
It was led first by Japan, later by Korea and Taiwan. Mainland China
and India are about to emerge. This will eventually give Asia the
world’s largest regional economy.
The Asia-Pacific region already equals Europe and North America
in many kinds of wealth, particularly in the human capital on which
future growth depends. Physical assets and infrastructure lag behind,
along with structural capital and the social and cultural systems
that put them to use, Even so, the next decades will see dramatic
transformations. As this begins to take place, Asia will soon equal
Europe and North America in power and geopolitical influence.
There is every reason to believe that the Asia-Pacific region –
possibly linked with Australia, New Zealand, and North America --
will play the pivotal role in the global affairs of the 21st Century.
Europe played this role from the 17th century to the first half
of the 20th Century. America played this role from the early 20th
century on. Changing times mean new balances of power. The consequences
of this transformation will be good and bad.
This transformation will be good or bad for individuals and societies
depending on who and where they are. It will also depend on their
viewpoint. Whether the changes are good or bad, however, the moment
in which the new era takes shape will be a time-based, transitional
Boundary zones in ecological systems give rise to interesting life
forms. Transitional times in history give rise to interesting culture
The first signs of this global transformation began in the last
century. The last real moment of the old Europe ended with the Treaty
of Vienna that concluded the Napoleonic Wars. This was the end of
the old diplomacy and the old empires.
The putative revolutions of the mid-century, the revolutions that
failed, were the beginning of the new nationalism. This was a clear
sign that the European empires were doomed.
Even though they did not know it, the Hapsburgs were in trouble
by the middle of the 1800s. So were the Romanovs. So was the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
dynasty (soon to be renamed Windsor). And so were and the Hohenzollerns
of Prussia, whose imperial aspirations were doomed even before their
empire was cobbled together by the Iron Chancellor, von Bismarck.
The conclusion in the 20th century could not have been predicted
at that time, but change was on horizon. Technology, economy and
history doomed the static and slow-moving empires with all their
The transformative zone in the cultural ecology that ushered in
our century became visible in the 1890s with the work of artists
and composers such as Alfred Jarry, Pablo Picasso, Douanier Rousseau
and Erik Satie. The tradition they established became a kind of
left-handed, Tantric approach to art, contrarian, and often hermetic.
(Picasso opened the century in company with Jarry and the others.
Unlike them, he participated in both sides of modernism, the public,
heroic modernism and the intellectual, hermetic tradition of Satie,
Jarry and, later, Duchamp. Picasso’s genius -- and his tragedy
-- was that of a lucid cultural pirate, a self-willed king who shaped
a kaleidoscope of modernist traditions that influenced all the art
that followed him, along with much of the literature and music.)
The transnational avant-garde blossomed in an era that would become
increasingly nationalist. The national romantic movements in art
and music that accompanied the break-up of the great empires and
the liberation of conquered and colonized nations influenced this
As a result, this tradition in art excited and stimulated young
artists. It opened the doors to many cultures. At the same time,
these transnational artists came into conflict with the very cultures
Only the moment of international modernism made Hollywood possible,
for example, yet Hollywood movies grew and blossomed as a typically
American art form. Hollywood film was a cultural innovation as boldly
ethnocentric as the music of Grieg and Sibelius, as peculiarly archetypal
in national expression as the paintings of Matisse or the architecture
The twentieth century saw two arts and two cultures growing side
by side. One was public, heroic and national in inclination. The
other was intellectual, hermetic and global in tone.
These two traditions challenged and informed each other, yet they
remained separate. They were separated as much by the demands of
politics and economics as by the reality of art.
The case of Abstract Expressionism is a good example. This was the
first American art movement to exert worldwide influence. It gained
its influence as America took on the international leadership that
disintegrated European empires and their impoverished heirs could
no longer afford.
Europe and Asia informed the best sentiments of Abstract Expressionism.
Abstract Expressionism would have been impossible without the twin
influences of Surrealism and oriental culture on America.
When it came time for America to stand for its own in the international
art world, however, politics, economics and political economics
dictated that Abstract Expressionism be treated as some kind of
uniquely American triumph. Viewed in one way, this was the voice
of a young nation come into its own. Viewed another way, this was
history chasing its own tail.
Myopic art critics with no conception of intellectual and cultural
history heralded what they labeled the triumph of American painting.
Some of these critics were well informed in the narrow history of
art, but they were conveniently ignorant of larger cultural history
and world affairs. They knew little of the long view charted by
such historians as Fernand Braudel and Daniel Boorstin, or by economists
such Harold Innis and Fritz Machlup, and by such scholars as Felipe
Fernandez-Armesto or Jared Diamond.
Most of the American triumphalists overlooked the fact that the
art market and art history are generally -- and temporarily -- dominated
by the nation that currently holds the balance of power in the geopolitical
and economic terms. The triumphalist view served the political purposes
of the American government. American critics, curators, and dealers
overlooked history in their eagerness for a chance in the center
ring. To make the facts of history clear raised uncomfortable truths.
