Competing Strategies for Empowerment
Dada belongs to everybody. Like the idea of God or the toothbrush ... Dada existed before us (the Holy Virgin) but one cannot deny its magical power to add to this already existing spirit.
-Tristan Tzara, "Authorization, New York Dada," New York, 1921.
Long, long ago, back when the world was young ... Fluxus was like a baby whose mother and father couldn't agree on what to call it ... Fluxus has a life of its own ... When you grow up, do you want to be a part of Fluxus? I do.
-Dick Higgins, "A Child's History of Fluxus," New York, 1979.
Wolf Vostell, Untitled, 1974
Of the many strategies for empowerment and historical positioning that Fluxus shared with Dada, one of its self-proclaimed grandparents, the one that has the most consequential ramifications for our own present is the recurrent insistence that each had identified a trans-historical constant, or "tendency," that stretched back through history and forward into the future. For the Romanian poet Tristan Tzara-Dada's most active impresario-the existence of an ahistorical "Dada state of mind," or "spirit," facilitated the appropriation of like-minded individuals, the most notable of whom was probably Marcel Duchamp, into the movement and concurrently positioned a collective of dislocated war resisters within the mainstream of the avant-garde tradition.
When Tzara authored his New York "Authorization," he was still actively involved in the construction of an art culture-an activity endemic to all twentieth-century avant-gardes. However, by the second half of our century (and after the close of the second "war to end all wars"), Tzara and the rest of his surviving co-participants in international Dada were retroactively attempting to dismantle this ahistorical aspect of the Dada myth; that is to say, to recontextualize their activities within the historical realities of the First World War period. For the most part, participants in the historical Fluxus have yet to follow suit.
In his 1921 mock authorization of New York Dada, Tzara insisted that Dada was "not a dogma or a school [but rather] a constellation of individuals and of free facets,"  yet another strategy persistently employed by the Fluxus people, most of whom are adamant in their insistence that Fluxus was not a "movement." Conversely, many participants willingly describe Fluxus as an overtly utopian cultural space that facilitated the enactment of multiple artistic agendas. For example, according to Wolf Vostell (orchestrator of "De-Coll/Age Happenings," sometimes active participant in Fluxus, and fellow traveller alongside Allan Kaprow within the anti-Pop, overtly political, New York-based "NO! art" or "Doom" collective), "the positivity of Fluxus [gave us] the possibility of meeting each other and staying together. Individually artists existed before and after, but for a few years they had the same ideals, though not the same opinions." 
As was the case for Dada, historical Fluxus served as a banner around which numerous, and sometimes activist, communities briefly coalesced. Milan Knizák (a founding member of the Prague-based group Aktual, whose arrest in Czechoslovakia incited an international roster of fluxus participants to petition for his release) noted in 1977:
It was not the work of Fluxus that ... we needed, but its very existence. When Aktual-activity started ... we were completely isolated .... but knowing that somewhere [there was] someone who was similar to us ... helped us a lot during that period. 
Not only did Fluxus briefly unite a number of context-specific international constellations of individuals, it briefly provided them with a fictive country whose geography was a figment of the communal imagination. During a 1985 conversation, I suggested as much to Alison Knowles. In response to my speculation that Fluxus was a kind of conceptual country that "granted short-term citizenship to an international community of self proclaimed cosmopolites [and] provided them with a nationality,"  the artist enthusiastically replied:
And do you know another idea that's linked to that? I love it. It's Bob Watts' idea that Fluxus could overtake existing institutions, the churches, the grocery store, and of course George's minesweeper; all of Fluxus gets on the minesweeper and goes around the world. Alison pulverizes the fish to make bread, someone else has the role of getting the flags up to guide the ship. In a funny way it was a world of people. We had our mothers and fathers aboard in a sense. We were a kind of Fluxus family ... That's absolutely right. The world of Fluxus did exist somewhere. 
As was the case for historical Dada, Fluxus served as an interface among subsets of geographically dispersed international art cultures. Despite their aggressively anti-art personae, both the Dada collective and its paradigmatic neo-Dada counterpart were distinguishable from majority culture communities because of their (sometimes veiled, yet recurrent) self-identification as alternative art cultures. As a result, it can be convincingly argued that not only were both fully fledged movements (albeit of the anarchic variety), but that both were heir to a number of other primary defining principles of the twentieth-century avant-garde.
