What is ......? By Eric Andersen
What is ......?
By Eric Andersen
Fluxus is probably the phenomenon in the art world of the 20th century that historians and other scholars have the most difficulty grasping. The reasons range from a simple lack of will to downright laziness. Although the contribution to the debate by many artists may have been by way of droll misleading comments, we have never shirked from clarifying the issue, if and when interest was shown. For the most part, though, historians suppose that living artists are just out to make trouble. Most art historians and mainstreams curators continuously try to persuade the public that Fluxus was a movement, albeit an art movement, an all-out American affair. When these frenzied grumblings are connected to large economic interests one can into the bargain often find such a peculiar designation as Fluxism. But this is pure rubbish. Fluxus emerged almost as a creation to the sad truth that art for more than two hundred years found its classification within 'isms' and was resigned to being reduced to stereotyped personal expression. Fluxus stood in complete contrast to this world and became at least two incompatible entities. It was one thing in Europe in the years 1962 and 1963 and later something entirely different in the USA, at the time George Maciunas, without any tremendous success, attempted to transform the lot into one form and one strategy. The term Fluxus was first used in Europe and it was also here that the first Fluxus Festivals were held, the first venue was Wiesbaden and then Copenhagen, DŘsseldorf, Paris, Amsterdam and many other places during 1962 and 1963.A quite unique new departure had taken place simultaneously in Europe, the USA and Japan in the late Fifties and early Sixties. A completely different understanding of art, which a few years later would be dubbed Inter Media by artist and scholar Dick Higgins.
While in the USA and Japan this new view of art only penetrated in mega centres like New York, the West Coast, Tokyo and Osaka, in Europe around 1960 it had spread largely to all major cities. Piero Manzoni was working in Milan and later Chiari in Florence and Marchetti in Milan. In Madrid and Barcelona Juan Hidalgo, Esther Ferrer and Charles Santos. In Paris and Nice Yves klein, Daniel Spoerri, Robert Filliou, Ben Vautier and Nouveaux Realistes. In Cologne Tomas Schmit, Ben Patterson, Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell, Emmett Williams in Darmstadt and Zero in DŘsseldorf. Willem de Ridder and Wim Schippers in Amsterdam, Arthur K°pcke and myself in Copenhagen, and Bengt af Klintberg and Pistolteatren in Stockholm. The list goes on and on. Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union presented an entire chapter onto itself, which I choose not to dwell on here.
We all found ourselves in marginalised positions but were steadily and calmly creating the necessary platform for our work, which had already from a hesitant start pointed in all possible and totally different directions. George Maciunas's role in Europe was to assemble us at the first festivals, to which he together with Alison Knowles and Dick Higgins brought along a succession of new scores and performance directions from La Monte Young, George Brecht, Bob Watts, Yasonao Tone and many others, who could not participate personally. Although these festivals represented the first major public platform for our work we were all at odds with George Maciunas when he tried to organise us into a group, with a common strategy and aesthetic. He himself stood out as the most amazing, self-contradictory mixture of neo-Dadaism and Leninism. He tried manifestos. We all disagreed. He tried to create unity. We all disobeyed. He wanted to appoint us ambassadors of Fluxus. Everyone disassociated. But we were at the same time rather amused by his innumerable slogans, diagrams designed to show the true connection and all the other propaganda material that gushed from him. His Utopia developed with headquarters, regions and branches with generals, majors and corporals. A fantasy on which mountains of books have been published almost forty years on. What we did in the meantime in actual fact was to establish an international artist network, with wide ranging mail art activities. As far as I am aware, Fluxus was the first international network to be set up by artists themselves. A type of pre-PC database and a net for art and communication. The main actors in this network were Dick Higgins, George Brecht, Ben Patterson, Yasonao Tone, Ben Vautier, Robert Fillou, Willem de Ridder, Bengt af Klintberg, Arthur K°pcke, Tomas Schmit, La Monte Young, Alison Knowles, Bob Watts, AY-O, Eric Andersen, Nam June Paik, Emmet Williams, George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, Philip Corner, Wolf Vostell, Mieko Shiomi, Takako Saito.