The truth was that this artistic achievement would have been impossible
without the artistic contributions of defeated Japan and problematic
China. It would have been even less possible without a foundation
in the art of an occasionally fractious Europe that America was
attempting to dominate and lead.
The acolytes of Abstract Expressionism ballyhooed the grandeur of
the New York painters, treating everything up to that moment as
the prelude to their triumph. One can’t entirely blame America
for this attitude. It’s not as though the Greeks, the Italians,
the Dutch, the British or the Japanese hadn’t done as much
in their own moment of grandeur, along with several star turns by
the French on behalf of their several republics and empires.
1.8 Fluxus and
the New Global Perspective
Fluxus grew from another tradition. This was a global tradition.
It was neglected because it is anti-nationalistic in sentiment and
tone. Artists who are not easily used as national flag-bearers typify
While artists such as Marcel Duchamp and John Cage are described
as Fluxus ancestors, ideas played a larger role than individuals.
De Stijl and the Bauhaus philosophy were central to some. Russian
revolutionary art groups such as LEF influenced others.
For many, the idea that one can be an artist and -- at the same
time -- an industrialist, an architect, or a designer is a key to
the way one can view Fluxus work and the artist’s role in
It is as important to work in the factory or the urban landscape
as in the museum. It is important to be able to shift positions
and to work in both environments.
Dada was farther from Fluxus in many ways than either De Stijl or
Bauhaus. The seeming relationship between Fluxus and Dada is more
a matter of appearances than of deep structure. Robert Filliou pointed
this out in a 1962 statement making clear that Fluxus is not Dadaist
in its intentions.
Dada was explosive, irreverent, and made much use of humor, as Fluxus
has also done. Nevertheless, Dada was nihilistic. It was a millenarian
movement in modernist terms.
Fluxus was constructive. Fluxus was founded on principles of creation,
of transformation and its central method sought new ways to build.
While Fluxus offers something to everyone who is interested, it
demands perspective and commitment in return. Anyone can have it.
Everyone must work to get it.
The premises and the results are simple.
The path from the premises to the goal can be difficult.
Fluxus is a creation of the fluid moment. The transformative zone
where the shore meets the water is simple and complex. Profoundly
simple premises can create rich, complex interactions that lead
to surprising results.
Finding the simple elements that interact to shape our complex environment
is the goal of much science. In culture, too, and in human behavior,
simple elements combine in many ways.
On the one hand, we seek to understand and describe them. On the
other, we seek to use them. The fascination and delight of transformation
states in boundary zones is the way in which they evolve naturally.
1.9 A When, How
and Who of Fluxus
Let’s jump back to the anniversary year, 1962. Several people
in Europe, Japan and the United States had been working in parallel
art forms and pursuing many of the same ideas in their work. The
Lithuanian-born architect and designer George Maciunas had tried
to present their work in a gallery and through a magazine named
Fluxus. The gallery folded and the magazine never appeared.
Maciunas organized a festival in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1962, featuring
the work of many of the artists and composers whose work had been
scheduled for publication in the magazine. The idea of the festival
was to raise money to publish the magazine, so it was called the
Fluxus Festival. The German press referred the participants by name
of the festival, calling them “die Fluxus leute,” the
Fluxus people. That’s how a specific group of artists came
to be called the Fluxus group.
The artists in Wiesbaden included Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles,
Arthur Køpcke, George Maciunas, Nam June Paik, Benjamin Patterson,
Karl Erik Welin, Emmett Williams, and Wolf Vostell. They were already
in contact with artists and composers such as George Brecht, Jackson
Mac Low, La Monte Young, Ben Vautier and with many of the individuals
whose work was soon to appear in An Anthology.
While Maciunas’s festival gave Fluxus its name, many of the
artists and composers involved the festival had known and worked
with each other long before 1962.
The New York Audio-Visual Group, for example, had been active since
1956. In Germany, a similar group of artists and composers had been
working together equally as long. Maciunas’s projects offered
these people a forum. For many them, Fluxus was a forum and a meeting
place without ideological or artistic conditions and without a defined
After Wiesbaden, artists who had been working on similar principles
came into contact with others who were active in the Fluxus community.
Some of them became active in the Fluxus group. Most of them were
working on a similar basis and they took part in Fluxus because
of what they had already done.
These artists were to include Joseph Beuys, Giuseppe Chiari, Henning
Christiansen, Philip Corner, Robert Filliou, Bengt af Klintberg,
Yoko Ono, Willem de Ridder, Takako Saito, Tomas Schmit, Daniel Spoerri,
Robert Watts, La Monte Young and others. Some, like La Monte, had
been in touch with George long before Wiesbaden. The group kept
growing through the mid-sixties, eventually coming to include other
artists like Milan Knizak, Geoff Hendricks, Larry Miller, Yoshi
Wada, Jean Dupuy and myself.
There were two groups of original Fluxus members. The first group
was comprised of the nine who were at Wiesbaden. The second group
included those who came into Fluxus in the years after, distinguished
by innovative work that led the others to welcome them.