The modernist concept of a cultural avant-garde was optimistically prophesied in 1825 by the French writer and diplomat Saint-Simon during a period of utopian progressivism. The artist was originally positioned within a cultural committee of socially conscious individuals whose charge, mandated by the heirs of the Enlightenment, entailed a collaborative attempt to move culture ahead to a better future. The artist was not only to take his or her place alongside the scientist and the philosopher, but was understood, by a society governed by idealism, to be particularly well-qualified to make substantial contributions to the dissemination of the value structures of this new world.
By the early twentieth century, having long since become specific to literary and artistic actions, the concept "avant-garde" had come to be inseparable from the aesthetic basis of community building and culturing. Thus, despite George Maciunas' often cited (and strategically confrontational) "rear-garde" posturing, in their critique of the institution of art and of larger cultural constructs, as well as in their recurrent commitment to the processes of culturing, participants in historical Fluxus fulfilled a number of the same fundamental prerequisites for membership in this venerated tradition of artistic activism as did their First World War precursors. In view of the fact that the utopian concept of a cultural avant-garde and the modern discipline of history (understood as a socially progressive branch of knowledge) were birthed one alongside the other, in their strategic attempts to position themselves historically both Dada and Fluxus fulfilled yet another.
Although conventional wisdom dictates that the avant-garde is by definition adamantly anti-historical, both Dada and Fluxus repeatedly assumed responsibility for the authorship of their respective histories. For the most part, the numerous narrative histories penned by the in-house historians of both movements were not dependent upon analytical, or philosophical historiographic armatures. Positioned outside then active art-historical discourse, these chroniclers of the marginalized often adopted modes of authorship more closely aligned with the personal narrative, diary, genealogy, chronology, or tale. Nonetheless, through the composition and self-publication of these often transparently agenda-bound testaments, these vernacular historians (perhaps inadvertently) challenge still widely held assumptions about realistic history. Many of these well-authored historiographic fictions further evidence the avant-garde's recurrent strategic preoccupation with its own historical self-empowerment.
Tristan Tzara's Zurich Chronicle, 1915-1919 first appeared in print in Richard Huelsenbecks' Dada Almanach (Berlin, 1920) and was later reproduced, in English translation, in both Robert Motherwell's pivotal anthology, The Dada Painters and Poets (1951) and in Hans Richter's 1965 edition of Dada Art and Anti-Art. Although the poet/publisher's strategic 1919/20 account of purportedly "historical" facts and events is arranged in chronological order, the document serves multiple purposes as a nonsense poem and manifesto. Interestingly enough, under the heading "July 1917" Tzara asserts: "Mysterious creation! Magic Revolver! The Dada Movement is launched" (emphasis mine).  The chronicle welcomes Francis Picabia, "the antipainter just arrived from New York,"  into the ranks of the Zurich Dada circle and strategically affiliates Tzara's own Dada publishing activities in Zurich with Marcel Duchamp's parallel, yet independent, New York-based iconoclasms. In its celebration of "Dschouang-Dsi [as] the first Dadaist,"  the Zurich Chronicle concurrently references what was to become one of Dada's most impactful strategies for historical empowerment-the trans-historical constant we have come to identify as the Dada spirit or state of mind.
In keeping with its author's role as one of historical Dada's most active publicists and networkers, the chronicle closes with the (tongue-in-cheek) recounting that "Up to October 15 , ,590 articles on Dadaism have appeared in the newspapers and magazines of: Barcelona, St Gall, New York, Rapperswill, Berlin, Warsaw, Mannheim, Prague, Rorschach, Vienna, Bordeaux, Hamburg, Bologna, Nuremberg, Chaux-de-fonds, Colmar, Jassy, Ban, Copenhagen, Bucharest, Geneva, Boston, Frankfurt, Budapest, Madrid, Zurich, Lyon, Basel, Christiania, Berne, Naples, Cologne, Seville, Munich, Rome, Horgen, Paris, Effretikon, London, Innsbruck, Amsterdam, Santa-Cruz, Leipzig, Lausanne, Chemnitz, Rotterdam, Brussels, Dresden, Santiago, Stockholm, Hanover, Florence, Venice, Washington, etc. etc." 
