onsdag den 31. oktober 2012


Tonight and tomorrow night, 31 October and 1 November 2012, the Wundergrund festival in Copenhagen is devoted to Fluxus. Tonight, composer Rasmus Zwicki presents two works devoted to Henning Christiansen and sculptor Bjørn Nørgaard presents a performence in the spirit of the ones he used to do together with HC. Tomorrow, Wundergrund gives the floor to, first, Reinhold Friedl, AKA Horst Possling, and afterwards to a host of composers and musicians and the listeners themselves, who will get the possibility to try all sorts of Fluxus works themselves. The place of action is Byens Lys at Christiania and a ticket costs a mere 50 Danish crowns. For further information, see the festival homepage: http://wundergrund.dk/program/


Yesterday, 30 October 2012, I participated in a panel discussion on Danish radio about the 50th anniversary of Fluxus and the two celebrations in Copenhagen in November this year, SNYK's Wundergrund festival and our own Lunatic archive at Kunsthallen Nikolaj. The panel discussion, with Thorbjørn Tønder Hansen of SNYK and composer Rasmus Zwicki, took place in the programme RomerRiget, hosted by Knud Romer. Here is a link, for those of you who speak Danish or enjoy hearing people speak as if they are permanently about to throw up: http://arkiv.radio24syv.dk/video/7244891/romerriget-uge-44-2012-1.

fredag den 5. oktober 2012


One of American composer La Monte Young’s better known 1960 compositions is no. 7, which consists of a B and an F# - a perfect fifth – and the instruction “to be held for a long time”. On a piano, you would do this by holding the sustain pedal down. During a Fluxus festival in Copenhagen in November 1962, however, the piece was performed on a harmonium. You would expect that it was a church organ, because the festival took place in Saint Nicholas Church, and some stories do replace the harmonium with an organ, but I am pretty sure that it was a harmonium. Arthur Køpcke decorated it with paper, old junk, a salt shaker and a pepper pot and some orange juice cartons especially for the occasion – and several eyewitnesses have described for me the majestic sight of Dick Higgins, tall and broad, pedaling away at the instrument and holding the tone, loud and clear, for something approaching 45 minutes. Both the sight and the sound must have been much more impressive than any piano rendition.
The performance ought to have been a perfect demonstration of Young’s wish to “get inside sound” – but it had exactly the opposite effect. Instead of drawing people in, it forced people out. The audience listened to the chord for some five or ten minutes. Then they started speaking to their neighbours and others around them, and finally, people started to leave the church and continued their conversations at a nearby hot dog stand instead. Through the open doors of the church, they could still hear the sound. A comparison with Satie’s Musique d’ameublement seems obvious here. The audience was supposed to talk while the five pieces it consists of were played, but during the first performance, the audience famously sat and listened intently until Satie climbed on stage and explained to them what they were supposed to do. With La Monte Young’s fifth, the exact opposite happened: people were supposed to listen, but they talked and walked around and away instead.
Why the difference? One could argue that the Satie work, despite its blandness, contained the minimum amount of elements necessary for an audience to recognize it as a piece of music and that the Young work did not. However, one could also argue that the occasion made a difference. Here, I make use of the system of three types or degrees of boredom that German philosopher Martin Heidegger proposes in a lecture series from 1929/1930 that he published under the title The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: “becoming bored by something”, “being bored with something” and “profound boredom”. We can disregard profound boredom here, but the other two are extremely relevant. Heidegger explains his first degree of boredom by means of the example of having to wait at a railway station and the second by that of attending a party. The difference is that the first type of boredom is defined first and foremost by all the things one does to drive boredom away, while the second takes place within a time span and a context where there is a place for it and is therefore not recognized as such until afterwards. Young’s piece invited boredom of the first degree, Satie’s of the second.
One can speculate whether Satie, although controversial, bore enough resemblance to a respectable composer– whether his premieres bore enough resemblance to respectable musical performances – for an audience to treat him and them according to the appropriate conventions. And one can speculate whether Fluxus and the Fluxus Festival in Copenhagen, although supported by the local branch of the ISCM, did not. But then, the association with the composers in DUT, as it was called, Det unge tonekunstnerselskab, did something else. At least one of the people I spoke to described the hubbub of the crowd as a piece in itself. Young’s piece may have been impossible to digest as a musical performance, but the audience’s efforts to drive the boredom caused by it away, could then be consumed as a performance instead. All that happened was that the focus moved from the cause of the boredom to the indices of its presence.