It would be hard to find greater differences of expression, temperament, position and opinion than among these artists. There was one thing common to most, but not all: an understanding of art as Inter Media. The most common misconception being floated is that Inter Media was born following the development of 486 processors in the Eighties and that the phenomenon is unthinkable without a definite medium: a computer with a very fast processor. Inter Media, however, does not have any definite form or scale, or attach itself to particular circumstances. As the term implies it does, on the other hand, find a place between other media. This view of art was first conceived in the period 1958-62 and has constantly changed form ever since. It cannot by definition be categorised as a thing, only as methods. Inter Media rejects art and communication as production. Instead, it seeks by means of constant innovation to conduct fundamental research in human articulation. The oeuvre here is not a demarcated unit. The work is open and undergoing constant change, because it includes the spectator. You can but participate in such a work, also by means of mere reflection.
It is quite telling that the terminology we used in the late Fifties and early Sixties has now been appropriated by the media world. The main terms at that time were: Globalism, Simultaneity, Network Structures, Events, Occurrences and Interaction. This is what brought us together and this is almost the opposite of what George Maciunas tried to move Fluxus towards when he returned to New York. For him Fluxus was an international avant-garde, which should fight cultural imperialism, and change society and its cultural institutions. In New York from 1964 and up through the Seventies he tried to style Fluxus. The rest of us remained quite unperturbed. He was well regarded as a very capable organiser and graphic designer but publishing work in the way he did was quite different from our manners.
It is interesting to note that no art historian has been fit to point out that by far the majority of the artists who participated in the Fluxus festivals of 1962 and 1963 could only on very rare occasions work with George Maciunas, after he established his headquarters in New York. Rather, George Maciunas, must be remembered as the amazing initiator he was. Both when the network was being established in 1962 and Soho in New York was being developed via artist cooperatives. Myths about Fluxus abound then as now. They went to such extremes in the Seventies that the art reviewer on one of Copenhagen's main dailies Politiken solemnly declared that Fluxus was an art movement founded by Joseph Beuys. Beuys' attachment to the network was always periphery, although his work had been immensely influenced by a Fluxus visit to DŘsseldorf in 1963.
Another rather amusing notion is that Fluxus is a type of neo-Dada anti-art movement with John Cage as father and Marcel Duchamp as grandfather. We were, of course, very fond of them both, both as people and artists, but it can never be said that either was the most important prerequisite for Inter Media. We were just as enthralled by Manzoni, Yves Klein, Man Ray, Marinetti, Malevich, Bu˝uel and many, many more. And besides Ben Vautier's lush coquettishness not much of the anti-art label can be attributed to anyone.
At the beginning of the Sixties in Copenhagen we had two quite fruitful art/music bases. The Organisation of Young Composers (DUT) and Gallery K°pcke. Although normally there was no contact between them, they did come together to bring the scandal-ridden artists from the Fluxus festival in Wiesbaden to Copenhagen. DUT had brought several Darmstadt composers and musicians to the city and Gallery K°pcke had exhibited Piero Manzoni, Dieter Roth, Danielle Spoerri, Robert Fillou and Niki de Saint-Phalle, among others. DUT had just recently selected the two most orchestral of the numerous performance events I had submitted in 1960 and commissioned Finn Savery and J°rgen Elniff for their rendition at Thorvaldsen's Museum in January 1961. Later in the same year, DUT was similarly responsible for a concert/cabaret with Nam June Paik at Louisiana, in connection with the Movement in Art exhibition. In November 1962 the battle was on with six evenings in a row, to full houses, in Nikolaj Church. The participating artists were Alison Knowles, Dick Higgins, Ben Patterson, Emmet Williams, George Maciunas, Wol Vostell, Arthur K°pcke and yours truly. It remains a mystery to this day how these eight curious, inquiring people could put the world so spectacularly at sixes and sevens.
The outrage in the Danish media and art world was total. Newspaper headlines bayed SCANDAL and DILETTANTES. Now the absolute bottom had been reached and someone would be made carry the can. When something like this could happen, then the world was almost not worth living in! In the traditional music world, in particular, knives were drawn and there was frothing at the mouth. Very few stood firm and defended DUT's right to arrange such a festival, both within and outside the organisation's ranks. Most crawled away and hid.
