Sohm Archive: Fluxus

Induced in Germany, the birth of the Fluxus movement was once described by the artist Tomas Schmit as the »Zusammentreffen von amerikanischer Stillosigkeit und europäischer Stilverdrossenheit« (perhaps translatable as: »an encounter between the American condition of having too little style and the European condition of having too much of it«). Actually, Fluxus was a melting pot of avant-garde art, claiming such disparate protagonists as Nam June Paik, George Brecht, Addi Köpcke, Emmett Williams, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Yoko Ono, Joe Jones, Ben Vautier, Robert Filliou, Daniel Spoerri, Joseph Beuys, Per Kirkeby and all the other artists who undertook to reconcile »art and life.« What all Fluxus artists had in common was the realization that the age of traditional art - art which could be measured by immanent »standards of quality« - was over, and that now »reality« and »everyone« was to gain access to its realm.

»Fluxus. Internationale Festspiele Neuester Musik« Wiesbaden 1962

»Fluxus. Internationale Festspiele Neuester Musik« Wiesbaden 1962, Foto: Hartmut Rekort

The term »Fluxus« was first used on the announcement of a concert series organized by George Maciunas - a Lithuanian who had entered Germany by way of the U.S. - in September 1962. Already the designation of Fluxus performances as »concerts« suggests that the roots of Fluxus are to be found in the music emerging from the circle around Cage - compositions determined by random methods and the integration of everyday sounds and noises. A Dadaist-style facet was introduced chiefly by Filliou, Köpcke und Williams, consisting in the parodying of linguistic conventions. Fluxus concerts typically comprised brief »simple« actions such as the sawing up of a piano or the drop-by-drop filling of a bucket with water. In Zen manner, the audience was thus to be made conscious of the significance of the everyday aspects of life.

The object boxes and suitcases edited by Maciunas and designed by more than fifty »Fluxus artists« were a later phenomenon, whose »meaning« consisted in their mass distribution and meaningless utilization.

Whereas Fluxus is now considered to have played a major role in preparing the ground for present-day art movements, in the 1960s hardly anyone was interested in art outside of painting and sculpture. The collector and archivist Hanns Sohm was one of the very few of his contemporaries to recognize the movement’s significance, and it is thanks to him that the world’s most extensive Fluxus documentation is now to be found in the archive of Stuttgart. [ IC ]

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