torsdag den 4. oktober 2012


Of course we were not the only ones to think that the 50th anniversary of Fluxus needed to be celebrated. There have been dozens of celebrations and there will be dozens more. Here is a pick.
Several museums in the US have cheated and started the celebrations a year early. The Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick, New Jersey, for example, could not wait to celebrate the role that Rutgers College in New Brunswick has played in the history for Fluxus and opened its exhibition “at/around/beyond: Fluxus at Rutgers” already in September last year (on display until April this year). MoMA was early as well with its exhibition “Thing/Thought: Fluxus Editions 1962-1978” (September 2011 –January 2012). And the University of Michigan Museum of Art had a show called “Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life” in February-May this year.
No doubt the largest event, however, is “Fluxus 50 – 1962-2012” in the city of Wiesbaden. Wiesbaden is where it all began (sort of), so it is only fair that the city makes an extra effort. The festival comprises a series of exhibitions, amongst them “Fluxus at 50” and shows of work by Benjamin Patterson and Joe Jones at the Museum Wiesbaden,  a performance program and a concert and performance series called “Festspiele neuester Musik” (after the Fluxus internationale Festspiele neuester Musik in Wiesbaden in 1962). In connection with the festival in Wiesbaden, m.a.x.museo in Chiasso, Switzerland, organised an exhibition called “Fluxus, a Creative Revolution, 1962-2012” (April-July this year). In Karlsruhe, meanwhile, the Zentrum für Kunst und Medien organised a concert by Patterson and Die Maulwerker on 28 April, and for those who missed Die Maulwerker there, there was a second chance to witness their efforts at the Museum Fluxus+ at Potsdam in connection with the “Fluxus Potsdam 2012” program, which also comprised lectures and film screenings.
Travelling south to Italy, the Fondazione Prada in Milan organised a programme called “Some Little Fluxus Events and Fluxus concerts” during the first week of September, as part of the exhibition “The Small Utopia”. Fluxus was given the honour or the title of “smallest of the small utopias of the 20th century”.  France has celebrated and celebrates Fluxus with a whole host of exhibitions. On 27 October, the Musée d’art moderne in Saint-Etienne opens the exhibition “Fiat Flux: The Nebulous Fluxus, 1962-1978”. Ben Vautier has a solo exhibition at the Villa Arson in Nice (July-October). He is also busy transforming the Musée de l’objet in Blois into the Fondation de la doute. The opening exhibition, in October this year, presents a selection from the collection of Gino di Maggio.
The Serpentine Gallery in London has celebrated Fluxus with a show of works by Yoko Ono called “To the Light (June-September) Ono is also the artist that is chosen to represent Fluxus in the Slovenian town of Maribor, Europe’s Capital of Culture for this year.  And this is only a small pick. But guess who comes up first when you google “Fluxus 2012”? Who else but our very own Lunatics!

