FLUXUS: Who Set you flowin'?
By Pamela Booker, IBA Faculty
This past fall residency, in partnership with two of my faculty besties, Otto Muller and Suiyee Wong (pictured below)—ever the motley crew in pursuit of frivolity—we realized a longtime vision of organizing and presenting a collaborative, Fluxus-based workshop.
Not only did the experience exceed our expectations in terms of audience participation and receptivity, but each of us as participants deepened our practices as teaching artists in the exploration of creative risk, trust and passion. Along the way, we had good fun.
We were pleased to learn that our workshop also generated lively discussions and buzz that continued throughout the residency and was celebrated for directly influencing new, exciting approaches to Cabaret. By all accounts, it was one of the most entertaining this year, from beginning to end.
So, what is Fluxus?
Although there exists a range of possible answers to this probing question, in a bite, the word draws from the Latin meaning flow. Yet there are also elements that more precisely define the term:
- Fluxus is attitude. It is not a movement or a style;
- Fluxus is (inter)media: everyday objects, sounds, images, texts, and so forth that create new forms;
- Fluxus works are simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief;
- Fluxus is FUN. Humor is the most important element!
Although the original Fluxus movement artists considered themselves “experimental artists that generated an anti-art/anti-movement movement,” arguably, their works were in fact creative, self-generated public concerts, festivals, music scores, slams, along with a list of eclectic and “originally conceived” presentations.
George Maciunas is credited as the founding artist in the U.S. Many continued to be actively practiced over the years by Fluxus “elders” Alice Notley and Merce Cunningham. Today’s Flashmobs and even the Gangum craze are loopy iterations of the Fluxus “flow,” a call for what appears to be spontaneous eruptions with organizing principles instead of fixed rules.
Our Goddard Presentation: we selected “events” (presentations) by artists whose works accomplished three goals and introduced them as:
- artists who are seen as iconic figures,
- to challenge our performance skills and comfort level, and
- examine/question the intersections of culture and performativity, among a list of active ingredients that include: stillness/power/authority, race/ethnicity/gender, space, food and self discipline.
How We Did It: Our evening-length presentations were housed in the magical theatre and open space known as the Haybarn Theatre. On entering, a center-placed, ceiling high ladder with a gallon jug of water immediately caught your attention as faculty member Otto Muller, also our interlocutor, recreated Drip Music on Ladder by George Brecht, a water dripping composition.
The audience was then directed to shift their gaze on to me as I sat Bodhisattva-style in the figure of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, slightly squint-eyed as the audience was left to their imaginative wiles with a pair of scissors and the open instructive to cut away at my clothing.
Faculty member Sui Yee, seated stoically in front of the mirrored wall in a striking red dress, offered a theosophist’s rendering of Marina Abramovic’s “The Artist is Present,” and in keeping with Fluxus spontaneity, a group of onlookers broke into song.
Other performed events included “X for Henry Flint” and “Food Drop.”
We closed with a circle of engaging reflections on what ultimately was appreciated as a thought-provoking experience, if not an uncomfortable one in moments, and where the lines blurred between audience/participant/performance.
In the end, instead of giving the audience what the artist chooses to give, the artist gives what the audience chooses to take.
For further study, here’s a list of links that provide extensive bibliography, history of the movement and videos of some of its most influential artists: