Adrian only briefly touched on Fluxus in the lecture today, but I wanted to talk a little more about it so I have given it its own post.
Fluxus is a really interesting art movement. The reason it came up in the lecture is because it relates to the ideas explored in this course. Adrian described Fluxus as art that is like Barthes’ idea of ‘text’ because it is made up of instructions and recipes, ways of doing. It is an art movement that asks for the consumer to engage. There is no monument to view, to simply consume, but rather it tells you how to create art separately. It is a game.
Quite a few years ago I had the privilege to visit the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary art in Gateshead, England. It is my favourite contemporary art museum in the world. (I’ve also been to MoMA, Museum Brandhorst, Pinakothek der Moderne, the Tate, Sydney MCA, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, but the BALTIC is undeniably the best in my humble opinion. However, I am dying to visit Mona in Tasmania.) The first time I went there it had two exhibitions showing. One was Yoko Ono’s Between the Sky and My Head, which was only shown in two galleries in the whole world, and a retrospective of Fluxus, which Yoko Ono was a part of in the 1960s. It included a lot of Fluxus works, instruction booklets, videos and so on, by a wide range of artists. What I realised in today’s lecture, though, is that the BALTIC turned the ‘text’ into ‘work’ inadvertently. The point of Fluxus is to be ‘text’ and for the consumer to engage in the work. That is the whole message of the medium, it’s very much rooted in DIY. Fluxus artists made do with what was available to them and they were, in a way, anti-art (which could be taken as anti-’work’).
Yet, the curators at the BALTIC placed all of the booklets in glass cases. The paintings were mounted on the walls to be viewed. The videos were in small rooms to watch — videos of interactive art, like Ono’s brilliant Cut Piece. The curators had taken a movement that was all ‘text’ and removed the agency that was given to the consumer by the artists. I didn’t realise this at the time at all. I didn’t even question it.
In hindsight, this surprises me about the BALTIC because the thing that I like the most about it is that it utilises its space so well. It used to be a flour mill until it was converted into a five-storey art space. Artists are invited in to create exhibitions however they see fit. The Fluxus exhibition was ineffective because it was not its own art form. It was just a collection of stuff. The other exhibitions I have seen there were extremely effective and could be seen as ‘text’ completely. The best was Yoko Ono’s Between the Sky and My Head. It featured two floors of Ono’s art that she arranged to her liking. The first floor was her older stuff and was simply arranged to be consumed, but the second floor was designed to engage with. It involved installations and interactive works. The two most relevant to this course — to the theory of ‘text’ — are Wish Tree and My Mommy is Beautiful which invited guests to the museum to write their wishes on paper and tie them to the wish trees and to write or draw something about their mothers on the wall provided. Ono herself had been through the room and written messages on the walls in various places. It was the most spectacular art exhibition I’d ever been to.
I’ve been to the BALTIC since then and I saw Robert Breer’s retrospective exhibition. He died during its showing at the museum, but he did have a large hand in putting it together and, again, utilising the space provided. He uses a lot of mediums, but the most interesting for me were the moving sculptures. Breer had built sculptures on very small motors that moved around the room, but you wouldn’t have noticed just by looking at them. The sculptures moved so slowly that most people noticed they were moving because they looked away. You might go into a room to view an animation for a little while and then when you come out again, suddenly the dividing wall is on the other side of the room. It was very entertaining to watch all of this go on and I think it’s another fun example of ‘text.’
The lecture today was really interesting and got me thinking about movements like Fluxus and their modern equivalents, like Korsakow. I have been in a jarring state of anxiety over the last few months and struggling with my creative identity and finding a purpose or direction for my life and my creation and art. Lately I’ve been starting to think about a desire to utilise new media forms, interactivity and available medium. This lecture kind of helped me to cement — or maybe not cement, but start sticky-taping together — ideas about the kinds of things I want to make. One of Barthes’ points in his From Work to Text is about pleasure in consumption. Adrian explained that pleasure is where the gap between the consumer and the art dissolves which puts the consumer’s identity at risk. This struck a chord with me a bit because this has always been the sort of art I’ve wanted to create. I am moved by the things that change me, that introduce me to new ideas or phrase for me things I already knew but couldn’t articulate. The art that I love is the art that reshapes my identity. This is the sort of stuff I want to be doing. I want to use a variety of mediums to say things that are important to me while allowing the consumer to reshape what I say into meanings that are important to them. Like Korsakow, like Fluxus, I want to make things that are multi-directional and multi-purposeful, things that strive to have a plurality of meaning because art only ever should have that. I want to wilfully and joyfully embrace mediums in my art. All I’ve got to work out now is where to start.