Contents of spoon-archives/avant-garde.archive/papers/friedman.txt
A FLUXUS IDEA
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__A FLUXUS IDEA__
1. Fluxus 1962
1.1 Ideas, Issues and Paradigms
The idea of Fluxus was born long before 1962. We see it in the philosophy
of Heraclitus and we see in the idea that you can't cross the same river
twice. We find it in 14th-century Zen texts and we find it in the paradigms
of science that began taking shape in the late 1800s.
Rene Block coined the term Fluxism to refer to an idea. The Fluxus idea
transcends a specific group of people, and the idea has been visible
through history. While the Fluxus idea existed long before the specific
group of people called Fluxus, the group gave Fluxism a tangible shape
through the work of experimental artists, architects, composers and
designers who created, published, exhibited and performed under the Fluxus
label. The idea grew into a community larger than the group, a larger
community that includes people whose ideas and work incorporate elements
based on the Fluxus experiment. It also includes a community of individuals
who themselves became important to the Fluxus group.
Fluxus evolved around a conscious use of model-making and paradigm
formation. My purpose here is to discuss Fluxus and to analyze some of the
models and paradigms that seem to me essential in understanding it.
There have been many parallels between Fluxus and science. New models in
mathematics often precede and lead to new applications in physical science.
So, too, paradigms in art emerge when the world-view is shifting. Shifts in
vision transform culture and science as they reshape history. These shifts
are visible in the shifting paradigms of art.
1.2 Examples and Contrasts
The decades in which Fluxus emerged were the decades in which the sciences
of transdisciplinary complexity came into their own. Fluxus and intermedia
were born just as technology shifted from electrical engineering to
electronic engineering. The first computers used punch cards and mechanical
systems. Computation science was in its infancy along with early forms of
evolutionary psychology and the neurosciences. Chaos studies had not yet
emerged as a discipline, but the foundations of chaos studies were already
Fluxus grew with the intermedia idea. It had strong foundations in music,
Zen, design and architecture. Rather than pursuing technical -- or simply
technological -- solutions, Fluxus artists tended to move in a
philosophical vein, direct and subtle at the same time. This proved to be a
blessing, steering clear of the dead-end solutions typical of the "art and
While new paradigms engender new technology as well as new art, relatively
few technologies have given birth to interesting art forms. Buckminster
Fuller's noted a three-decade time lag between innovative paradigms and
their wide adoption. Many of the new disciplines have only now been around
for thirty years. Some aren't yet a decade old. As a result, the time may
not yet be ripe for obvious application in visual art.
Electronic processors and video equipment did give rise to new art forms.
They were obvious technologies that artists could exploit. More
significant, 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 most interesting early equipment for electronic music was
closer to an old-fashioned telephone switchboard in appearance and
operation than it was to today's modern desk-top computers. The equipment
available to artists and composers in those days was analog equipment,
wired and arranged by hand, a far cry from the powerful work stations that
now contain more computing power than even the biggest mainframes once had.
The past and present of electronic music offer merely one example. The
technological applications of electronic art are still primitive, even if
the paradigms are not, and it seems to me that video and the electronic
arts are still in their primitive stage. In a way, video has just passed
out of its Stone Age and into the Bronze Age.
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. Too many artists are entranced with the physical
qualities of the medium they use and unconscious about the ideas they
attempt to develop. Art is burdened by attention to physical media and
plagued by a failure to consider the potential of intermedia.
The equipment available to artists today does far more physically than is
really necessary. We see too many videos that 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 the computer in science is to create
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 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
aren't as simple or as obvious electronic music or video. Right now, the
technology dictates the medium and technological frenzy sometimes inhibits
the learning process. It may also be that evolution demands the creation of
many dead ends on the way to interesting art.
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.
By contrast, Fluxus suggests approaches that are simple rather than
simplistic. The level of complexity in any given work is determined by
philosophical paradigms. It isn't dictated 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
1.3 Paradigms are More Important than Technology
The paradigms of any complex, transformative era are its most interesting
features. Paradigms being 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
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 telefax.