Fluxus has been able to grow because it’s had room for dialogue
and transformation. It’s been able to be born and reborn several
times in different ways. The fluid understanding of its own history
and meaning, the central insistence on dialogue and social creativity
rather than on objects and artifacts have enabled Fluxus to remain
alive on the several occasions that Fluxus has been declared dead.
Twelve Fluxus Ideas
2.0 Core Issues
Twelve core ideas can be seen as basic to Fluxus. In 1981, Dick
Higgins wrote a list of nine criteria that he suggested as central
to Fluxus. He stated that a work or a project is Fluxist to the
degree that it fulfills a significant number of criteria, and that
the more criteria any one piece fills, the more Fluxus in intention
and realization it is. I expanded Dick’s list to twelve. The
ideas are much the same as Dick’s, but I changed some of the
terms to account more precisely for nuances of meaning.
There has been some confusion over the use of the term criteria.
Dick and I both used the term in the original sense of characteristics
or traits, not standards of judgment. In short, we intended description,
We’re describing ideas, not prescribing standards.
The Twelve Fluxus Ideas are:
Unity of art and life
Presence in time
Globalism is central to Fluxus. It embraces the idea that we live
on a single world, a world in which the boundaries of political
states are not identical with the boundaries of nature or culture.
Dick Higgins’s list used the term internationalism. Higgins
referred to Fluxus’s complete lack of interest in the national
origin of ideas or of people, but internationalism can also be a
form of competition between nations. War is now unacceptable as
a form of national expression. Economic interests on a global scale
erase national boundaries, too. The only areas in which nations
can push themselves forward as national interest groups with identities
defined against the identities of other nations are sports and culture.
The international culture festivals are sometimes like soccer championships
where culture stars and national politicians push against each other
with all the vigor and savagery of simulated warfare. Fluxus encourages
dialogue among like minds, regardless of nation. Fluxus welcomes
the dialogue of unlike minds when social purposes are in tune.
In the 1960s, the concept of internationalism was expressive. The
United Nations was young, the cold war was an active conflict, and
mass political groups operating as national interest groups seemed
to offer a way to establish global dialogue. Today, globalism is
a more precise expression. It is not simply that boundaries do not
count. In the most important issues, there are no boundaries.
A democratic approach to culture and to life is a part of the Fluxus
view of globalism. A world inhabited by individuals of equal worth
and value suggests -- or requires -- a method for each individual
to fulfill his or her potential. This, in turn, suggests a democratic
context within which each person can decide how and where to live,
what to become, how to do it.
The world as it is today has been shaped by history and today’s
conditions are determined in great part by social and economic factors.
While the western industrialized nations and some developing nations
are essentially democratic, we do not live in a truly democratic
world. Much of the world is governed by tyrannies, dictatorships
or anarchic states. Finding the path from today’s world to
a democratic world raises important questions, complex questions
that lie outside the boundaries of this essay. Nevertheless, democracy
seems to most of us an appropriate goal and a valid aspiration.
It is fair to say that many Fluxus artists see their work as a contribution
to that world.
Some of the Fluxus work was intended as a direct contribution to
a more democratic world. Joseph Beuys’s projects for direct
democracy, Nam June Paik’s experiments with television, Robert
Filliou’s programs, Dick Higgins’s Something Else Press,
Milan Knizak’s Aktual projects, George Maciunas’s multiples
and my own experiments with communication and research-based art
forms were all direct attempts to bring democratic expression into
art and to use art in the service of democracy. The artists who
created these projects wrote essays and manifestoes that made this
goal clear. The views took different starting points, sometimes
political, sometimes economic, sometimes philosophical, sometimes
even mystical or religious. As a result, this is one aspect of Fluxus
that can be examined and understood in large global terms, and these
terms are given voice in the words of the artists themselves. Other
Fluxus projects had similar goals, though not all have been put
forward in explicit terms.
Concurrent with a democratic standpoint is an anti-elitist approach.
When Nam June Paik read the earlier version of the 12 Fluxus Ideas,
he pointed out that the concept of anti-elitism was missing.
I had failed to articulate the linkage between globalism, democracy
and anti-elitism. In fact, one can’t achieve a humanistic
global community without democracy or achieve democracy in a world
controlled by an elite. In this context, one must define the term
“elitism” to mean a dominant elite class based on inherited
wealth or power or based on the ability of dominant elites to incorporate
new members in such a way that their wealth and power will be preserved.
This is quite contrary to an open or entrepreneurial society in
which the opportunity to advance is based on the ability to create
value in the form of goods or services.
The basic tendency of elitist societies to restrict opportunity
is why elite societies eventually strangle themselves. Human beings
are born with the genetic potential for talent and the potential
to create value for society without regard to gender, race, religion
or other factors. While some social groups intensify or weaken certain
genetic possibilities through preferential selection based on social
factors, the general tendency is that any human being can in theory
represent any potential contribution to the whole.