Dick Higgins penned his child's history of Fluxus some seventeen and a half years after the "Fluxus Festival of New Music" in Wiesbaden, a point in time when, having successfully captured the imagination of the German mass media, the fledgling Fluxus community inadvertently coalesced around this new banner. For some of his co-participants in the historical collective, Fluxus had already "fluxed." For others, the purported existence of a mythical 'fluxattitude' provided a mechanism through which to enact ongoing strategies for historical positioning. Adopting the presentational format of a bedtime story or folk tale, Higgins' narrative is both an activist reiteration of Fluxus' challenge to normative hierarchical pretensions of the artworld and a blatantly agenda-specific attempt to mythify a trans-historical Fluxus spirit-a fictional constant which, by virtue of its ability to stretch back to a time when "the world was young," might also carry Fluxus forward into the art-historical future.
It should be noted that despite the movement's recurrent attempts to break down the line of demarcation between art and life and to democratize the art experience (strategies employed by most twentieth-century avant-gardes), until the very recent past Fluxus had, for the most part, spoken most directly to itself and to other generations of like-minded artists. However, as the numerous, highly visible exhibitions of a few years ago indicated, both historical Fluxus and the Fluxus spirit have undeniably captured the imagination of our own present. It is the former that served as a subject of the exhibition Fluxus: A Conceptual Country, which I organized in 1992/93; it was the latter that was lauded in the Walker Art Center's concurrent celebration, aptly entitled In the Spirit of Fluxus.
Fluxus: A Conceptual Country was composed of a broad cross-section of works that sit firmly within the so-called Fluxus canon. It also very deliberately attempted to chart links between proto-Fluxus in New York and concurrent radical artistic activities-between North American Fluxus and the Czech Aktual group, Dé-Coll/age Happenings, the Spanish-based Zaj Collective, the Japanese-based High Red Center group, and Fluxus in Holland, Denmark and France among others; and between Fluxus and the Underground Press Syndicate, and the California-based Fast Side and West Bay [neo] Dadaists. In a Friday, October 23, 1992 New York Times review of the exhibition, Holland Cotter noted:
With most of the original artists represented], the superbly mounted Fluxus: A Conceptual Country ... gives a clear multi-textured look at the movement's early days... There's a fair share of Dada whimsy ... There is also a distinct if sporadic political edge ... reminders that the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement provided the historical context in which Fluxus artists worked.
Cotter's immediate association of Dada with the whimsical makes direct reference to one unfortunate side-effect of the process of decontextualization prerequisite to the ascendancy of the ahistorical construct-the Dada state of mind. Although scholars of Dada have long been aware that historical Dada was one of our century's most sophisticated, art-based, anti-war movements, the lay public continues to respond to the "magical power" of Dada's purportedly trans-historical spirit. The consequence of the continued pervasiveness of this myth (originated by the Dadaists themselves as a strategy for historical positioning) is that the historical accomplishments of the movement have consistently been historiographically disempowered. Leaving the potential ramifications of the parallel construct the "Fluxattitude" upon our understanding of historical Fluxus aside for the moment, let us turn instead to Cotter's statement concerning the exhibition's "sporadic" reference to historical Fluxus' political context.
While not all participants in Fluxus held pride of place in the roster of activist and overtly politically engaged artists of the period, most regularly assumed the long-standing avant-garde responsibility to integrate art-making with cultural and socio-political criticism. I would further like to posit that Fluxus' recurrent response to the political realities of its present was by no means sporadic. Rather than cite numerous examples of activist works realized by individuals centrally involved in the Fluxus circle I would rather turn, for a moment, to one particular piece, responsibility for which falls to a collective of individuals who can, within the current discussion, be best described as participants in the Fluxus orbit. Bloodbath was an Action carried out in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art by the Guerrilla Art Action Group (an affiliate of the Art Workers Coalition and one of the most radical art activist groups of the Vietnam era), and publicized in Dieter Albrecht's Flug/Flux Blattzeitung #12. The collective's manifesto of 10 November 1969, which was distributed during this Action, was directed against "people who use art as a disguise, a cover for brutal involvement" in the war machine. The document served as an indictment of David Rockefeller, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at MoMA, for his participation in the production of napalm and for his position of power as Chairman of the Board of Chase Manhattan Bank, a corporation purportedly collaborating with the Pentagon; and of the Rockefeller brothers for their involvement in aircraft corporations and chemical and biological warfare research. That the issues at stake were also art specific and responded to traditional avant-garde utopian assumptions about the role of the artist as cultural critic is evidenced in the following statement included in the manifesto: Those people have been in actual control of the Museum's policies since its founding. With this power they have been able to manipulate artists' ideas; sterilize art from any form of social protest and indictment of the oppressive forces in society; and therefore render art totally irrelevant to existing crisis.
