Fluxus was a loose international community of artists and composers who were drawn together in the late 1950s and early 60s not by a shared aesthetic but by a shared attitude – that of dissolving the boundaries of art and bringing creative practice outside the institution and into the everyday.
The avant-garde modernism of Futurism, Dadaism, and Surrealism were the main influences on Fluxus. Their legacy was to pass on the aspiration to “break down the culturally determined artificial distinctions between art and life”. (Smith O.)
In trying to describe Fluxus, Dick Higgens said “Fluxus is not a moment in history, or an art movement. Fluxus is a way of doing things, a tradition, and a way of life and death.” (p33 Hendricks J).
There are twelve core issues which form the basis of Fluxus. As outlined by Friedman (1998) the Twelve Fluxus Ideas are:
2 Unity of art and life
11 Presence in time
Many of the Fluxus artists met each other in John Cage’s 1957-59 classes in experimental musical compostion at the New School for Social Research in New York. John Cage was a very significant role model for the artists who were to become Fluxus, as a teacher, writer, performer, and composer.
Among the students and participants in Cage’s class who became central to Fluxus were George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Jackson Mac Low and Florence Tarlow. La Monte Young and Nam June Paik, two pivotal Fluxus members, had been exposed to Cage’s development of indeterminancy and new theatrical qualities in musical performance in Germany. Other early associates were Yoko Ono and Joseph Beuys. This ever-increasing network of interacting artists led the to idea for the formation of Fluxus in 1961.
Fluxus artists came from a vast range of artistic practices, all of them being involved in their own practice outside of Fluxus, however they all shared an inclination to experiment. Productions ranged from minimal performances referred to as ‘Events’, to full-scale operas, and from graphics, sculpture and paintings to the Fluxkit multiple – a collection of everyday objects or printed cards that viewers explored privately. Fluxus artists explored media ranging from performance art to poetry, experimental music to film.
George Brecht’s Event score, developed in Cage’s class, is a performance technique that has been used extensively by virtually every Fluxus artist. Alison Knowles decribes them as follows,
“Event scores involve simple actions, ideas and objects from everyday life recontextualized as performance. Event scores are texts that can be seen as proposal pieces or instructions for actions. The idea of the score suggests musicality. Like a musical score, Event Scores can be realized by artists other than the original creator and are open to variation and interpretation... ” (p9, Hendricks)
Fluxus, in particular the work of Brecht and Young, was particularly influential in the development of the Scratch Orchestra in the late 60s, specifically the dissolving of barriers between sonic and visual elements in performance, and the use of everyday objects as artistic materials. They both also believed that art was inclusive, experiential and that anyone could be an artist – a revolution of thought originating with Dada.
The influence of Fluxus can also be felt throughout the seventies in the experimentalism of postpunk bands, and in the No Wave scene in New York.
Hendricks, J., Bech, M., and Farzin, M., 2008 ‘Fluxus Scores and Instructions: The Transformative Years’, The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection, Detroit
Higgins, H., 2002 ‘Fluxus Experience’, University of California Press
Friedman, K., 1998 ‘The Fluxus Reader’, Academy Editions, Great Britain
Smith, Owen F., 1998 ‘Fluxus: The History of an Attitude’, San Diego State University Press
Parsons, M. 2001, ‘The Scratch Orchestra and Visual Arts’, Leonardo Music Journal, Vol. 11, pp5-11