A society that restricts access to education or to the ability to
shape value makes it impossible for the restricted group to contribute
to the larger society. This means that a restrictive society will
finally cripple itself in comparison to or in competition with a
society in which anyone can provide service to others to the greatest
For example, a society which permits all of its members to develop
and use their talents to the fullest extent will always be a richer
and more competitive society than a society which doesn’t
allow some members to get an education because of race, religion
or social background. Modern societies produce value through professions
based on education. Educated people create the material wealth that
enables all members of a society to flourish through such disciplines
as physics, chemistry or engineering. It is nearly impossible to
become a physicist, a chemist or an engineer without an education.
Those societies that make it impossible for a large section of the
population to be educated for these professions must statistically
reduce their chances of innovative material progress in comparison
with those societies that educate every person with the aptitude
for physics, chemistry or engineering.
In suggesting a world with no restrictions based on elite social
advantage, Fluxus suggests a world in which it is possible to create
the greatest value for the greatest number of people. This finds
its parallel in many of the central tenets of Buddhism. In economic
terms, it leads to what could be called Buddhist capitalism or green
In the arts, the result can be confusing. The arts are a breeding
ground and a context for experiment. The world uses art to conduct
experiments of many kinds -- thought experiments and sense experiments.
At their best, the arts are cultural wetlands, a breeding ground
for evolution and for the transmutation of life forms. In a biologically
rich dynamic system, there are many more opportunities for evolutionary
dead ends than for successful mutation. As a result, there must
be and there is greater latitude for mistakes and transgressions
in the world of the arts than in the immediate and results-oriented
world of business or social policy. This raises the odd possibility
that a healthy art world may be a world in which there is always
more bad art than good. According to some, the concept of bad art
or good is misleading: this was Filliou’s assertion, the point
he made with his series of Bien Fait, Mal Fait works.
Ultimately, the development and availability of a multiplicity of
works and views permits choice, progress and development. This is
impossible in a centrally planned, controlled society. The democratic
context of competing visions and open information makes this growth
possible. Access to information is a basis for this development,
which means that everyone must have the opportunity to shape information
and to use it. Just as short-term benefits can accrue in entropic
situations, so it is possible for individuals and nations to benefit
from the short-term monopoly of resources and opportunities. Thus
the urge for elitism based on social class and for advantage based
on nationalism. In the long run, this leads to problems that disadvantage
everyone. Fluxism suggests globalism, democracy and anti-elitism
as intelligent premises for art, for culture and for long-term human
Paik’s great 1962 manifesto, Utopian Laser Television, pointed
in this direction. He proposed a new communications medium based
on hundreds of television channels. Each channel would narrowcast
its own program to an audience of those who wanted the program without
regard to the size of the audience. It wouldn’t make a difference
whether the audience was made of two viewers or two billion. It
wouldn’t even matter whether the programs were intelligent
or ridiculous, commonly comprehensible or perfectly eccentric. The
medium would make it possible for all information to be transmitted
and each member of each audience would be free to select or choose
his own programming based on a menu of infinitely large possibilities.
Even though Paik wrote his manifesto for television rather than
computer-based information, he predicted the worldwide computer
network and its effects. As technology advances to the point were
computer power will make it possible for the computer network to
carry and deliver full audio-visual programming such as movies or
videotapes, we will be able to see Paik’s Utopian Laser Television.
That is the ultimate point of the Internet with its promise of an
information rich world.
As Buckminster Fuller suggested, it must eventually make sense for
all human beings to have access to the multiplexed distribution
of resources in an environment of shared benefits, common concern
and mutual conservation of resources.
Unity of Art and Life
The unity of art and life is central to Fluxism. When Fluxus was
established, the conscious goal was to erase the boundaries between
art and life. That was the sort of language appropriate to the time
of pop art and of happenings. The founding Fluxus circle sought
to resolve what was then seen as a dichotomy between art and life.
Today, it is clear that the radical contribution Fluxus made to
art was to suggest that there is no boundary to be erased.
Beuys articulated it well in suggesting that everyone is an artist,
as problematic as that statement appears to be. Another way to put
it is to say that art and life are part of a unified field of reference,
a single context. Stating it that way poses problems, too, but the
whole purpose of Fluxus is to go where the interesting problems
Intermedia is the appropriate vehicle for Fluxism. Dick Higgins
introduced the term “intermedia” to the modern world
in his famous 1966 essay. He described an art form appropriate to
people who say there are no boundaries between art and life. If
there can’t be a boundary between art and life, there cannot
be boundaries between art form and art form. For purposes of history,
of discussion, of distinction, one can refer to separate art forms,
but the meaning of intermedia is that our time often calls for art
forms that draw on the roots of several media, growing into new
Imagine, perhaps, an art form that is comprised 10% of music, 25%
of architecture, 12% of drawing, 18% of shoemaking, 30% of painting
and 5% of smell. What would it be like? How would it work? How would
some of the specific art works appear? How would they function?
How would the elements interact? That’s a thought experiment
that yields interesting results. Thoughts like this have given rise
to some of the most interesting art works of our time.