For almost two decades, journalists have 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. You send a
message, but you don't talk and see your message at the same time. On an
emotional level, therefore, telefax seems closer to telegraph than
television, nowhere near as exciting as videophone. In the long run, it
didn't matter if 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 past decade. At first, the telefax was so obvious that it
was almost overlooked. Videophone is 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's the way it's been with Fluxus, too. Fluxus began to take shape in
Europe, the United States and Japan during the 1950s. It started in the
work and actions of many people. Their activity often went unnoticed at the
time. When it was noticed, people didn't give it much thought. Even so, the
processes created and nurtured by the Fluxus community were new paradigms
for the consideration of art, architecture, music and design.
The artists, composers, architects and designers and who constituted the
Fluxus community worked with simple ideas, ideas 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 movement.
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. In a sense, the telefax that once seemed
so revolutionary is beginning to appear as an entry-level technology. The
Pony Express once redefined the world's understanding of message delivery
speed, but it 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. Despite the growth of
advanced technology, the relatively simple telefax remains useful and so do
land-line 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 more simple and less
expensive technology than the GSM systems that are now 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 applications. I like to think of Fluxus that
way, as a useful series of paradigms and options.
1.4 Evolution and Ancestors
Fluxus was born at a shifting point in world views. The era that the
English-speaking world once called the Elizabethan Age is only now coming
to a close. This was the age of the pirate kings, an age in which
gunpowder technology permitted the Western nations to conquer and dominate
the rest of the world.
The greatest portion of the world's wealth and power were once concentrated
in Asia. A number of poor decisions on the part of Asian rulers created the
context in which the European powers were virtually assured of global
dominance, despite the relative youth of the European empires and cultures
that were primitive in comparison with the Asian empires. Two of the most
significant of these decisions were the mandated destruction of China's
ocean-going fleets and the closing of Japan. These decisions were also two
of the most foolish, folly because they were decisions made by powerful
governments that finally weakened the power of their nations. In that
sense, China and Japan transformed themselves from two of the world's most
developed nations into nations that would later find themselves at great
disadvantage primarily because they cut themselves off from the competition
and evolution of a changing world-wide environment.
This was a far different situation than the situation of the nations and
empires of India, Korea and Viet Nam, all of which found themselves in
problematic situations dictated more by historical circumstance than
troubles brought about by specific and bad decisions. For any number of
reasons, however, the empires of Asia, old, wealthy and powerful, were
unable to innovate and compete effectively against the vigorous and often
ruthless expansion of the Western powers. 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 had, a technology that was coupled
to a culture more able to innovate and initiate change. That moment
essentially dictated the shape of world power and the global economic
system for roughly five centuries. Those five centuries are now coming to
A new era is taking shape now. We don't yet have a name for the new era,
but it's clear that a new time is emerging. Asia is once again a wealthy,
powerful region, expanding and transforming the world economy. Led first by
Japan, later by Korea and Taiwan with mainland China about to emerge and
India following after, Asia will soon be the world's largest regional
economy. The Asia-Pacific region already equals Europe and the United
States in wealth. It may soon equal them in power and geopolitical
influence. There is every reason to believe that the Asia-Pacific region
(possibly including Australia and North America) will play the kind of role
in the 21st Century that Europe played from the 17th century to the first
half of the 20th Century and that America played from the early 20th
century on. The consequences of this transformation will be good and bad.
The degree to which the transformation will work good or bad results on
individuals and societies will depending on who they are, on where they are
and 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 boundary
Boundary states in ecological systems give rise to interesting life forms.
Transition times in history give rise to interesting culture forms.
The first signs of this global transformation began in the last century.
The old era could be said to have ended with the Treaty of Vienna that
closed the Napoleonic Wars. That was the last real moment of the old
Europe, the old diplomacy, the old empires. The putative revolutions of the
mid-century, the revolutions that failed, were the beginning of the new
nationalism, a clear sign that the European empires were doomed. Even
though they didn't know it yet, the Hapsburgs were in trouble, as were the
Romanovs, the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Windsors-to-be and the Hohenzollerns of
Prussia, whose imperial aspirations were essentially doomed even before
their empire was cobbled together by the Iron Chancellor. The final result
of 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 cultural baggage.