Interestingly enough, despite Bloodbath's disruptive and unmistakably confrontational presentational format, the museum public who witnessed the action remained aware that this particular event was distinguishable from the anti-war protests then taking place in the streets. That the "audience" remained conscious that they were instead positioned within a culturally sanctified (that is to say, protected) artistic arena is evidenced in a brief statement included in the Guerrilla Art Action Group's Communique of 18 November which explains at the close of the event, and just prior to the late arrival of the police, the crowd spontaneously applauded, "as if for a theatre piece."
In his essay "Fluxus Theory and Reception," Higgins attempts to disassociate the early historical accomplishments of the collective from what he remembers to have been the pejorative connotations of the then widely applied rubric 'neo-Dada'. He writes:
In the 1950s, the journalistic image of Dada was considered to be the limit of the extremely crazy in art ... Thus, early happenings and fluxus (like the works of [Robert] Rauschenberg and [Jasper] Johns were often dismissed as 'neo-Dada.' This was, of course, extremely annoying for those of us who knew what Dada was or had been. 
In the early 1960s, Andy Warhol was counted among the select group of neo-Dadaists to have been singled out for membership in the newly delineated (and soon to be canonized) North American Pop Art consortium. When asked in 1963 if "pop was a bad name," Warhol (who was to continue to maintain his affiliation with the underground through his loose-knit association with some of the Fluxus people) replied:
The name sounds so awful. Dada must have something to do with Pop-it's so funny, the names are really synonyms. Does anyone know what they're supposed to mean? ... Johns and Rauschenberg-Neo-Dada for all those years, and everyone calling them derivative and unable to transform the things they use-are now called the progenitors of Pop. 
George Maciunas (Fluxus' primary impresario and master of ceremonies) opened his 1962 manifesto "Neo-Dada in Music, Theatre, Poetry, Art" with the observation that "neo-dada, its equivalent, or what appears to be neo-dada, manifests itself in very wide fields of creativity." For Maciunas, what appeared to be neo-Dada was "bound with the concept Concretism, [the extreme conclusion of which] is beyond the limits of art, and therefore sometimes referred to as anti-art, or art-nihilism."  In a 1992 letter to me addressing my reference in print to the choice of the title "Neo-Dada in der Musik" for one of the earliest Fluxus-related European concerts, Higgins insisted that it was only because the proto-Fluxus community had no name, that they "used Neo-Dada faut de mieux, though [they] knew it was inaccurate." 
It is generally acknowledged that the resurgence of interest in Dada during mid-century was responsible for a shared conviction among groups of artists that art activity must be withdrawn from its special status as rarefied experience and resituated within the larger realm of everyday experience. While it is true that by the early 1960s the rubric was regularly evoked as a pejorative term by some formalist critics, what is rarely discussed is that neo-Dada was concurrently considered to be coterminous with cultural and socio-political artistic activism by other members of the art world.  By 1963 such art writers as Barbara Rose felt compelled to correct what they understood to be "popular misconceptions that the new Dada [was] an art of social protest [and that it was] anti-art."  Rose would also concur with many of her colleagues who insisted that John Cage had provided a "common origin [for diverse practitioners of] the new dada." 
In the late 1940s Cage had served as new music spokesman for the proto-Abstract Expressionist circle. At the time the composer (who later served as mentor, not only for Rauschenberg and Johns, but also for many of the North American participants in Fluxus, including Higgins) was accused, by some of his more conservative contemporaries, of being a "neo-Futurist."  By the early 1960s the venerated composer felt it necessary to respond to a new set of pejorative assumptions about his dependency upon historical precedents. In the process he described Dada as a free-floating, inherently malleable trans-historical constant, the essence of which was embodied in Marcel Duchamp. On the one hand, Cage insisted that the Dada spirit remained capable of invigorating action in response to shifting contexts and presents. He concurrently let slip that, for him, the historical movement did not come into being until after it had migrated to Paris:
Critics frequently cry "Dada" after attending one of my concerts or hearing one of my lectures. Others bemoan my interest in Zen. One of the liveliest lectures I ever heard was ... called "Zen Buddhism and Dada" ... but neither Dada nor Zen is a fixed tangible. They change; and in quite different ways in different places and times, they invigorate action. What was Dada in the 1920's [sic] is now, with the exception of the work of Marcel Duchamp, just art. 