Fluxus applied the scientific method to art. Experimentalism, research
orientation and iconoclasm were its hallmarks. Experimentalism doesn’t
merely mean trying new things. It means trying new things and assessing
the results. Experiments that yield useful results cease being experiments
and become usable tools, like penicillin in medicine or imaginary
numbers in mathematics.
The research orientation applies not only to the experimental method,
but also to the ways in which research is conducted. Most artists,
even those who believe themselves experimentalists, understand very
little about the ways ideas develop. In science, the notion of collaboration,
of theoreticians, experimenters and researchers working together
to build new methods and results, is well established. Fluxus applied
this idea to art. Many Fluxus works are the result of numbers of
artists active in dialogue. Fluxus artists are not the first to
apply this method, but Fluxus is the first art movement to declare
this way of working as an entirely appropriate method for use over
years of activity rather than as the occasional diversion. Many
Fluxworks are still created by single artists, but from the first
to the present day, you find Fluxus artists working together on
projects where more than one talent can be brought to bear.
Iconoclasm is almost self-evident. When you work in an experimental
way in a field as bounded by restrictions and prejudices as art,
you’ve got to be willing to break the rules of cultural tradition.
One key aspect of Fluxus experimentation is chance. The methods
-- and results -- of chance occur repeatedly in the work of Fluxus
There are several ways of approaching chance. Chance, in the sense
of aleatoric or random chance, is a tradition with a legacy going
back to Duchamp, to Dada and to Cage. That’s been very famous
and much has been made of it. Perhaps those who have written about
Fluxus have made more of chance than they should have, but this
is understandable in the cultural context in which Fluxus appeared.
By the late 1950s, the world seemed to have become too routinized,
opportunities for individual engagement in the great game of life
too limited. In America, this phenomenon was noted in books such
as The Organization Man, in critiques of “the silent generation,”
and in studies such as The Lonely Crowd. The entire artistic and
political program of the Beats was built on opposition to routine.
Random chance, a way to break the bonds, took on a powerful attraction,
and for those who grew up in the late 50s and early 60s, it still
has the nostalgic aroma that hot rods and James Dean movies hold
for others. Even so, random chance was more useful as a technique
than as a philosophy.
There is also evolutionary chance. In the long run, evolutionary
chance plays a more powerful role in innovation than random chance.
Evolutionary chance engages a certain element of the random. Genetic
changes occur, for example, in a process that is known as random
selection. New biological mutations occur at random under the influence
of limited entropy, for example, when radiation affects the genetic
structure. This is a technical degeneration of the genetic code,
but some genetic deformations actually offer good options for survival
and growth. When one of these finds an appropriate balance between
the change and the niche in which it finds itself, it does survive
to become embodied in evolutionary development.
This has parallels in art and in music, in human cultures and societies.
Something enters the scene and changes the world-view we previously
held. That influence may be initiated in a random way. It may begin
in an unplanned way, or it may be the result of signal interference
to intended messages, or it may be the result of a sudden insight.
Many possibilities exist. When the chance input is embodied in new
form, however, it ceases to be random and becomes evolutionary.
That is why chance is closely allied to experimentation in Fluxus.
It is related to the ways in which scientific knowledge grows, too.
Playfulness has been part of Fluxus since the beginning. Part of
the concept of playfulness has been represented by terms such as
jokes, games, puzzles and gags. This role of gags in Fluxus has
sometimes been overemphasized. This is understandable. Human beings
tend to perceive patterns by their gestalt, focusing on the most
noticeable differences. When Fluxus emerged, art was under the influence
of a series of attitudes in which art seemed to be a liberal, secular
substitute for religion. Art was so heavily influenced by rigidities
of conception, form and style that the irreverent Fluxus attitude
stood out like a loud fart in a small elevator. The most visible
aspect of the irreverent style was the emphasis on the gag. There
is more to humor than gags and jokes, and there is more to playfulness
Play comprehends far more than humor. There is the play of ideas,
the playfulness of free experimentation, the playfulness of free
association and the play of paradigm shifting that are as common
to scientific experiment as to pranks.
Simplicity, sometimes called parsimony, refers to the relationship
of truth and beauty. Another term for this concept is elegance.
In mathematics or science, an elegant idea is that idea which expresses
the fullest possible series of meanings in the most concentrated
possible statement. That is the idea of Occam’s Razor, a philosophical
tool which states that a theory that accounts for all aspects of
a phenomenon with the fewest possible terms will be more likely
to be correct than a theory that accounts for the same phenomenon
using more (or more complex) terms. From this perspective of philosophical
modeling, Copernicus’s model of the solar system is better
than Ptolemy’s -- must be better -- because it accounts for
a fuller range of phenomena in fewer terms. Parsimony, the use of
frugal, essential means, is related to that concept.
