09 June 2019

Music from plastic butterflies, a disassembled grand piano and flying eggs: In 1962, the fateful Fluxus movement emerged in Wiesbaden and it continues to attract worldwide attention to this day.

By Elke Gruhn

In September 1962 the “Fluxus Internationale Festspiele Neuester Music” (Fluxus International Festival of Newest Music) takes place at the Museum Wiesbaden. The 14 concerts are performed on four weekends, marking the beginning of the Fluxus movement. Whereas Darmstadt and Cologne were already strongholds of New Music in the 1960s, it is mainly due to the American military bases in Darmstadt and Wiesbaden-Erbenheim that the initial spark of FLUXUS as a historical moment in the more recent art history took place in Wiesbaden’s municipal museum of all places.

The reason: the American organizers and participants financed themselves primarily through their creative jobs with the army. At the time, first musical performances were already beginning to bud at various places in the United States, Europe and Japan and were characterized by a playful seriousness as well as Minimalism. Simultaneously, George Maciunas, a graphic artist and gallery owner educated at the private art college Cooper Union, flees from his creditors on a military transport from New York to Germany. The Lithuanian, living in exile, appointed himself captain and master of ceremonies of the ship and from then on under the term FLUXUS steered everything that could not really be planned and most certainly could not be steered.

Harmlessly announced as concerts, the festival turned into a scandal

Thus, the newly founded art movement begins fluently (the Latin adjective fluxus means “flowing, unstable, changeable”). Maciunas was aware of the medical meaning of the word FLUXUS, namely the so-called fluid, often excessive discharging of the intestines or other body parts when – on the occasion of her first exhibition – he told Yoko Ono in his New York gallery that FLUXUS would be the name of his planned (yet never realized) art magazine. He may also have been thinking of Hans Arp’s definition of Dadaist anti-art, which “comes straight out of the poet’s bowels.”

George Maciunas, Fluxus Manifest, 1963, Image via WikiCommons

Whereas in Dadaism found objects for collages or assemblages became art as “objets trouvés,” in FLUXUS it was everyday actions, gestures and found tones: “événements trouvés.” With his musical maxim “Everything we do is music,” John Cage was meanwhile exploring the theoretical background to this phenomenon that developed in the visual arts of the early 1960s. Although the term “performance” was not yet commonly used within the art scene, the Wiesbaden “Fluxus Internationale Festspiele Neuester Musik” was preceded by several so-called “concerts”.

Yoko Ono, Sky Piece to Jesus Christ, performed by Yoko Ono, Carnegie Recital Hall, New York, 1965 Photo by Peter Moore © Estate of Peter Moore/Licensed by VAGA, NY

In Germany the first “pre-Fluxus” events were held in 1960/61 in the Cologne studio of artist Mary Bauermeister, who was the partner of composer Karl-Heinz Stockhausen. While Stockhausen was influenced by the “Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik” (International Summer Courses for New Music) in Darmstadt, the evenings in Mary Bauermeister’s studio were designed as a parallel counter-festival to that of the “International Society for Contemporary Music” (ISCM).

These concerts became a meeting place for the international avant-garde and a network developed that was to become the basis for FLUXUS in Wiesbaden and the other festivals of this newly emerging scene. Innocently advertised as a series of “concerts,” the festival in quiet Wiesbaden turned into a scandal. In contrast to the annual imperial “May Festival”, still held to this day, the festival in September 1962 broke with everything that had previously been seen in the bourgeois world of art and politics since World War II.

 

Ben Patterson plays Solo for Double Bass, Wuppertal, Germany, 1962. Photo: Rolf Jährling, Image via www.documenta14.de

The “Fluxus Internationale Festspiele Neuester Musik” is credited internationally as marking the birth of FLUXUS: Instead of a brush Nam June Paik dipped his head and hair into a bucket of ink to draw a meditative line on paper; Dick Higgins let his wife Alison Knowles shave his head; eggs were gently launched at the audience, which responded with paper airplanes; Emmett Williams performed his opera in which he rhythmically banged on a frying pan for 45 minutes; water dripped; and double-bass player Ben Patterson elicits unheard, indeed outrageous sounds from his string instruments using a range of objects including paper, popcorn and plastic butterflies. But what most people remember is the brutal, loud and photogenic destruction of a grand piano.

FLUXUS is still generating worldwide attention

The score of “Piano Activities” by American composer Philip Corner stipulates that tones should be coaxed out of a piano without touching its keys... They all got involved here: Nam June Paik, George Maciunas, Ben Patterson, Emmett Williams, Wolf Vostell, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles. But in actual fact this unauthorized adaptation of the score was born out of financial necessity, as an inexpensive means of removing the bulky and broken instrument after the festival.

Emmett Williams, George Maciunas, Benjamin Patterson, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Philip Corner’s Piano Activities, Fluxus Internationale Festpiele Neuester Musik, auditorium of the municipal museum, Wiesbaden, Photo: DPA © 2015 Philip Corner. Digital image © Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY, Image via cdn.walkerartcenter.org

Worldwide, FLUXUS not only continues to generate attention but still attracts followers and actors to this day. Coincidentally however, FLUXUS remains almost invisible and can rarely be experienced in well-known art museums and collections. Yet without the pioneering efforts of the FLUXUS protagonists of the 1960s, some things in art would be inconceivable today: video art, installation art and computer art, but above all the general idea of crossover art, as pointed out in the American Forces’ publication “The Stars and Stripes” in an article entitled “There’s Music – and Eggs – in the Air!”

There’s Music – And Eggs – In The Air!

From newspaper „The Stars and Stri­pes“