Geert Lovink on Tue, 12 Jan 1999 01:16:10 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Everything You Wanted To Know About Fluxus...

date: Sun, 10 Jan 1999 14:04:45 +0100
from: Ken Friedman <>
subject: Everything You Wanted To Know About Fluxus... 


Fluxus began in the 1950s as a loose, international community of artists,
architects, composers, and designers. By the 1960s, Fluxus had become a
laboratory of ideas and an arena for artistic experimentation in Europe,
Asia, and the United States. Described as "the most radical and
experimental art movement of the 1960s," Fluxus challenged conventional
thinking on art and culture for over four decades. It had a central role
in the birth of such key contemporary forms as concept art, installation,
performance art, intermedia, and video. Despite this influence, the scope
and scale of this unique phenomenon have made it difficult to explain
Fluxus in normative historical and critical terms. The Fluxus Reader
offers the first comprehensive overview on the challenging and
controversial group.

Written by leading scholars and experts from Europe and the United States
and edited by Ken Friedman, The Fluxus Reader runs 320 pages, including
front matter and an extensive index.

The book is available in bookstores It is also available online with good
discounts at Barnes and Noble in the US and at Amazon in the UK. (Amazon
US has the title, but there is no discount at this time.)

Here are the the table of contents, and the introduction.


Edited by Ken Friedman
London. Academy Editions. 1998.

ISBN 0471978582


Ken Friedman: "Fluxus: A Transformative Vision."


Owen Smith: "Developing a Fluxable Forum: Early Performance and Publishing."
Simon Anderson: "Fluxus, Fluxshoe, Fluxion: Fluxus in the 1970s."
Hannah Higgins: "Fluxus Fortuna."


Ina Blom: "Boredom and Oblivion."
David Doris: "Zen Vaudeville: A Medi(t)ation in the Margins of Fluxus."
Craig Saper: "Fluxus as a Laboratory."


Estera Milman: "Fluxus, History and Trans-History."
Stephen C. Foster: "Historical Design and Social Purpose."
Nicholas Zurbrugg: "A Spirit of Large Goals."


Larry Miller: "Transcript of the Videotaped Interview with George Maciunas."
Susan Jarosi: "Selections from an Interview with Billie Maciunas."
Larry Miller: "Maybe Fluxus."


Dick Higgins: "Fluxus: Theory + Reception."
Ken Friedman: "Fluxus & Co."


Fluxus Chronology: Key Moments and Events
A List of Selected Fluxus Art Works and Related Primary Source Materials
A List of Selected Fluxus Sources and Related Secondary Sources



A Transformative Vision of Fluxus

A little more than thirty years ago, George Maciunas asked me to write the
history of Fluxus. It was the autumn of 1966. I was sixteen then, living in
New York after dropping out of college for a term. George enrolled me in
Fluxus that August. Perhaps he asked me to write the history because saw me
as a scholar, perhaps simply someone with enough energy to undertake and
complete such a project.

Not long after, I grew tired of New York. I moved back to California. That
was when George appointed me director of Fluxus West. Originally intended
to represent Fluxus activities in the western United States, Fluxus West
became many things. It became a center for spreading Fluxus ideas, a forum
for Fluxus projects across North America outside New York -- as well as
parts of Europe and the Pacific, a traveling exhibition center, a studio in
a Volkswagen bus, a publishing house and a research program. These last two
aspects of our work led George to ask me once again to take on a
comprehensive, official history of Fluxus. I agreed to do it. I didn't know
what I was getting into.

The history project was never completed. I found that the ideas in Fluxus
interested me more than the specific deeds of a specific group of artists.
Perhaps that's fair. While I live a scholar's life in addition to my life
as an artist, my focus on Fluxus doesn't involve documentation or archival

The documents and works I collected didn't go to waste. They found homes in
museums, universities and archives where they are available to scholars who
do want to write the history of Fluxus. They are also available to
scholars, critics, curators and artists who want to examine Fluxus from
other perspectives. The history that I never finished gave rise to several
projects and publications that shed light on Fluxus in many ways. This is
one of them.

The key issue here is explaining a how and why of Fluxus. Emmett Williams
once wrote a short poem on that how and why. He wrote, "Fluxus is what
Fluxus does -- but no one knows whodunit." What is it that Fluxus does?

Dick Higgins offered one answer when he 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, as for George, Fluxus is more
important 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 has been a laboratory. It is a grand project
characterized by George Maciunas's notion of the "learning machine." The
Fluxus research program has been characterized by twelve ideas: globalism,
the unity of art and life, intermedia, experimentalism, chance,
playfulness, simplicity, implicativeness, exemplativism, specificity,
presence in time and musicality. (These twelve ideas are elaborated in the
chapter titled "Fluxus and Company.")

These ideas are not a prescription for how to be a Fluxus artist. Rather,
they describe the qualities and issues that characterize the work of
Fluxus. Each describes a "way of doing things." Together, these twelve
ideas form a picture of what Fluxus is and does.

The implications of these ideas have been more interesting and occasionally
more startling than they may have first seemed. Fluxus has been a complex
system of practices and relationships. The fact that the art world can
sometimes be a forum for philosophical practice made it possible for Fluxus
to develop and demonstrate ideas that would later be seen in such
frameworks as multimedia, telecommunications, hypertext, industrial design,
urban planning, architecture, publishing, philosophy, even management
theory. A fluid, transdisciplinary, intermedia nature makes Fluxus lively,
engaging -- and difficult to describe.

We can view Fluxus through several disciplines. One discipline is history,
and there is a history of Fluxus to be told. While the core issues in
Fluxus are ideas. Fluxus ideas were first summarized and exemplified in the
work of a specific group of people. This group pioneered these ideas at a
time when their thoughts and practices were distinct and different from
most thought and practice in the world around them, distinct from the art
world and different than the world of other disciplines in which Fluxus
would come to play a role. To understand the how and why of Fluxus, what it
is and does, it is important to understand "whodunit," to know what Fluxus
was and did. History offers a useful perspective.

Fluxus, however, is more than a matter of art history. Literature, music,
dance, typography, social sculpture, architecture, mathematics, politics
... they all play a role. Fluxus is the name of a way of doing things. It
is an active philosophy of experience that only sometimes takes the form of
art. It stretches across the arts and even across the areas between them.
Fluxus is a way of viewing society and life, a way of creating social
action and life activity. In this book, historians and critics offer
critical and historical perspectives. Other writers frame the central
issues in other ways.

The ideal book would be three times as long as this one is, and impossible
to publish. I chose to focus on issues that open a dialogue with the Fluxus
idea. Rather than giving the reader everything there is to know about
Fluxus, this book lays out a map, a cognitive structure filled with tools,
markers and links to ideas and history both.

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
even 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's difficult to know whether we
should be pleased, annoyed, or merely puzzled.

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. If one
thread binds the chapters in this book, it is the idea of a transformative
description that opens a new discourse. A new and appropriate understanding
of Fluxus leaves open the question of what it may still do. That's good
enough for me.

Owen Smith and I were discussing this book one afternoon. We reached the
conclusion that it's as much a beginning as a summation. Back in the 1980s,
George Brecht wrote that "Fluxus has Fluxed." A few years later, Emmett
said that "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 artists.

This book offers a broad view of Fluxus. It is a corrective to the
hard-edged and ill-informed debates on Fluxus that 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.

Ken Friedman

1998 January 19
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