Fluxus – Post – Fluxus
I visited Horst Weierstall’s studio ARTSPACE in Nicosia South on November 1 for the opening of an exhibition of eight contemporary artists from eight different countries who work in the spirit of the Fluxus Movement. When I asked my artist friends, if they knew what Fluxus means, they all knew something, oh yes, they had heard about it, but nothing concrete. I went there all curious to learn more about it. Dr. Holger Briel, lecturer at the University of Cyprus, gave us a fine introduction which leaves hardly anything for me to add but my personal impressions at the end.
What is fluxus? What are fluxus? What was it, what is it now? Difficulties in answering these questions were welcome, even provoked, by the original movement when it started in the late 1950s and early 1960s in New York City. It began with performances and interventions by John Cage (1912 – 1992), George Maciunas (1931–1978), Dick Higgins (1938 – 1998), Nam June Paik (1932 – 2006) and others. Soon afterwards, it commenced its victorious circling of the globe. Definite answers as to what fluxus was were eschewed, had already become irrelevant when the movement infiltrated society and, via media, questioned its very make-up.
Fluxus had of course not begun in a vacuum. It had many forebears, among them Dada, Surrealism and, perhaps closer to its media concerns, but more politicised, the Situationist International with Guy Debord and Asger Jorn chief amongst them. All of the above realised the importance of media and the need to always also point to the absurdity and ‘broken promise’ (Adorno) of art as a way to influence an ever more tightly controlled superstructure. And yet, this was exactly the chance they saw for art. Ephemeral as its happenings were in the beginning, with media’s improving and pervasive registration systems, none of these were lost anymore. These happenings were also conceived as an intervention against an increasing monetarisation process in art in general. As is well known, at various times Maciunas refused to sell or sign any of his works.
Today, many of Fluxus’s interventions seem dated. Performance events, multimedia presentations, flash mobs and the like have become ubiquitous and have lost the ability to induce Benjaminian ’shocks ‘ in the onlookers. But its ubiquity does not mean that it has lost its power altogether. Like another stream, the stream of electricity, it has become something that we only notice when it is not there, when the stream is interrupted. This only drives home the point that we are bereft without it, cannot function, on an individual as well as a social level. The same is also true for the impact that fluxus had on day-to-day lives and the art circus alike.
Media have always been at the heart of fluxus practices. This is perhaps also one of the ways in which fluxus differentiates itself from its forerunners. While they were working with multimedia, collages, texts/pictures, later sound, real-time performances and artist meetings, fluxus uses all of the above but adds to this their electro-medial registration. At a time when the Western world had just discovered its love for television, fluxus appropriated this medium as means for counter-hegemonic practices of non-efficiency-oriented media usage. Thereby it followed the Situationalists and their appropriation of the film genre. Certainly more aware than its forerunners of increasing media usage, fluxus very much understood how technology had begun to dominate our lives and therefore pinpointed these practices as areas of intervention.
Already the title of the exhibition, ‘Fluxus – Post – Fluxus’ hints at the fact that Fluxus is difficult to pass by. The very mention of the prefix ‘post’ betrays the very reliance of any ‘post’ on its unstoppable antecedent. But the word ‘post’ here also serves another purpose: it is to remind its readers of the fact that messages are being systematically encoded, distributed and decoded, the same task Ye Olde Post Office used to have. When emerging Western states usurped this originally private enterprise, they thereby also displayed their belief that media, just like policing powers, are the domain of the state. This philosophy was only rejected in the latter half of the 20th century when media were more and more democratized, not in the least through citizen resistance. And today, more than ever, these liberated media remain at the heart of fluxus.
The project FLUXUS-POST-FLUXUS introduces eight contemporary artists from eight different countries working in the spirit of fluxus. Their work is in the fields of visual poetry, performative art, artist books, videos and installations with methods involving drawing, painting and various electronic media materials.
In ROOM 1 we can experience and see works of interactivity and dialogues between artists.
The viewer is confronted with Elizabeth Doering’s low-tech radios, put together from the very wires radio reception depends on and not relying on any power sources except that of the viewers themselves. This staged relationship between the earth (grounding) and air (antenna) allows for a media discourse between the two and the participant.
Demosthenes Agrafiotis’ Inter-Media Chart (2010) uses Dick Higgins’ original poster on the system of art, itself a mindmap avant le lettre, and overwrites it with new media and new connections. His work ‘Homage à Joseph Beuys’ aims at a dialogue with one of the early and very influential international adaptors of fluxus mindsets. Horst Weierstall connects with Paulo Bruscky from Brazil (Recife) in his Fluxus-Post-Fluxus Box project. Both dialogues reflect the global dimension of the Fluxus movement due to the new phenomena of intermedia and media communication.
