12 Fluxus Ideas from this Document by Ken Friedman
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 aspect of Fluxus can be examined and understood in large global terms. 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. (He still liked the piece. In fact, he published it three times in different books and catalogues.)
Nevertheless, I had failed to articulate the linkage between globalism, democracy, and anti-elitism. In fact, one cannot 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 extent possible.
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 capitalism.
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 end, this leads to problems that disadvantage everyone. Fluxus suggests globalism, democracy, and anti-elitism as intelligent premises for art, for culture and for long-term human survival.
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 would not make a difference whether the audience was made of two viewers or two billion. It would not 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.
2 Unity of Art and Life
The unity of art and life is central to Fluxus. 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 are.
Intermedia is the appropriate vehicle for Fluxus. 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 cannot 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 hybrids.
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 thought experiment 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 does not 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 have 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 artists.
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 end, 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 than humor.
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. This may seem to contradict the philosophical ambiguity and radical transformation of Fluxus. Nevertheless, but it is a key element in Fluxus.
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 art.
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.
Think of the composers and conductors who have given us great interpretations of past work. Imagine creating a complete Beethoven cycle or a series of Brahms concertos. Then, a decade or two later, imagine a dramatically different, yet equally rich interpretation of the same work. This shows 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. It embraces many other issues and concepts. It embraces the social radicalism of Maciunas in which the individual artist takes a secondary role to the concept of artistic practice in society. It typifies the social activism of Beuys when he declared that we are all artists. It is visible in the social creativity of Knizak when he opens art into society, as well as the radical intellectualism of Higgins and the experimentalism of Flynt.
All of these and more appear in the full meaning of musicality.
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