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. (Even though
I've raised Picasso's name, it's impossible to adequately categorize
Picasso pr his work. Picasso opened the century in company with Jarry and
the others. Unlike them, he participated in and provoked both sides of
modernism, the public, heroic tradition and the intellectual, hermetic
tradition. Picasso's art was informed by the cultures of many nations. His
genius and his tragedy was that of a lucid cultural pirate, a self-willed
king who shaped such a kaleidoscope of modernist traditions that he had an
effect on all the art that followed his work as well as half the literature
and music.) The tradition they established became a kind of left-handed,
Tantric approach to art, contrarian and often hermetic. It was a
transnational art in an era that would become increasingly national under
the influence of the national romantic movements in art and music that
accompanied the break-up of the empires and the liberation of conquered and
As a result, this tradition in art excited and stimulated young artists,
opened the doors to many cultures and at the same time inevitably came into
conflict with the very cultures they enlivened. Only the moment of
international modernism made Hollywood possible, for example, and yet
Hollywood movies grew and blossomed as a typically American art form. a
cultural innovation as boldly ethnocentric as the music of Grieg and
Sibelius, as peculiarly archetypal in their national expression as the
paintings of Matisse or Gaudi's architecture. The end result was that this
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 for a host of
reasons, they remained separate, separated as much by the demands of
politics and economics as by the reality of art. Take the case of Abstract
Expressionism, for example. This was the first art movement to exert
world-wide influence after America took on the international leadership
that the disintegrated European empires and their impoverished heirs could
no longer afford.
Europe and Asia informed the best sentiments of Abstract Expressionism. It
was an art that 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. The triumph of American painting was
heralded by myopic art critics. Some of them were well informed in the
narrow terms of art history, but they were conveniently ignorant of larger
cultural history. Most of them managed to overlook the fact that the art
market and art history are generally -- and only temporarily -- dominated
by the nation that currently holds the balance of power in the geopolitical
and economic terms. This view served the political purposes of the American
government. There was no purpose to be served by making clear just how
impossible this artistic achievement would have been without the defeated
Japan, the problematic China, or an occasionally fractious Europe that
America was attempting to dominate and lead. Thus 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 so
themselves, not to mention that French on behalf of the their several
republics and empires.
It's the other tradition that influenced Fluxus, a tradition that has
inevitably been neglected because it is anti-nationalistic in sentiment and
tone and practiced by artists who aren't easily used as national
flag-bearers. )Individual artists such as Marcel Duchamp and John Cage are
accurately seen as ancestors of Fluxus, but ideas played a larger role than
individuals. Russian revolutionary art groups such as LEF were an influence
on some. For others, De Stijl and the Bauhaus philosophy were central. 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 society. 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 1962
statement making clear that Fluxus is not Dadaistic in its intentions. Dada
was explosive, irreverent, and made much use of humor, as Fluxus has also
done. But Dada was nihilistic, 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.
Jean Sellem asserts that the Fluxus tradition is, indeed, a tradition
rooted in hermetic philosophy and even in the hidden traditions of such
movements as Kabbalah and Tantra. I can't quite agree with him, yet I think
he brings up a point that offers valid ways to understand Fluxus. So, too,
this assertion works well with some of the ways in which Fluxus works.
Fluxus aspires to serve everyone but it demands a certain kind of
perspective and commitment. Anyone can have it, but everyone must work to
get it. The premises and the results are simple, the path from the premises
to the goal can be difficult.
One way or another, though, Fluxus is a creature of the fluid moment. The
transformative zone where the shore meets the water is simple and complex,
too. The entire essence of chaos theory and the new sciences of complexity
suggest that profoundly simple premises can create rich, complex
interaction and 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.
1.5 When, How and Who
The formal date given for the birth of the Fluxus group is the 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. A festival was planned 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
The artists in Wiesbaden included Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Arthur
Koepcke, 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 artistic program.