Sumi Perera (UK) contributes with an artbook and a sound installation. She focuses on the time period in a musical performance that it takes to turn from one notation page to the next. Her artbook mimics this change-over with different materials included from page to page. It also uses the interactivity necessitated from the listener/reader to turn the page to highlight active/passive roles in music making and reception and reading alike. The accompanying sound installation employs a classical music piece, but focuses again on the change-over from one musical notation to the next.
ROOM 2 contains artist books, such as the ones by Francis van Maele (Ireland), Antic-Ham (Korea), Keiichi Nakamura (Japan) and other books from Redfoxpress, multiples, installations and videos of performance pieces.
The walls of the room are lined with Klaus Peter Dencker’s visual poetry. A renowned artist and also academic specialist in the field, he views visual and optical poetry as a counterbalance to concrete poetry, particularly en vogue in the 1950s and 1960s, and emphasizes the visual image of the text on the page.
Besides early videos by Joseph Beuys (Eurasienstab, 1968), newer videos are also screened. Prominent among them is Demosthenes Agrafiotis’ Chinese Notebook (2010), his performance of poetry set to music by two musicians, taped in London. Brazilian Paulo Bruscky is present with Registratos (2007), a video updating his earlier work on recording and displaying his own encephalogram. Furthermore, Horst Weierstall’s haunting piece Delay (Frozen Writing)is looped, in which a mouth reading from two newspapers in English and German is superimposed on a waste bin in which pieces of newspapers are burnt. This piece is in communication with Weierstall’s other two contributions, the installations of overwritten newspapers and his newspaper balls, in which newspaper pages from consecutive issues are rolled up into unreadable balls, left to roll in their container, physically available, but illegible. Despite their illegibility, they remain the trace of information, an information reseau despite itself, questioning the archiving of ephemeral yet official events. Weierstall thus fuses the critical political thinking informing Baudrillard’s media theory of the simulacrum with the artistic intentions of Jean-François Lyotard’s 1985 Les Immatériaux exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
Throughout the exhibition, the participant is prompted to think over his/her relationship with the artifacts/presentations. The lens of media is constantly required, be it in relation to ‘strange’ books, to videos, to printed mass media or the interactivity with radio waves. It becomes clear that the spirit of fluxus has never left, but that now it prompts us to recreate ourselves anew vis-à-vis new media and to face the realization that our identities have become thoroughly mediated identities. There is no escape from this; since the beginning of fluxus, art has ceased to be a conservative refuge from the media’s intrusive behaviour and has become complicit in this global medialisation drive. And yet, it continues to highlight its own complicity and uses this to force us to respond (and act) within this new media framework. And let’s not kid ourselves: in the same way we have become dependent on our internet connections, we are in need of strong digital artistic interventions to aid us in making some kind of sense of this new and global media situation.
The exhibition will also close with a bang: On 27 November, Demosthenes Agrafiotis will perform a fluxus-infused piece and Dencker’s film Starfighter will be screened.
Holger Briel, November 2010, Nicosia
Yes, I could say, that Holger’s introduction on the topic went along with my impressions. I have always been very curious of meeting with all kinds of ways to express the arts – whatever medium is used – be it in fine arts, literature, theatre, music or dance, and today everything is permitted, no more laws and restrictions, that it is most interesting to learn about the beginnings of movements, movements of liberation, movements of contradiction, to go beyond the limits to uncover further fields of activity.
It is only too true that our minds are controlled by the media – where there is smoke there is fire – but where is the limit of our own activity and belief in what they tell you. Where do you turn to ?
Holger says, electricity you only miss when it is not there. That is valid for everything. Poetry is there but nobody feels it, so it is made visible. Sound is there but nobody hears it. You feel alone ? Just put an antenna of 40 metres out onto the roof, wind some copper wire around a body and attach a hearing device, you will all of a sudden know that you are not alone, there are voices in the air, air waves, and you can make them visible, no problem. Elisabeth Doering is a ham radio operator just like myself.
You understand ? That is Fluxus. You could also lie down on the floor and watch the ants carry the sugar grains you have laid out for them. What a great world there is hidden !
A great world turned inside out to be seen until November 27, in 312 Pigmalion Street, Nicosia South, the first street to the right after the Ledra Street Crossing. Opening hours Monday to Friday 18:00 - 20:00 and Saturday 11:00 - 13:00.
Please click onto the photos for enlargement. The Intermedia Chart is by Dick Higgins.
There will be a closing event on November 27, don't miss it!