This issue was presented in Higgins’s original list as minimalism,
but the term minimalism has come to have a precise meaning in the
world of art. While some of the Fluxus artists like La Monte Young
can certainly be called minimalists, the intention and the meaning
of their minimalism is very different than the minimalism associated
with the New York art school of that name. I prefer to think of
La Monte as parsimonious. His work is a frugal concentration of
idea and meaning that fits his long spiritual pilgrimage, closer
to Pandit Pran Nath than to Richard Serra.
Simplicity of means and perfect attention distinguish this concept
in the work of the Fluxus artists.
Implicativeness means that an ideal Fluxus work implies many more
works. This notion is close to and grows out of the notion of elegance
and parsimony. Here, too, you see the relationship of Fluxus to
experimentalism and to the scientific method.
Exemplativism is the principle that Dick Higgins outlined in another
essay, the Exemplativist Manifesto. Exemplativism is the quality
of a work exemplifying the theory and meaning of its construction.
While not all Fluxus works are exemplative, there has always been
a feeling that those pieces that are exemplative are in some way
closer to the ideal than those that are not. You could say, for
example, that exemplativism is the distinction between George Brecht’s
poetic proposals and Ray Johnson’s -- and probably shows why
Brecht is in the Fluxus circle while Johnson, as close to Fluxus
as he is, has never really been a part of things.
Specificity has to do with the tendency of a work to be specific,
self-contained and to embody all its own parts. Most art works rely
on ambiguity, on the leaking away of meanings to accumulate new
meanings. When a work has specificity, it loads meaning quite consciously.
In a sense, this may seem a contradiction in an art movement that
has come to symbolize philosophical ambiguity and radical transformation,
but it is a key element in Fluxus.
2.11 Presence in time
Many Fluxus works take place in time. This has sometimes been referred
to by the term ephemeral but the terms ephemerality and duration
distinguish different qualities of time in Fluxus. It is appropriate
that an art movement whose very name goes back to the Greek philosophers
of time and the Buddhist analysis of time and existence in human
experience should place great emphasis on the element of time in
The ephemeral quality is obvious in the brief Fluxus performance
works, where the term ephemeral is appropriate, and in the production
of ephemera, fleeting objects and publications with which Fluxus
has always marked itself. But Fluxus works often embody a different
sense of duration as: musical compositions lasting days or weeks,
performances that take place in segments over decades, even art
works that grow and evolve over equally long spans. Time, the great
condition of human existence, is a central issue in Fluxus and in
the work that artists in the Fluxus circle create.
Musicality refers to the fact that many Fluxus works are designed
as scores, as works that can be realized by artists other than the
creator. While this concept may have been born in the fact that
many Fluxus artists were also composers, it signifies far more.
The events, many object instructions, game and puzzle works -- even
some sculptures and paintings -- work this way. This means that
you can own a George Brecht piece by carrying out one of Brecht’s
scores. If that sounds odd, you might ask if you can experience
Mozart simply by listening to an orchestra play one of Mozart’s
scores. The answer is that you can. Perhaps another orchestra or
Mozart himself might have given a better rendition, but it is still
Mozart’s work. This, too, is the case with a Brecht or a Knizak
or a Higgins that is created to be realized from a score.
The issue of musicality has fascinating implications. The mind and
intention of the creator are the key element in the work. The issue
of the hand is only germane insofar as the skill of rendition affects
the work: in some conceptual works, even this is not an issue. Musicality
is linked to experimentalism and the scientific method. Experiments
must operate in the same manner. Any scientist must be able to reproduce
the work of any other scientist for an experiment to remain valid.
As with other issues in Fluxus, this raises interesting problems.
Collectors want a work with hand characteristics, so some Fluxus
works imply their own invalidity for collectors.
Musicality suggests that the same work may be realized several times,
and in each state, it may be the same work, even though it is a
different realization of the same work. This bothers collectors
who think of “vintage” works as works located in a certain,
distant era. The concept of “vintage” is useful only
when you think of it in the same way you think of wine: 1962 may
be a great vintage, then 1966, then it may not be until 1979 or
1985 that another great vintage occurs.
If you think of the composers and conductors who have given us great
interpretations of past work, say a complete Beethoven cycle or
a series of Brahms concertos, then, a decade or two later, gave
a dramatically different, yet equally rich interpretation of the
same work, you will see why the concept of vintage can only be appropriate
for Fluxus when it is held to mean what it means in wine. You must
measure the year by the flavor, not the flavor by the year.
Musicality is a key concept in Fluxus. It has not been given adequate
attention by scholars or critics. Musicality means that anyone can
play the music. If deep engagement with the music, with the spirit
of the music is the central focus of this criterion, then musicality
may be the key concept in Fluxus. It is central to Fluxus because
it embraces so many other issues and concepts: the social radicalism
of Maciunas in which the individual artist takes a secondary role
to the concept of artistic practice in society, the social activism
of Beuys when he declared that we are all artists, the social creativity
of Knizak in opening art into society, the radical intellectualism
of Higgins and the experimentalism of Flynt. All of these and more
appear in the full meaning of musicality.
