Art Total and Fluxus, by Alice Wilke

The first paragraph and a half from pages 150-151 of Ben Vautier. Is everything art?

©2015 Museum Tinguely, Basel, Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin, authors, artists and photographers [and translator!]. ISBN 978-3-86828-649-6

Art Total and Fluxus

“Fluxus ne sera donc pas concerné par l’œuvre d’art formelle, esthétisée et hédonisée. Son ‘donner à voir’ consistera en un premier temps à épuiser toutes les possibilités/limites du ‘tout est art’ et en un second temps à dépasser ce ‘tout est art’ par une attitude Non-art, Anti-art. Ainsi Fluxus va s’intéresser au contenu de l’art pour le combattre et, au niveau de l’artiste, créer une nouvelle subjectivité. Tout cela est difficile, presque impossible, car la dépersonnalisation est une nouvelle forme de personnalité et le non-art un nouvel art. Pourtant l’intention y est et l’honnêteté de l’intention est l’un des éléments essentiels de Fluxus. Même si le problème est impossible, le poser est important.”[i]

One needs to visualize the totality of the claims and demands as they were formulated and practiced by numerous protagonists of Fluxus from the beginning of the 1960s. It was a rigorous break with all traditional systems: Academies and museums as art’s representative spaces were considered obsolete; in order to make and show art, neither completed training nor the usual institutional framework conditions were necessarily required. Fluxus was the first major movement of the postwar period, unfolding across several continents, with intensive and international dialog among the participating creatives. With the establishment of a practice of collective working, the role of the isolated, ingenious creator-individual was simultaneously smashed. The making of unique pieces, which were aimed ultimately at a growing market value, was now frowned upon; art was no longer to be destined exclusively for the educated-middle-class elites with purchasing power. Accordingly, the activists of the Fluxus movement increasingly established those artistic forms of expression that offered them alternative scope for action and made art tangible beyond object and commodity. Preference was given to choosing ephemeral and multiple formats, with the dissemination and activation of art as anti-art in mind. Following the legacy of Marcel Duchamp and John Cage and expanding the concept of art still further, attention was deliberately turned to the insignificant, trivial things of everyday life. Simple, unpretentious acts or simple instructions to act (recall here, also, some of the actions de rue by Ben[ii]) aimed at all the more substantial statements, and these gestures were often accordingly more provocative for outsiders. Fluxus as anti-art prescribed a clear line of approach, away from traditional media, out of dusty muse-temples, onto the street, making an impact in life and the everyday–with Fluxus, art, in the direct line of tradition from Dada, became a time-limited event, located itself in direct proximity to experimental music and theater, wiping away the boundaries of these genres.

In 1962 Ben and George Maciunas, co-founder and driving organizational force of Fluxus internationally, met for the first time at “The Festival of Misfits” in London, where Ben was collaborating on invitation by Daniel Spoerri. On that occasion, Ben set up home as a living exhibit for 15 days and nights in the display window of Gallery One.[iii] With this action Ben aligned the inherently multifaceted structure of artist, work, creative process, studio and exhibition space in one single moment. Later it would be commented that the Fluxus era in Nice already saw its beginnings a year before in London.[iv] The second encounter between Ben and Maciunas took place in 1963 in Nice. On that occasion, Ben organized the one-week “Festival d’Art Total” featuring numerous actions and actors, an event which is considered by posterity to be the foundation of his official participation in Fluxus in Europe. (…)

[i] Vautier, Ben, Fluxus continue et ne s’arrêtera jamais. Fondation du Doute. Centre mondial du questionnement, Éditions Favre, Lausanne 2013, p. 20. “Fluxus will therefore not be concerned with the formal, aestheticized, and hedonistic artwork. Its ‘visual offering’ will consist firstly in exhausting all the possibilities/limits of the ‘everything is art’ and secondly in exceeding this ‘everything is art’ with a Non-Art, Anti-Art attitude. Thus, Fluxus is going to be interested in the contents of art in order to combat it and, at the artist’s level, create a new subjectivity. All that is difficult, almost impossible, because depersonalization is a new form of personality and non-art a new art. However, the intention is there and honesty of intention is one of the essential elements of Fluxus. Even if the problem is impossible, posing it is important.”

[ii] Cf. for example Ben Vautier/Robert Erébo, Regarder le public, Taverne Alsacienne, Nizza, 1962; cf. Ben Vautier, Balayer une place publique, Place Jean-Jaurés, Montpellier, on the occasion of the festival, “100 artistes dans la ville”, 1970.

[iii] Cf. Ben Vautier, Geste: vivre quinze jours dans une vitrine, 1962/1972.

[iv] Cf. Würz, Fleurice, Fluxus Nice 1963–1968, Saarbrücken 2011, p. 11: “On peut dire d’une certaine manière que Fluxus à Nice commence à Londres, par la rencontre entre deux hommes: George Maciunas et Ben Vautier […].”. “You could say in a way that Fluxus in Nice starts in London, with the encounter between two men: George Maciunas and Ben Vautier […].”