The literAture OF Fluxus

By Friedman, Ken | Visible Language, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

The literAture OF Fluxus


Friedman, Ken, Visible Language


Abstract

The literature of Fluxus documents a conversation on the concepts, media forms and practices developed in an international laboratory of artists, architects, composers, designers and poets. It also documents a dramatic shift in impact and reception. Half a century ago, Fluxus participants did most of their own writing. Today, a far broader conversation includes a wide variety of writers from many fields an a disciplines. This article traces a half-century of change and growth from a critical perspective. It addresses problems in the work of early writers, enthusiastic but personal, often flawed by inaccuracies reflecting personal positions while lacking historiographic awareness. It also raises questions and issues that scholars and critics must consider in today's intermedia era. Serious contributions to the literature of Fluxus now join personal reflection, philosophical depth and careful scholarship. The growth of excellent writing and the accessibility of source documents make this a time of renewal and opportunity for the literature of Fluxus. The claims of history require establishing a literary space in which the original Fluxus voices speak while allowing writers the freedom of multiple interpretations.

"Fluxus is what Fluxus does but no one knows whodunit."

- EmmETT wILLIAms

The Fluxus Problematic

WHILE FLUXUS IS WHAT FLUXUS does, the question of "who done it" leads to a major set of problems. The lack of consensus regarding who the Fluxus people are or were leads to three problems in historiography and criticism. The first problem involves understanding the community of people known as Fluxus. The second problem involves understanding their actions. A third problem arises as we attempt to learn "who done it" in the first place. Defining Fluxus as a laboratory or social ecology leads to one kind of historiography. Defining Fluxus as a group of individuals located during a specific moment in time leads to another. Defining Fluxus in terms of a single man and a short list of artists who worked with him only during the times they worked with him leads to yet a third.

Beyond the "who done it," there are major disagreements on what Fluxus is or was. Every artist, curator, critic and historian with an interest in Fluxus has his or her own view. Some adopt positions with serious internal contradictions, giving them several views at once. Despite these challenges, perhaps because of them, the last four and a half decades have seen the creation of a large body of literature on Fluxus.

The term Fluxus was created in the early 19603 for a magazine that never appeared. The name of the magazine-Fluxus-was used for a festival in Wiesbaden in 1962 that was originally planned to help develop and support the magazine. As a result, the group of artists whose work was presented at the Wiesbaden Fluxus festival was called "Fluxus people" by the German press. The name stuck, in great part because the Fluxus people chose to accept the designation as a usable identification.

Despite multiple debates over the "who" of Fluxus, there are ways to catalogue the individuals who populate the Fluxus community. In 1978,1 adapted content analysis, a well-known social science research method, to chart the actors in the Fluxus drama. Content analysis begins with documents forming a data set to reveal the significant patterns of a subject field. In this case, the subject field is Fluxus. The documents are a collection of major catalogues, books and membership lists. The data set reveals patterns to answer the question, "Who are or were the actors in Fluxus?"

The analysis begins by listing all artists represented in the exhibitions, books and projects charted in the collection of documents about Fluxus. The names are placed on a simple matrix chart. The books, catalogues and projects are listed chronologically across one axis of the matrix. The artists listed alphabetically along the other. …

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