3.1 After Maciunas
Discussions about Fluxus often focus on George Maciunas. It was
not possible for anyone to continue in Maciunas’s role, but
Fluxus continued nevertheless.
George Maciunas had a unique role, a unique way of doing things,
and a unique place in the affections of everyone who knew him, but
thinking of him as the single central figure in Fluxus is a mistake.
Between 1962 and the early 1970s, Maciunas was Fluxus’s editorial
and festival organizer. He held a role that could be compared to
the role of a chairman. When it became evident, even to George himself,
that others had key roles to play if Fluxus was to grow, he loosened
his notion of central control dramatically. It became far more important
to him to spread Fluxism as a social action than to dictate the
artistic terms of every Fluxus artist. That’s evident if you
see that Maciunas considered David Mayor a member of the Fluxcore,
even though Mayor was quite different than Maciunas in his artistic
By the 1970s, George Maciunas was no longer as active in publishing
and organizing for Fluxus as he had been a few years earlier. For
example, while there were Fluxus evenings and occasional Fluxus
presentations, Maciunas organized no major festivals after David
Mayor finished the Fluxshoe.
In 1966, Maciunas had appointed several others as his co-directors.
Fluxus South was directed by Ben Vautier in Nice, Fluxus East by
Milan Knizak and I directed Fluxus West. Some have tried to make
a point that “Fluxus East wasn’t Fluxus,” as though
only Maciunas was Fluxus. That’s not the case: Maciunas authorized
us to speak for Fluxus, to represent Fluxus, to manage publications,
to dispense copyright permission, and to act in every respect on
While Maciunas repudiated people in the early 1960s, even attempting
to expel or purge people from Fluxus, that’s not how he behaved
a few years later. It’s a disservice to George Maciunas to
present him through the image of a petty (if lovable) tyrant, a
cross between an artistic Stalin and a laughable Breton. This notion
belittles Maciunas’s depth and capacity as a human being,
his ability to find more effective ways of working and to find ways
George Maciunas was a fabulous organizational technologist and a
great systematic thinker, but he was not comfortable working with
people in the million unsystematic ways that people demand to work.
That’s why he changed his working method by the mid-60s and
began to share the leadership role. That is how Fluxus took new
forms and grew.
He became comfortable letting others develop Fluxus in other ways
while giving advice and criticism from time to time. That’s
how Fluxus found its feet in England in the 1970s. That’s
how new Fluxus activists emerged in the States and in Europe and
how they kept the ideas and action alive. It’s why Fluxus
has been continuously active for over 30 years.
The first Fluxus disappeared a long time ago. It replaced itself
with the many forms of Fluxus that came after.
The many varieties of Fluxus activity took on their own life and
had a significant history of their own. It’s unrealistic and
historically inaccurate to imagine a Fluxus controlled by one man.
Fluxus was co-created by many people and it has undergone a continuous
process of co-creation and renewal for three decades.
3.2 Fluxus Today
Fluxus today isn’t the Fluxus that was sometimes considered
an organized group and sometimes referred to as a movement. Fluxus
is a forum, a circle of friends, a living community. Fluxism as
a way of thinking and working is very much alive.
What was unique about Fluxus as a community was that we named ourselves.
We found and kept our own name. Art critics named abstract expressionism,
pop art, minimalism and conceptualism. Fluxus named Fluxus. The
German press took our name and fell in love with it, but it was
our name to begin with. What made it Fluxus was that it wasn’t
confined to art and perhaps that saved us from being named by others.
If it locked us out of the art market on many occasions, it made
it possible for us to make interesting art on our own terms.
In the last twenty years, interest in Fluxus has gone through two,
maybe three cycles of growth and neglect. We’re still here,
still doing what we want to do, and still coming together from time
to time under the rubric of Fluxus. Since this is exactly what happened
during the 1960s and 1970s, it’s clear that Fluxus didn’t
die at some magical date in the past. If you read your way down
the many lists of Fluxus artists who were young and revolutionary
back in the 1960s, the 1990s have shown many of them to be transformative
and evolutionary. They transformed the way that the world thinks
about art, and they transformed the relationship between art and
the world around it.
The Fluxus dialogue has taken on a life of its own. A Fluxism vital
enough to continue in its own right was exactly what people intended
at the beginning, though this has sometimes had consequences that
startled them as much as anyone else. If it has not happen in exactly
the ways that they planned, it is because there are no boundaries
between art and life. What counts is the fact that it happened.
3.4 Fluxus Tomorrow
Will there be new Fluxus artists? I do not know. Perhaps it does
not matter. Many younger artists now label themselves with the Fluxus
name. Many acknowledge interest in Fluxus, together with an intellectual
and artistic debt. Even more vehemently, many assert that Fluxus
has had no influence on them or their ideas.
While I have welcomed people into projects and exhibitions, I have
nothing to say on whether any artist outside the historical circle
is or is not a Fluxus artist. Some see this as an exclusionary practice.
It is not. I take no position.