On 13 December 1962, the Museum of Modern Art organized A Symposium on Pop Art. Although this event served as a pivotal moment in the art world's process of identification and codification of an appropriate set of prerequisite defining terms for what has come to be known as North American Pop Art, at this point in time the lines of demarcation among those artists who were about to be canonized and those who were to remain outside mainstream art-historical discourse had as yet not been set. In his introductory comments, Peter Selz (MoMA's "curator of painting and sculpture exhibitions") attempts to explain why "Pop Art" was chosen over "New Realism" as a descriptive term for the new phenomenon that had recently spread from coast to coast. Selz further recounts that "the term neo-Dada was rejected because it was originally coined in the pejorative and because the work in question bears only superficial resemblance to Dada [which] was a revolutionary movement primarily intended to change life itself."  Contrary to Higgins' aforementioned assertion in "Fluxus Theory and Reception," a number of the MoMA panelists were in agreement that (unlike the new art), historical Dada had mounted a conscious attack against conformity and the bourgeoisie. They further concurred that, motivated by social passion the movement had launched a sophisticated attack on a society held culpable for the First World War. Although Cage is credited on more than one occasion as precursor to the new art, the transcript for the 1963 session includes less than laudatory reference to Duchamp, who served, in turn, as the composer's own mentor. Having accused the new art of appearing to be about the real world, while at the same time remaining dependent upon its sanctification through its "fraudulent relationship [with the] tradition of Dada," Hilton Kramer (then art critic for The Nation) continued;
But pop art does, of course, have its connections with art history. Behind its pretensions looms the legendary presence of the most overrated figure in modern art: Mr. Marcel Duchamp. It is Duchamp's celebrated silence, his disavowal, his abandonment of art, which has here-in pop art-been invaded, colonized and exploited. 
As had been the case for Kramer in the early 1960s, in his much-used introductory art- history textbook, Norbert Lynton also felt compelled to adamantly defend "art" against contemporary iconoclasts. Toward that end, he offers his readers one seemingly eccentric observation that perhaps inadvertently bears an uncanny stylistic resemblance to Higgins' "A Child's History of Fluxus." In keeping with his normative role as custodian of the formalist cannon, Lynton suddenly inserts the following cryptic repudiation into his otherwise unemotional (and purportedly realistic) narrative history of our century:
Whatever infection Robert Motherwell's book on Dada generated in obscure places, it was received in 1951 as an exceptionally interesting piece of history, an account of strange, often nonsensical, and sometimes foolish things done a long time ago when the world was very different. 
Motherwell had been quite happy to concur that to "love art [was] a most anti-Dada attitude."  He also admitted that his editorship of The Dada Painters and Poets was initially undertaken in an effort to "teach himself Surrealism [for which] Dada was the older brother."  However, regardless of Motherwell's initial intentions, it was Surrealism's "older brother" which would capture the imagination of the next generation of art-makers. Contrary to Lynton's assertion, the impact of Motherwell's anthology cannot be overestimated. By the late 1950s and early 1960s the term neo-Dada had come to encompass the production of Cage and his disciples Johns and Rauschenberg, the soon-to-be canonized American Pop Art circle, Happenings, New Realism, "Common Object Art," the overtly political, anti-Pop "NO! art" group and the Fluxus collective, among others.
From an historiographic perspective, it is important to remember that, as a result, the contemporary art world of the late 1950s and l960s was affected not so much by historical Dada as by the end results of long-standing strategies for historical positioning employed by members of the movement as they repeatedly attempted to write their own histories (another strategy persistently adopted by Fluxus people). Thus, in my essay "Historical Precedents, Trans-historical Strategies, and the Myth of Democratization," which appeared in the exhibition catalogue Fluxus: A Conceptual Country, I deliberately chose to concentrate on excerpts from the myriad personal narrative histories of Dada that appeared in Motherwell's anthology. In so doing, I was provided with a rare occasion to investigate the extent to which a particular historical subject had accrued verifiable access to one of its self-proclaimed historical paradigms. In the process I was able to chart some of the uncanny coincidences between the birth of historical Dada and the birth of Fluxus and the shared characteristics of the deliberately trans-historical constructs of the Dada myth and its mid-century counterpart, the Fluxattitude. In his response to one of the sessions during the February 1993 Fluxus Symposium at the Walker Art Center, Higgins confirmed that my methodological approach had indeed been appropriate.