As always, when a row erupts with art as the
subject, the actual cause is something quite different. Accusations and
recriminations are hurled back and forth, and only the truly initiated can
decode the animated language. This also proved true in this scandal. It was
but an exercise, a test, before the real battle for professorships, Danmarks
Radio (DR) and the symphony orchestra would be fought. This came a few years
later and its chief orchestrater was the above-mentioned broadsheet
Politiken, the most outages oracle in 1962. The festival itself can only be
described here in general terms. One of the most tenacious myths circulating
about Fluxus is that it is a type of cabaret in which artists perform short
sketches often with a paradoxical, humorous or destructive twist. None of
the original festivals were of such a character. In Nikolaj, as in other
places, the programme ranged over a wide spectrum. There were short events,
which were almost over before they began, and there were works taking 45
minutes, double or more. There were surprising moments which produced
laughter (among those with any sense of humour, that is), and there were
extremely long, boring and insignificant pieces. Acrobatics and other quite
demanding stunts were on the bill, and 30 minutes could be given over to the
relaxing preparation of a fresh salad for the entire audience. Items were
planted on stage, among the audience, on the street outside, under the
ceiling or hidden behind walls. Quite often the audience were the
performers. At times, most of them could see most of what was going on. At
others no one or only a few could see anything at all. A great deal was
taking place simultaneously and intervals could be
Fluxus returns, Roskilde 1985
Since that time, Denmark has hosted two major Fluxus manifestations: the Festival of Fantastics, in Roskilde in 1985 and Excellent, in Nikolaj in Copenhagen in 1992. But here we must also highlight the largest Inter Media event held in Europe to date, namely, Margrethe Fjorden '96, which was held in Roskilde as part of Copenhagen European City of Culture 1996.
Valborg N°rby was a legendry figure down through the years in Roskilde. She opened a gallery, Sct. Agnes, the aim of which was to present the most radical and contemporary art. Following the attempts in the Seventies to suppress Fluxus she felt that the time had now come to revive it in Denmark, in 1985.
In some quite extraordinary ways she found the necessary funding to invite ten artists to put on a total of 18 performances over a period of seven days at 13 venues around the town. The strategy behind this festival was to occupy the town for a period and its title, Festival of Fantastics, was borrowed from the most popular Broadway musicals of all time. The participating artists were Eric Andersen, Philip Corner, Geoffrey Hendricks, Alison Knowles, Jackson MacLow, Ann NoŰl, Anne Tardos, Ben Vautier, Bob Watts and Emmet Williams.
The performance sites were Roskilde Taxa, Sankt Ibs Church, the Viking Ship Museum, The court House and Goal, the Sports Centre, the amphitheatre, the harbour area, City Park, the library, Town Hall Square and the Concert Hall. The festival succeeded in turning the town upside down for seven days. Rumours abounded and the local newspapers carried column upon column on the remarkable events which had invaded Denmark's medieval capital.
An important consequence of this way of doing things was that every thinkable incident was suddenly interpreted as arranged specifically for the festival. All of the town's inhabitants were in one way or another participants. When art eventually left the town, it left in its wake such a sense of emptiness that it was decided to establish an institute to keep the spirit alive. This in time became one the Denmark's most important exhibition galleries, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Word/Image/Sound in the Bishop's Palace, beside Roskilde Cathedral.
Renewed interest in experimental art arose almost simultaneously, everywhere. As brilliant satire now one and all wanted to host Fluxus jubilees. We were well chuffed and in the following year we circled the world to attend jubilees in New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Montreal, Quebec, Dallas, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, London, Warsaw, Cologne, Wiesbaden, Munich, Vienna, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, Venice, Bolzano, Istanbul, Thessaloniki, Seoul, Sidney, Brisbane, and many other cities.
And Copenhagen was again on the bill with Excellent 1992, in Nikolaj, which in the intervening 30 years had become Copenhagen's Municipal Art Gallery.
As always, when we participate directly in an event we reinterpret out work and put it forward in altered versions. The Nikolaj festival would go on for four days as all had highly different characters. The first evening was dubbed Three Star Ó la Carte. The nave of Nikolaj was stage set as a restaurant, with small and large tables decked with white tablecloths and a flock of white-jacketed waiters standing by. The menu was not food but performances courses.
