In my research on Fluxus, I found that the movement had two main goals: (1) to challenge elite art institutions and to (2) meld art and life so that they are inseparable. In order to blur these boundaries, they experimented with form through “intermedia” – creating genres of art that crossed traditional categories, like visual poetry. The enactment of art was another way to reach for this goal. Performance and the actions of the viewer became important ways to change the dynamics of space. The audience was no longer separate from art, required to stand at a distance so as to protect the integrity of a piece.
“Fluxus art involved the viewer, relying on the element of chance to shape the ultimate outcome of the piece.” – The Art Story
In Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece,” members of the crowd were invited to cut the clothing away from her body. In this type of creation, the viewer melds with the artist in the space of collaboration. Art is not static and preserved in a gallery, it is changeable. It also resists becoming a commodity through endless replication, either through performing the same piece over and over with an infinity of possible results, or through mass-producing identical pieces. An example of the latter is “Total Art Matchbox” by Ben Vautier, where matchboxes were produced with instructions to “use these matches to destroy all art,” which included the matchbox itself. This type of piece lays down a next step for the viewer, and asks them to complete the art.
Certain aspects of Fluxus seem to echo the sentiments of SI. When reading about the piece “Fluxfest Presentation of John Lennon and Yoko Ono,” where audience members were given masks of John Lennon and Yoko Ono to wear, I thought about the concept of the gift and of potlatch. In creating pieces of art that are mass-produced, there is a physical gift to the audience, but there’s also a gift of shared space. Maciunas stated that art should be “obtainable by all and eventually produced by all,” which echoes the idea by SI that “poetry should be played by all.” The author is decentered through a kind of detournement of process instead of product. By inviting the viewer to participate, the artist gives up control over the final outcome. Maciunas also encouraged artists to sign projects as Fluxus, instead of their names, creating a collective of actions.
Fluxus also intersects with the ideas of the derive through its engagement with Zen and its emphasis on the importance of the moment. By allowing a performance piece to take different directions, new maps of meaning can be explored. Performances create a situation for people to enter.
One Fluxus artist I was excited to encounter is Alison Knowles, who uses visual, aural, and tactile engagement in her work. Her piece The Big Book enacts an embodiment of text by requiring viewers to physically enter the text. Size resurfaces here as a way to make meaning. The book is 8’ tall, a physical enlargement that allows a conceptual expansion within the audience’s mind on the nature of books and our engagement with them.