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
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.
2. Twelve Fluxus Ideas
2.0 Core Issues
There are twelve core issues that can be termed the basic ideas of 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 found Higgins's list a useful model, and expanded the list to
twelve. I feel that my ideas are much the same as Higgins's, but I changed
some of the terms to account more precisely for the nuances of meaning I
feel are vital. There has been some confusion over the use of the term
criteria. Higgins and I both used the term in the original sense of
characteristics or traits, not standards of judgment. In short, we intended
description, not prescription.
We're describing ideas and issues, not prescribing a series of 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's not simply that boundaries don't count, but that 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 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 enable 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 suggestions a world in which there are 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 a 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
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 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 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
Even though Paik wrote his manifesto for television rather than
computer-based information, he predicted the world-wide 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
2.2 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 are.
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 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'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
The research orientation applies not only to the experimental method, but
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 over and over again 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. Any number of
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, perfection of attention are what 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 which are exemplative are in some way closer to the ideal than those
which 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
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 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 which 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. Fluxus 1994
3.1 After Maciunas
Discussions about Fluxus often focus on George Maciunas, but it isn't
possible to continue Maciunas's role. 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 choices.
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
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 Fluxus's behalf.
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 to grow.
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 fifteen 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 hasn't happen in exactly the ways that they
planned, it's because there are no boundaries between art and life. What
counts is the fact that it happened.
A Fluxus Idea was written for The World's First Digital Art Festival
organized by Nam June Paik for broadcast over the global computer network
as a simultaneous festival on Worldwide Internet in connection with the
Seoul-NYMAX Mediale, a Celebration of Arts without Borders presented at
Anthology Film Archives in New York, October 8 - November 6, 1994. It is a
revision of a text first published by Emily Harvey Gallery as an exhibition
monograph titled Fluxus and Company.
Friedman, Ken. Fluxus and Company. New York: Emily Harvey Gallery, 1989.
Friedman, Ken. "Fluxus and Company." In Ubi Fluxus, ibi motus. Achille
Bonita Oliva, Gino Di Maggio and Gianni Sassi, eds. Venice and Milan: La
Biennnale di Venezia and Mazzotta Editore, 1990, 328-332. [book published
in conjunction with exhibition]
Friedman, Ken. "Fluxus and Company." Lund Art Press, Vol. 1, No. 4, 1990:
Lund University School of Architecture, 289-299. [special magazine issue
devoted to Fluxus]
Friedman, Ken. "Fluxus and Company." In: Fluxus Subjektiv. Ursula
Krinzinger, ed. Wien: Galerie Krinzinger 1990. [exhibition catalogue]
Friedman, Ken. Fluxus 1992. Budapest: Artpool. Hungarian translation by
Barbarczy Eszter. [monograph]
Friedman, Ken. "Fluxus 1992" In The Seoul of Fluxus. Hong Hee Kim-Cheon,
ed. Seoul, Korea: A.P. International, Ltd., 1993, 24-34. [festival project
book and exhibition catalogue]
The text was revised again in 1994 as A Fluxus Idea. It was published on
Internet. It is also scheduled for publiication in the festival catalogue:
Seoul-NYMAX Mediale, a Celebration of Arts without Borders. Nam June Paik,
Jonas Mekas and Robert Haller, editors. New York, 1994: Anthology Film
Friedman, Ken. "A Fluxus Idea." In The Electronic Superhighway. Travels
with Nam June Paik. Paik, Nam June, Kenworth W. Moffett, et. al, eds. New
York, Seoul and Fort Lauderdale: Holly Solomon Gallery, Hyundai Gallery and
the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, 1995, 87-97.
Copyright =A9 1994, 1995 by Ken Friedman. All rights reserved.
This text may be quoted and printed freely with proper acknowledgment.
Ken Friedman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Leadership and Strategic Design
Norwegian School of Management
Box 4676 Sofienberg
N-0506 Oslo, Norway
Phone: +47 22.98.51.07
Fax: +47 126.96.36.199
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