Dada was not widely discussed until the 1950s, thirty-five years after its inception; without [people like] Robert Motherwell (whose Dada Painters and Poets was seminal to most of us) we would have had a hard time indeed figuring out just what the Dadaists had done, what they had achieved and what they had not managed. 
In a statement that was originally circulated as an insert to the 1951 edition of Motherwell's anthology, Tristan Tzara, who had been one of the individuals most responsible for perpetuating Dada's trans-historical myth, adamantly attempted, with all of his poetic prowess, to recontextualize the First World War movement, and thus to distinguish what he then perceived to be historical realities from historiographic illusions:
When I say "we," I have in mind that generation which, during the war of 1914-18, suffered in the very flesh of its pure adolescence suddenly exposed to life at seeing the truth ridiculed, clothed in cast off vanity or base class interest. This war was not our war; to us it was a war of false emotions and feeble justifications. Such was the state of mind among the youth when Dada was born in Switzerland thirty years ago .... A product of disgust aroused by the war, Dada could not maintain itself on the dizzy heights it had chosen to inhabit, and in 1922 put an end to its existence.
Contemporary cultural historians have posited that the romantic revolution of the 1960s represents the legacy of early twentieth-century utopian anarchic radicalism, which in turn encompassed a loose-knit international collective of contemporaneous cultural avant-gardes then associated with anarco-individualism. It has further been suggested that at that point in time, artistic activism and political radicalism were understood to be two sides of the same coin. In much the same way that historical Dada embodied all prerequisite characteristics for membership in this early-twentieth-century utopian consortium, it could convincingly be argued that historical Fluxus served as one paradigmatic example of its legacy. In his 1988 introduction to Jon Hendricks' Fluxus Codex, Robert Pincus-Witten argues that Fluxus' iconoclastic agenda was offered as a critique of an imperialistic, Vietnam-era value system, and that the collective's achievements "were inflected by an idealistic anarchy that evokes a political history reaching back to the Wobblies, the Patterson Strike, and the Feminist model of Emma Goldman..."  In his foreword to the Codex, Hendricks (one of the founding members of the Guerilla Art Action Group and a fellow traveler in Fluxus) attempts to contextualize the historical movement by describing it as successor to a subversive counter-culture initiated in response to the McCarthyist 1950s  and lists what he understands to have been Fluxus' historical precursors. After allocating equal credit to Futurism, Dada and Russian Constructivism, Hendricks posits that these historical models were particularly appropriate because "the essence of each remained taboo in the late 1950s and early l960s." 
Of the three early-twentieth-century avant-gardes cited by Hendricks, it is Dada that has recently been singled out for the most thorough historiographic reassessment. Furthermore, as our century draws to a close, cultural historians have identified Dada as one of the most appropriate sites from which to establish a genealogy of twentieth-century artistic radicalism. As one of historical Dada's most direct descendents (and having, in its own right, captured the imagination of our present), perhaps it is time for Fluxus to rethink its initial anxiety about openly acknowledging its familial relationship to its venerated progenitor.
As was the case for historical Dada, Fluxus consciously and repeatedly attempted to author its own history. That such should be the case is not surprising in view of the fact that the modernist construct, the avant-garde, and the modern discipline of history were birthed one alongside the other. Participants in the movement concurrently adopted a deliberately ahistorical posture dependent upon the purported existence of a universal Fluxattitude. Although originally invented as a strategy for historical positioning, it could easily be argued that the trans-historical construct has successfully pervaded our contemporary consciousness far more effectively than has any awareness of its historical counterpart. For example, included in the packet of mementos generated upon the occasion of the Walker Art Center's celebration of the "Spirit of Fluxus" were three buttons. One proclaimed that "Art is easy," the second lauded an "Art you can lick" and the third bore the instruction: "Demolish serious culture." Under the sub-heading "Demolish serious culture," the calendar for the Walker celebration (upon which these buttons were affixed) announced that a Reflux watch with a "Fluxus Aztec logo, gold-tone hands and case, a leather strap, quartz movement, and a stainless steel back" was available for purchase in the Walker Art Center book shop. One could argue that such marketing strategies confirm what Alison Knowles has described as Robert Watts' idea that Fluxus could overtake existing institutions, the churches, the grocery store, etc. However it is far more plausible that, by helping us forget that the initial charge to demolish serious culture was a strategic and context-specific response to then-in-place historical imperatives, such evocations of an ahistorical state of mind undermine the collective's hard won (and long overdue) rightful inclusion in our century's historical roster of venerated activist utopian art cultures. The Fluxus spirit is a well-written fiction authored by participants in historical Fluxus. Perhaps it is time for the Fluxus people to adopt yet another strategy assumed by their Dada precursors and to accept the full implications of the fact that when historical accomplishments are consistently decontextualized they become reasonable candidates for recontextualization into any new reality that a particular present deems appropriate.
