mandag den 1. oktober 2012


By an amazing stroke of luck, the centennial for John Cage and the semicentennial for Fluxus coincide. And what is even more lucky is that Cage is now an org. This means that one only has to visit his homepage in order to get an overview of all the activities that are organised around the globe in connection with his 100th birthday. In fact, our very own digital interactive Fluxus extravaganza, "Die Irren sind los"/"The Lunatics ar on the Loose" is one of them. The version of the show that was on view at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in July and August this year, was presented within the framework of a programme called "A Year from Monday. 365 Tage Cage".

It is such an amazing stroke of luck, such an amazing coincidence, because Fluxus and Cage are so intimately connected. If you listen to some of the people from the inner core of Fluxus, Cage was virtually the only source of inspiration, perhaps aided somewhat by Marcel Duchamp. Of course, entirely in the spirit of Fluxus, others make equally vociferous attempts to downplay or even deny Cage's role. So what is it with Fluxus and Cage? The standard story always mentions the course on experimental composition and notation that Cage taught at the New School for Social Research in New York in 1958-1959. Several of the absolutely central American Fluxus associates - George Brecht, Dick Higgins - participated, and the course undeniably had a profound effect on them. However, to claim that they could not have achieved what they have achieved without Cage, would be to underestimate these artists' own considerable genius. Moreover, it should be remembered that Fluxus had its roots in other art forms than music. Other core members had a background in poetry, theatre or the visual arts, and while they were aware of Cage and appreciated his work, they got their inspiration from other places as well.

However, the most important thing to remember when talking about Cage and Fluxus is that one of Fluxus' most recognisable contributions is the invention of intermedia. The word was coined by Higgins in 1966, but Fluxus works have been intermedial right from the start. Intermedia should not be confused with multimedia. The happening that John Cage so famously organised together with Robert Rauschenberg and Merce Cunningham at Black Mountain College in 1952 was multimedial. Cage wrote the music, Cunningham choreographed the movements and Rauschenberg painted. Intermedia as Higgins described it, inhabits the no-man's land between the media. It makes use of various media but is not reducible to any one of them. There is a considerable number of Fluxus works that can manifest themselves in different media. George Brecht's work is famous for it. His "Word Event", for example, can just as well take the shape of an EXIT sign as that of a performance in which the attention of the audience is drawn towards an EXIT sign or that of an EXIT sign observed in daily life.

In short, the connection between Cage and Fluxus is as misleading as it is significant. In the circles that originated the European contribution to Fluxus, Karlheinz Stockhausen played a role similar to that of Cage, but Stockhausen's serialism could never have given the same impetus to Fluxus that Cage's amazing inclusiveness did. Although it remained musical, Cage's redefinition of musical composition as a mere time frame, his willingness to embrace all sound and his development of the idea of indeterminacy is hugely sympathetic to the artistic agenda of Fluxus. And sympathy is something different than influence. It bridges the 50 years between Cage and Fluxus, or the 25-30 years between Cage and the first generation of Fluxus artists, by means of a shared interest rather than the authoritarianism of a master-pupil relationship. An interest, it needs to be added, that has the same roots but focuses entirely differently and leads to entirely different results.

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