The audience, who did not require tickets, could quietly take their seats at the tables and browse the menu, which was divided into starters, main courses, desserts, side dishes and so on. Prices ranged from DKK 35 to DKK 335. The audience could, for instance, order a Rainbow by AY-O for DKK 40 or Solo for Dancer by Ben Patterson, for DKK 295.
No one had a snowball's chance in hell of knowing what was concealed behind the titles, although they could ask for guidance from the white-clad waiters, in usual fashion. This restaurant differed in only one essential respect from all other restaurants: the audience had to pay the bill before the dishes were served.
When the orders were in, an artist might enter and go through his or her paces at the table, alone or drawing in the audience. Or, perhaps, the waiter would return with loads of paraphernalia and direct those sitting at the table in acting out the ordered performance.
The Malm÷ Art Gallery was the venue the next evening. Here, the audience sat in conventional manner in rows while the performance was enacted around them, between them, and on stage. The third evening was Saturday night. Nikolaj was set designed as a bordello. The artists, with their equipment, exhibited themselves at the individual columns. No seating was provided in the nave, so the audience walked freely around to view what was an offer. A performer could be hired for a fixed hourly rate, perhaps DKK 300. The client would then decide whether the performance would be private or public, although the artists decided the content. Hire an Artist was the title of the evening.
The festival's grand finale was Galla Excellent, which ran all day Sunday from 12 noon to midnight. No programmes were printed and only the artists knew what would happen and when. There were at times rather overcrowded moments in Nikolaj with many activities being performed simultaneously. At other periods, the performances were hardly noticeable. Some of our most extended works were presented at this event. An Opera for Four Voices and Tone Bar took four hours to perform. A classic from 1961, piano scales, lasted 90 minutes. A Fifth struck 555 times on the church's organ lasted 45 minutes. At the entrance a stack of stapled chairs met the audience. The idea being that the audience could decide themselves where and for how long they would sit.
On the same Sunday Irma (Danish supermarket chain) opened an illegal supermarket in the church. It was designed in conventional manner: manned checkouts, shelving, security mirrors, price tags, shopping baskets, etc. The shelves were stocked with goods specially produced for the occasion, following our instructions. A portable hole, tears of various flavours, orange tennis balls in orange wrappers, carving sets for halves, vintage violin tones, anonymous goods the weight of which could be decided. All nicely vacuum-packed and bar coded. Prices ranged from DKK 19.95 to DKK 299.95. To avoid the temptation of hoarding, nobody was allowed to buy more than one item of each kind. The event attracted enormous crowds and everything was sold out in the Good Buy Supermarket after four hours.
The artists involved in this event were Eric Andersen, Philip Corner, Geoffrey Hendricks, Dick Higgins, Bengt af Klintberg, Alison Knowles, AY-O, Ben Patterson, Willem de Ridder, Ben Vautier and Emmett Williams.
To be continued...
Inter Media perspectives were somewhat altered when Copenhagen became the European City of Culture in 1996. Thirty four years after the by now legendry first battle of 1962.
Although Copenhagen was to be the cultural capital, the historic royal seat of Roskilde did not stand in the shadows. For a start, the Roskilde Foundation contributed DKK 1 million to the budget pool. The Cultural Fund, The Cultural City Fund, Roskilde Municipal Council and several commercial sponsors and an army of volunteers soon followed. A budget of DKK 6 million was within reach.
We called our contribution to the year of culture Margrethe Fjorden '96 and chose UNION, WOMEN and FAITH as central themes. We suggested that we could see a connection between Queen Margrethe II in 1996 and Margrethe I (who is interned behind the High Altar in Roskilde Cathedral) 600 years ago. The UNION theme was quite straightforward. The EU conceived the cities of culture idea and the first political union in Europe in fact took place 600 years ago, the Kalmar Union, initiated by Margrethe I. WOMEN was equally fortright. Margrethe I was one of the gigantic female figures of the Middle Ages and 600 years later we were compelled to amend the constitution so that Margrethe II could accede to the throne. FAITH was quite obvious, too. The past century was predominantly a time when we, for the first time in history, could imagine an existence and the world around us devoid of the notion of God, Equally, in the 1300s secularisation of the Church began, which would ultimately lead to the Reformation and the Danish Established Church.