onsdag den 3. oktober 2012


Fluxus will forever be associated with the destruction of pianos. Already during the first-ever Fluxus festival, the Fluxus internationale Festspiele neuester Musik in Wiesbaden in September 1962, a piano was smashed to pieces, and during the 50 year long history of Fluxus, many more have suffered the same fate.
There are other Fluxus pieces that ask for terminal damage to be done to a piano, but in Wiesbaden, the occasion was a performance of Philip Corner’s “Piano Activities”. Photographs of it appeared in countless newspapers in Germany and other European countries, and it even featured on German television. The item starts with a shot of the performers approaching a concert piano, Dick Higgins carrying a kettle and Emmett Williams a brick. Next, the camera follows Williams as he climbs up on the dais (the performance took place in a lecture theatre), straightens his glasses and grasps his brick in both hands. Before he has a chance to throw or drop it, however, the camera shifts to the other performers as they are at work on the piano, Benjamin Patterson hitting it with a hammer, Higgins rubbing the strings with his kettle, a third performer dusting it with a broom, et cetera. Then, it zooms in on the keyboard as a hammer crushes one key after another.  This shot is followed by images of thoughtful and laughing spectators, and the scene ends with the performers solemnly carrying the remains of the piano out through the emergency exit.
To underline the violent nature of the footage, it is accompanied by a voice reading the first and third stanza of a poem by the German poet and cartoonist Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908) called “Gemartert” (“martyred”, first published in 1904). The poem describes the rough treatment a piano receives at the hands of a virtuoso pianist. “Ein gutes Tier/Ist das Klavier,/Still, friedlich und bescheiden,/Und muss dabei/Doch vielerlei/Erdulden und erleiden“, reads the first stanza, and the third: “Und rasend wild,/Das Herz erfüllt/Von mörderlicher Freude,/Durchwühlt er dann,/Soweit er kann,/Des Opfers Eingeweide.“  Roughly translated, the verses say: „A good animal is the piano, quiet, peaceful and modest, and as such it has to tolerate and suffer a lot. (…) And frantic and wild, his heart filled with murderous joy, he rummages through his victim’s innards as far as he can reach“. In combination, the text and the images leave no doubt as to the violent nature of the piece.
The message came across. Just consider the following passage from a text called “My Son” by George Maciunas’s mother, Leokadija Maciunas: “The evening [of the broadcast] arrived and I, fortunately, didn’t see the program (we didn’t have a television.) The next day I met the former landlady of our hotel on the street and I was grieved by her sympathy as if some kind of terrible grief had come to me. They had seen the previous evening’s program and had been horrified. It showed how several young people, including my son, had destroyed a piano with hammers and axes. Even if the instrument was old and useless, it was noble, someone had once played on it, had evoked beautiful sounds, it had served talented hands which had given the public joy and rapture. It was painful and terrible to watch how the chips flew, to hear the complaining twanging of the severed strings. People couldn’t hold back their tears seeing such a shameful and tormenting end to the instrument. We don’t know what to do with old useless instruments, we don’t see this cruel treatment of them, and so this grief and sentiment is understandable. These people felt sorry for me, sympathizing and understanding how a mother’s heart would ache seeing what her son was doing.” (You can read the entire text on http://georgemaciunas.com/?page_id=1310)
Maciunas himself, however, had a different explanation. In a letter to La Monte Young, dateable to October 1962, now at the Getty Research Center, George Maciunas wrote: “Then on the end we did Corners piano activities not according to his instructions since we systematically destroyed a piano which I bought for $5 and had to have it all cut up to throw away, otherwise we would have to pay movers, a very practical composition, but German sentiments about this ‘instrument’ of Chopin were hurt and they made a row about it.” According to Maciunas, what appeared to be violence was actually a money saving device.
The score of Corner’s “Piano Activities” has long been lost, but it is now a part of the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It consists of three typewritten pages, describing a “piece for many pianists”. The musicians are instructed to examine their collective “potential for creating form” and to exercise their “awareness of scope and subtlety” – the piece outlines a kind of collective learning process. In the process, all the parts of the piano are manipulated by all sorts of means, both gentle and rough. While doing so, the performers have to be both restrained and rough, inactive and active, extreme and moderate, et cetera. The signature use of opposites is echoed in the development of the learning process as well, because the performers have to work towards the development of “a complete system of design and relationship”, but towards the removal of formality as well. The crux is to be found in a parenthesis: “(comprehending the full range of possibilities)”.
Here, it is useful to consider the footage that was shown on German television once again. It shows the keys of the piano being destroyed, but its inside being dusted as well, a stone being dropped on it but its strings being rubbed as well. All sorts of contrary actions were performed. It seems that the performers stayed closer to Corner’s instructions as Maciunas claimed. It may not have been a perfect performance of the piece, but there was at least some exploring of the range of possibilities offered by the general setting. The violence of the piece rests in its representation, by the press and by Maciunas.  That Maciunas should court violence in this manner should come as no surprise: only a month earlier, he had sung the praise of a kick to the underside of a piano as an ideal way to demonstrate its physical properties, and he generally seems to have dreamt of Fluxus as a new incarnation of the revolutionary spirit of the pre-war avant-garde. That the press should pick up on this is equally unsurprising. What does come as a surprise is, how effective their representation of the piece still is. Only after reading Corner’s score is it possible to see the gentle actions as well as the violent ones and to spot the importance of their juxtaposition.

tirsdag den 2. oktober 2012


Just over a month until the Lunatic Fluxus archive hits Copenhagen. That also means that we only have to wait for the catalogue for another 30 days or so, and that is good news. Our catalogue will be a welcome addition to the collection of every Fluxus enthusiast. Let me try to explain why.
To begin with, it documents a long list of (European) Fluxus events that have until now not received particularly much attention. After all, if we mean what we say when we underline the international character of Fluxus, there is really no reason why we should limit ourselves to events in Germany, France and England. But the verb “to document” is important as well: we, the contributors to the catalogue, have generously agreed to list all the documentation we know of and to reproduce a fair chunk of it. This makes the catalogue a massive collection – over 600 pages – of primary material that can freely be used by others and that will make it possible for the events we describe to find a place amongst those other, much better documented festivals and concerts.
But there is more. Every event is described in as much detail as is possible with the material we have, but we make virtually no attempt to link them. This means that the reader is free to make his/her own connections and to impose his/her own order on the material, an approach that suits the nomadic character of Fluxus much more than the traditional scholarly one in which the authors with a great show of authority tell their readers what to think. Despite the amazing work done by George Maciunas, the history of Fluxus is very much a concatenation of incidents. The best way to understand it is by trying to bring your face right up close and follow all the small moves made by all the various actors – much better, in any case, than retreating to the distance and trying to discern a general line of development. This is quite a claim to make, but I’m sure that I’ll get the opportunity to explain myself in one of the daily blog entries that I hope to write from now on.
Finally, in focusing on the single events, the catalogue also steers away from the game of “Who’s Fluxus? Who’s Not! Why” that is all too often played. It is not difficult to see why it is played, and I think most people will also agree that it is necessary, but I still think it is a redeeming feature of the catalogue that it does not discern between Fluxus artists and all the others. It simply mentions everyone involved without applying a priori selection criteria – and therewith without trying to locate Fluxus in the bodies and minds of those involved. Just as it focuses on the single event, it also focuses on the single actor and the single act. This type of atomisation could be considered problematic, but at least it resists any tendencies towards (over-)simplification and any urge to slip into old modernist ideas about the artist as genius. Fluxus was – and is – well beyond that.
So let’s count the days. That catalogue ought to be the pride and joy of every self-respecting Fluxus devotee.

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.