Fluxus has become a symbol for much more than itself. Companies
in the knowledge industry and creative enterprises use the name
Fluxus. Advertising agencies, record stores, performance groups,
publishers and some young artists now apply the word Fluxus to what
they do. This suggests that something is happening in terms of real
influence and in terms of fame, the erstwhile shadow of influence.
It is difficult to know whether we should be pleased, annoyed, or
Tim Porges once wrote that the value of writing and publishing on
Fluxus rests not on what Fluxus has been but on what it may still
do. A new and appropriate understanding of Fluxus leaves open the
question of what it may still do. That is good enough for me.
Back in the 1980s, George Brecht wrote, “Fluxus has fluxed.”
A few years later, Emmett said, “Fluxus has not yet begun.”
Perhaps they are both right. An on-line discussion group called
Fluxlist often explores the question of what lies between those
two points. One of the interesting aspects of the conversation has
been the philosophical subtlety underlying the several positions.
Those who believe there is a Fluxus of ideas and attitudes more
than of objects feel that there is a future Fluxus that intersects
with and moves beyond the Fluxus of artifacts and objects. This
vision of Fluxus distinguishes between a Fluxus of specific artists
acting in time and space and what René Block termed Fluxism,
an idea exemplified in the work and action of the historic Fluxus
A broad view of Fluxus corrects hard-edged and ill-informed debates
on Fluxus. These diminish what we set out to do by locating us in
a mythic moment of time that never existed.
Fluxus was created to escape the boundaries of the art world, to
shape a discourse of our own. A debate that ends Fluxus with the
death of George Maciunas is a debate that diminishes George’s
idea of Fluxus as an ongoing social practice. It also diminishes
the rest of us, leaving the original Fluxus artists disenfranchised
and alienated from the body of work to which they gave birth. In
the moments that people attempt to victimize us with false boundaries,
I am drawn to two moments in history.
A key moment in 6th century China mirrors the debates around Fluxus
in a suitable way. It involved the split between Northern and Southern
schools of Zen. The split seems not to have involved the two masters
who succeeded the Sixth Patriarch, Shen-hsiu and Hui-neng. The schism
seems to have been the creation of Hui-neng’s disciple, Shen-hui,
and those who followed him. The main protagonists respected and
admired each other to the point that the supposedly jealous patriarch
Shen-hsiu in fact recommended Hui-neng to the imperial court where
he was already held in high renown. This is like much of the argumentation
around Fluxus. Protagonists of one view or another, adherents of
one kind of work or another, those who need to establish a monetary
value for one body of objects or another seem to feel the need to
discount, discredit or disenfranchise the rest. That makes no sense
in a laboratory, let alone a laboratory of ideas and social practice.
The other moment took place when Marcel Duchamp declared that the
true artist of the future would go underground. To the degree that
Fluxus is a body of ideas and practices, we are visible and we remain
so. To the degree that Fluxus is or may be an art form, it may have
gone underground already. If this is so, who can say that Fluxus
is or isn’t dead? What survives and what remains interesting
is the body of knowledge, the ideas and practices that flourish
in the laboratory named Fluxus.
Forty Years of Fluxus
4.1 Isaiah 40:3, Mark 1:3
It is forty years since the first concerts in Wiesbaden. It is forty
years since the first European tours and the first projects in the
United States and Asia. Some of the Fluxus people from the 1960s
are still around, but the past is not what it used to be.
After George Maciunas died, I helped to develop a collection in
his honor at the Hood Museum of Art. The Hood Museum is located
at Dartmouth College. The Dartmouth motto is “Vox clamantis
in deserto.” This is often translated as “a voice crying
in the wilderness.”
These lines are first found in Isaiah 40:3,
A voice cries: “Prepare in the desert
A way for the Lord.
Make a straight highway for our God
Across the wastelands.”
The text is echoed in Mark 1:3, describing the proclamation of John
the Baptist. Now it adorns the Maciunas Memorial Collection.
Francesco Conz often speaks of the Fluxus people as contemporary
saints. On reflection, I think it is not so. Some of were pilgrims.
All were wanderers. Many of the best are dead.
At the end of the day, the Fluxus people never got where they seemed
once to be going. For many complex reasons, they never could.
Despite the possibilities inherent in the Fluxus idea, the Fluxus
people were too attached to their journey in the desert. They were
too attached to the position they earned as misfits. They were too
attached to their perpetual grumbling and complaint.
The final story of Fluxus is told in Numbers 14:26-35.
Me? I am still traveling.
-- Ken Friedman
© 1989, 2001 by Ken Friedman. All rights reserved.
This text may be quoted and printed freely with proper acknowledgment.
An earlier version of this article was published as:
Friedman, Ken. 1998. “Fluxus and Company.” In The Fluxus
Reader, Ken Friedman, editor. Chichester, England: Academy Editions,
John Wiley and Sons.
ISBN 0-471-97858-2. Pp. 237-253.
The first version appeared as a monograph published by the Emily
Friedman, Ken. 1989. Fluxus and Company. New York: Emily Harvey