1. Tristan Tzara, "New York Dada," in Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, eds, New York Dada (April 1921). A facsimile of this little magazine appears in Robert Motherwell, ed, The Dada Painters and Poets, New York: Wittenborn, Schultz, Inc. and Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press,1951/89 pp. 214-18.
2. Wolf Vostell interviewed by Giancarlo Politi, Flash Art, nos. 72-3 (March-April 1977), reprinted in Flash Art, no. 149 (Nov-Dec 1989), p. 102.
3. "Interview with Milan Knizák," Flash Art, nos. 72-3 (March-April 1977) reprinted in Flash Art, no.149 (Nov-Dec 1989), p. 104.
4. Estera Milman, "Road Shows, Street Events, and Fluxus People: A Conversation with Alison Knowles," in Milman, ed, Fluxus: A Conceptual Country, Rhode Island, Visible Language, no. 98, 1992. This author's definition of Fluxus as a conceptual country was precipitated by Ken Friedman and George Maciunas' Visa TouRistE: Passport to the State of Flux a piece first proposed by Friedman in 1966 and realized by Maciunas in 1977.
6. Tristan Tzara, "Zurich Chronicle, 1915-1919," in Hans Richter, Dada Art and Anti-Art, London: Thames and Hudson, 1965, p. 226. Tzara is referring to the appearance in print of the first issue of the little review Dada, for which he served as editor.
8. Ibid., p. 227.
9. Ibid., p. 228.
10. Dick Higgins, "Fluxus Theory and Reception," paper presented during "Fluxus: A Workshop Series. The University of Iowa's Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts" (April 1985), unpaginated. Although this essay has appeared in print, I have chosen to refer to the manuscript that the author sent me.
11. Andy Warhol, "What is Pop Art? Interviews with GR Swenson," Art News, vol. 62. no. 7 (Nov 1963), p. 61.
12. George Maciunas, "Neo-Dada in Music, Theatre, Poetry, Art" (c. 1962), reproduced in Clive Phillpot and Jon Hendricks, eds., Fluxus: Selections from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Collection, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1988, p. 27. The manifesto was presented by Artus C. Caspari in Wuppertal, on 9 June 1962.
14. Dick Higgins to the author, "4 October 1992, Buster Keaton's Birthday ."
15. See, for example, Edward T. Kelly, "Neo-Dada: A Critique of Pop Art," Art Journal, vol. 22 no. 3 (Spring 1964).
16. Barbara Rose, "Dada Then and Now," Art International, vol. 7 no. 1 (Jan 1963), p. 24.
17. Ibid., p. 27.
18. See Estera Milman, "Futurism as a Submerged Paradigm for Artistic Activism and Practical Anarchism," South Central Review: A Journal of the South Central Modern Language Association, vol. 13 no. 2-3 (Summer/Fall 1996), pp. 157-79.
19. John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings, Middletown: Wesleyan University Press 1961, p. xi.
20. "A Symposium on Pop Art," Arts Magazine, vol. 37 no. 7 (April 1963), p. 36.
21. Ibid., p. 38.
22. Norbert Lynton, The Story of Modern Art, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980, p. 319.
23. Max Kozloff, "An Interview with Robert Motherwell," Artforum, vol. 4 no. 1 (Sept 1965), p. 37.
25. Dick Higgins, Respondent's statement, "Flux-Forum Symposium," Walker Art Center, 13-14 February 1993, manuscript version, unpaginated.
26. Robert Pincus-Witten, "Fluxus and the Silvermans: An Introduction," in Jon Hendricks, Fluxus Codex, New York: Abrams, 1988, p. 16.
27. Hendricks, Fluxus Codex, p. 22.
To: Subjugated Knowledges cover page