The event ran over a period of three days and each day was divided into another Trinity. We emulated 1985. Of main importance was to occupy the town. The historic seat was cordoned off for four hours every evening, from 8 pm to midnight. All the town's agencies were drawn in as active contributors: the police, the Home Guard, emergency services, the hospital, the railways and roads and parks departments, technical administration, schools, convents, churches, museums, banks and shops.
Each day from the 16th to the 18th August, 2000 paying guests arrived at 8 pm to an organ and choir recital at Roskilde Cathedral. The programme comprised historical and contemporary pieces composed for the church's baroque organ, played by Yusuru Hiranaka and myself. The singers were the Tritonus Choir, conducted by John H°ybye and the Roskilde Studio Choir, conducted by Ole Hannibal. Outstanding performances were given by both choirs. Over 100 singers were spread throughout the church, singing over the heads of the audience. The audience was seated within the choir, while the organ bellowed down over them.
After the concert the audience were led out of the church through the King's Gate and diviede into ten equally sized groups. Here, Inter Media artists Eric Andersen, Pierre-AndrÚ Arcand, alice Damas, Bush Harthorn, Sin Cha Hong, Jakob Draminsky H°jmark, Larry Miller, Giovanni Nicolini, Magnus Palsson and Willem de Ridder took over, each treating 200 members of the audience to ten different 1 1/2 hour performances.
In the cordoned off town, the performances became the traffic. They moved in different directions through the streets and lanes. Made stops on squares, in churches, convents, shops and parks. They met, crossed each other to part again. Mountain climbers scrambled up buildings and towers, while the audience dragged themselves up the hill in 200 wheelchairs. Men were handcuffed by WPC's and nurses took blood samples. A lamb was slaughtered every hour. Flocks of sheep were herded by resolute dogs. A baby was born. The audience walked past spaces of sound as guardsmen, bagpipes, building machinery, traffic accidents and the emergency services conducted complicated scores with fire and water.
There was a choir of the deaf, signal flags, tropical heat, 200 walkmen, hearses accompanied by Queen Margrethe's march-past, growth reducing chemicals, processions and battle songs. But absolutely no videos, rhythmic music or laser beams.
Two audience groups were present. The 2000 strong ticket holders, who were compelled to contribute actively to the proceedings, acting as traffic for the event, who were given access to venues others were denied admission to. And then there were the tens of thousands who had descended on the town to see the amazing sight. The two groups observed each other, and at times wished they could change places.
The performances ebbed out slowly and everyone advanced towards the Viking Ship Museum on Roskilde Fjord. A helicopter ballet was performed with five machines resembling gigantic insects. They danced over the heads of the large assembly, casting light on them, blowing air on them, at once threatening and luring. Everything contravened the laws of gravity.
Around midnight 40 parachutists jumped with blinking blue lights attached to their helmets, resembling falling stars. The effect was that of the sky itself falling down over Roskilde. After held breaths only those with good eyesight could, with relief, shout: "They 're only parachutists".
But the most impressive event of all was a choir of 500 singers, who walked on water. Dressed all in white like swaying angels they performed Ib N°rholm's Tňgen driver over engen in antiphony with a flute player performing in a rowing boat, complete with fishing rod. His improvisations framed in a sound tape collage of sea bird voices.
The composer conduced the music from a tower. Using a microphone over a closed wave radio he directed five first and five second lead singers wearing earphones, dotted at equal distance throughout the large choir. Each lead singer wore a miner's lamped helmet and carried a music score. The lead singers began and finished the score's various stanzas according to Ib N°rholm's directions. Thereafter the baton principle was used.
The singers followed the lead singers' stanzas so that they slowly dispersed among the choir, meeting different stanzas from other lead singers, substituting slowly in interaction with them. The stanza the individual singer wished to pass on, depended on which stanza the singer felt was most catchy.
The effect was breathtaking. This huge choir stood on the water in ethereal light and sang the multifaceted tones like some massive common pulse. Tones in incessant fluctuation, amplified and borne along by the fjord's watery mirror to the audience on the banks.
Thirty-four years earlier Ib N°rholm, now celebrated as one of the most important composers for choirs in this part of the world, had been the insightful chairman of DUT and the main organiser of the Fluxus festival in Nikolaj, Copenhagen.
By Eric Andersen
Translated by Mary Graham