Fluxus emerged in the early 1960s as a loose, collaborative effort—centered around Lithuanian-born American artist George Maciunas (1931-1978)—to dethrone “serious” culture by creating unassuming, simply-structured, and often humorous objects and performances demonstrating that “anything can be art and anyone can do it.” Film played an important role in this self-described “rear-guard” from its earliest days, both as a medium in itself and as a means to document a wide range of otherwise ephemeral performance activities that often blurred the line between art and life. Beginning in 1964, Maciunas published a series of forty-one “Fluxfilms” by a wide range of artists. These films (and others) were projected as part of Fluxus festivals and distributed in a variety of formats including stand-alone 16mm prints, compilation reels, and short 8mm loops.
These two programs, by no means comprehensive, offer a glimpse into a pivotal moment in twentieth-century art. The range of approaches represented reflects the heterogeneity of Fluxus itself, which, as artist George Brecht observed in 1964, was united not by a common style or methodology but by a shared sense that the bounds of what could be considered “art” had far exceeded the limits of conventional aesthetic categories.
These programs are presented in conjunction with the exhibition Multiple Strategies: Beuys, Maciunas, Fluxus, on view in the Busch-ReisingerMuseum from February 24 – June 10, 2007. They were curated by Jacob Proctor, Harvard Art Museum’s Ruth V S Lauer Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Prints and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History of Art and Architecture.
Directed by Dick Higgins
US 1962, 16mm, b&w, 12 min.
In classic Fluxus style, Higgins employs the age-old comedic tactic of reverse motion to transform a piece of commercial propaganda into a witty commentary on the march of progress. Higgins noted that he “hoped the end would justify the means.” Print courtesy of Filmmakers Coop.
Directed by Wolf Vostell
US 1963-67, 16mm, b&w, silent, 21 min.
Vostell was a prominent figure in the early development of German Happenings and Fluxus. 20 Juli 1964 Aachen (1967) references his participation in a notorious festival of performance art which coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the failed Stauffenberg coup against Hitler and “culminated” in Joseph Beuys being attacked by a right-wing student. In Sun In Your Head (1963, Fluxfilm #23) Vostell applies “dé-coll/age” to the medium of television, filming distorted images off the screen and re-editing the footage, while Starfighter (1967) highlights the jet aircraft that allegedly inspired the procedure. Notstandbordstein (1967) originated as an action in which Vostell projected a film loop from a traveling car, inverting the customary relationship between static projector/screen and moving image. Print courtesy of Filmmakers Coop.
Directed by Robert Watts
US 1965-, video from 16mm, silent, 30 min.
A central figure in every sphere of Fluxus activity, Watts’s cinematic and multimedia works of the early and mid-sixties engage many concerns that have since emerged as crucial to the development of “expanded cinema.” Receiving here its first public screening since 1992, 89 Movies is an extended collage of images from eighty-nine different films. Print courtesy of Robert Watts Studio Archive.
Directed by Fluxus
US 1966/70, 16mm, color and b/w, 40 min.
The complete Fluxfilm Anthology lists 41 titles, but the entire assemblage was never projected or distributed; the version presented here was compiled by Maciunas in 1966 for distribution through the Film-makers’ Cooperative. Highlights include Yoko Ono’s Number 4 and Paul Sharits’s Unrolling Event, which speak to Maciunas’s penchant for physical humor and vaudevillian sight gags. Print courtesy of Filmmakers Coop.
Directed by Robert Breer
US 1964, 16mm, color, 9 min.
Directed by Peter Moore
US 1964-94, 16mm, b/w, 32 min.
The New York production of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s music/theater event Originale divided the Fluxus community. Directed by Allan Kaprow, Originale’s all-star cast included such Fluxus stalwarts as Nam June Paik, Dick Higgins, and Ay-O. Outside the concert, Maciunas, Henry Flynt, Ben Vautier, and Tony Conrad picketed the event due to Stockhausen’s perceived elitism, racism, and cultural imperialism. Peter Moore filmed the performance but only began editing the footage shortly before his death in 1993; the film was completed posthumously by his wife and longtime collaborator Barbara Moore. Robert Breer’s Fist Fight—a rapid-fire, frame-by-frame collage of, in Breer’s words, “everything imaginable”—was projected as part of Originale, from which the current soundtrack derives. Prints courtesy of Filmmakers Coop.
Directed by Jonas Mekas
US 1992, 16mm, color, 35 min.
The close relationship between Fluxus and experimental filmmaking
derived in part from the friendship between Maciunas and New American Cinema champion (and fellow Lithuanian émigré) Jonas Mekas. In Zefiro Torna, Mekas draws on his own collection of footage—shot between 1952 and 1978—to create a moving cinematic elegy to his late friend. Print courtesy of Filmmakers Coop.
Directed by Joseph Beuys, Douglas Davis, and Nam June Paik
US 1977, video, color, 30 min.
At documenta 6 (1977), an international exhibition held every five years in West Germany, Beuys joined Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, and Douglas Davis in a live international satellite telecast – the first of its kind by artists. Paik and Moorman perform a series of collaborative works, while Davis considers the nature of the telecast as a medium. Beuys, who often used his exhibitions as platforms for social and political agitation, discusses his utopian theories of "social sculpture" and his efforts to transform society through artistic activity. Print courtesy of EAI.