Fluxus, part I : The ontology

Posted on Mon 12 October 2015 in art

If there is something that intrigues me in the mere observation of art is that there were lots of attempts of desconstruction of concepts that were strongly built in the collective conscience of the public. The institutionalization of art created a social barrier that separates the common folk from the more "enlightned" people and as a result, artists that came or that identified theirselves with these common people reacted in the way they could: by creating art that can be acessible by the common folk.

The Fluxus movement were one of those attempts and surely shaked the way the art is perceived along the decades that followed its conception. It was an avant-garde art movement emerged at late 1950s as a form to demonstrate discontent with the elitist structures of institutionalized art, focusing especially on performance aspects of the art execution. About the key ideas of the movement, although not all artists agreed in everything, what can be said is that the spirit of creation and execution of art followed the driving forces of Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. Fluxus had an international presence, but was strongly situated at New York and perhaps for being created on such a cosmopolitan city, their main artists had a kind of megalomaniac intention: to change the history of the world not, just the history of art, by destroying the boundaries between art and life. Such intention was surely held by the Fluxus main figure, George Maciunas, who stated that Fluxus was "anti-art," in order to underscore the revolutionary mode of thinking about the practice and process of art. This implies a direct heritage from Futurism and Dadaism movements, by the use of humor to express intentions, although these artists were serious about their desire to change the balance of power in the art world. Their irreverence for "high art" had an impact on the perceived authority of the museum to determine what, and who, constituted "art."

The twelve principles of Fluxus

Although a free form of art construction, the Fluxus colective held some values that were embodied on their art works. In 1982, Dick Higgins wrote the essay "Theory and Reception", proposing nine criteria to distinguish or indicate the qualities of Fluxus. However, later on, along with Ken Friedman, Higgins expanded it to twelve criteria. Friedman in his Freedom? Nothingness? Time? Fluxus and the Laboratory of Ideas addresses the political and economic context of the 1950s against which Fluxus emerged and examines the hermeneutical interface of life and art through the 12 Fluxus ideas. Many of these ideas continues to resonate as a solid ground of ideas around art, design, community, and collaboration and the notion of boudless art in the age of networking and connected world builds a participatory culture, and increasingly use of mobility as a force for construction of a diverse forms of art using multiple medias.

These ideals are presented below:


Fluxus encouraged dialogue among similar minds, regardless of their origin. The dialogue of unlike minds when social purposes are in tune, the democratic approach to culture and to life was a part of the Fluxus view of globalism. The absence of bounds between art and life should be extended between individuals: a world inhabited by people of equal worth and value requires a method for each individual to fulfill his or her potential. This built a more democratic and accessible way of art creation that aggregated individuals of different countries and cultures.

This democratic vision can be seen in works of Joseph Beuys's, 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 so on. It was an attempt to enforce democratic values in art and in the political world.

Unity of art and life
In the cradle of Fluxus, the colective goal was to blur the boundaries between art and life to their complete disapearance. It is clear today that the radical contribution that Fluxus made to art was to suggest that no boundary is existent actually. The construction of art is the extension of life and that they aren't apart: they are a unified field of reference, a single context.
The Fluxus movement tried to be boundless not only in the conception of art, but in its execution: the use of intermedia (an art piece consisted of diverse elements, such as paintings, architecture, smells, sounds and so on) is one of the strong elements of creation in the Fluxus movement, yielding unique sensations to the art appreciator. The intermedia is the use of excitatory elements of all human senses.
The scientific method calls for experimentalism and Fluxus flirted with research orientation and iconoclasm, making these its hallmarks. Experimentalism and collaboration are the pillars of science, leading to new methods and results. Fluxus holded these ideas to art and many Fluxus works are the results of diverse active voices trading ideas. Another point extracted from the scientific method is the notion of reproducebility. Many performances and installations could be reproduceble anywere, such like scientific discoveries published on papers.
Chance, as in the sense of aleatoric or random events, played as a more meaningful concept in the technique than in the Fluxus philosophy, along with evolutionary chance: the chance of unexpected art creations built from randomness. From this point of view, many possibilities exists and once this randomness create an art innovation it ceases from becoming random and becomes evolutionary. In a way, this can be related to the scientific method of experimentation and results.
Like a "loud fart in a small elevator", the use of humour as a method of deconstruction showed the irreverent attitude of the Fluxus philosophy, although the playfulness aspect deals not only with the use of humour but with playing of ideas, experimentation, free association and play with paradigms. Once again, playing is also related to the freedom necessary to the execution of the scientific method.
As parsimony, the simplicity here refers to the relationship of truth and beauty, values connected with the zen buddism, philosophy embraced by John Cage, one of the main inspirations of the Fluxus movement. However, it hold the concept of elegance, hold in mathemathics for instance, that the expression of the fullest possibilities of meanings is in the most concetrated statement. The use of frugal and essential means is related to the concept of simple completeness. Simplicity of means and perfect attention distinguish this concept in the work of the Fluxus artists.
It means that an ideal Fluxus work implies a set of more works. Like a scientific paper that reference other authors for argument grounding, this notion also can be extracted from research methods and grows out of the notion of elegance and parsimony, as well.
Exemplativism is the quality of a work exemplifying the theory and meaning of its construction. While not all Fluxus works are exemplative, the ones that are are considered the closest to the ideal. Once again, the grounding of theory, philosophy and execution comes from the foundations of the scientific method.
Is the tendency of a work to be specific, self-contained and to embody all its own parts. When a work is specific, it comes with meaning without effort, almost consciously built. Althought ambiguitity is one of the key aspects of Fluxus, the specificity falls in the ambiguity as well: the ambiguity must be explicit enough to help in its understanding. Remember that first of all, Fluxus art is more accessible and popular and complex meaning-makings must be avoided.
Presence in time
Sense of duration, as in musical compositions, is a key element of Fluxus art execution: a performance might take place in segments over any specific time interval from seconds to decates. The central issue in Fluxus works is the execution and time is vital to any execution of performance or instalation.
Works that can be realized by artists other than the creators comes from the scientific method, but also from music, such that Fluxus works were designed as scores to be distributed globally. The reproducibility of art, as in music, was born from the fact that many Fluxus artists were also composers and the "owning" of a piece comes from "owning" the score, although you can't "own" music, you own its representation or execution. In this fashion, musicality is linked to experimentalism once more.

The word "fluxus", connoting continuous flow or change embraced these principles to guide through creation, not to limit, but to increase the boundaries of art creation without losing substance of meaning. The experimentalism is the main meaning of Fluxus and the collaborative nature of art construction and execution shows that these ideas were fundamental in the construction of significance in the contemporary art.