The Fluxus art movement was somewhat overshadowed by abstract expressionism and pop art, which seemed to be the more popular movements in the second part of the 20th century. The unifying characteristic of Fluxus is its focus on art’s medium and form, rather than content, narrative, or structure. Just like in Cinematics, which tries to tell the animated history of cinema in 60 seconds, in Fluxus film the medium is the message and the subject. Fluxus films are often self-referential, repetitive, cameraless, consist of a single shot, or a close-up. By overturning art’s established characteristics and values, Fluxus argued that “anything can be art.”
While structuralist film often examined the nature of cinema through the relation of sound and images and often by following a pattern or a structure, Fluxus film mainly focused on visuals and abandoned structure in favor of simplicity and anti-art. Structuralist film was self-referential through the formal exploration of film’s physicality and the audience’s perception, while Fluxus often referenced film by humorously and playfully examining the concepts of a film’s beginning, ending, or frames. Some of the main Fluxus film artists are founder George Maciunas, George Brecht, Paul Sharits, Yoko Ono, John Cale, and Chieko Shiomi.
World War 2 inevitably shaped the Fluxus art movement, just like World War 1 shaped Dadaism. Both movements opposed the conventions of art in a radical and unassuming style. The official founder of Fluxus is the Lithuanian-born George Maciunas who fled the European battlefield in 1944 and settled in New York. Maciunas recognized and accepted the similarities between Dada and Fluxus, but insisted “Fluxus” was a more appropriate name than the Neo-Dadaist label some gave to the movement (also given to the live-action painter Ushio Shinohara), because unlike the historical “Dada,” “Fluxus” signified the new. The concept of the “new” against the historical is one of the main ideas of the movement.
Fluxus Manifesto by George Maciunas (1963)
Maciunas wrote the Fluxus manifesto in 1963 and described the movement as an opposition again the social establishments and pretense for complexity, profundity, and significance in art. The most central Fluxus idea is “flux”—the constant change, abandonment of established norms, and a revolution against the old.
In another manifesto from 1965, Maciunas defined Fluxus as an “art-amusement” rather than an art movement. The manifesto opposed the traditional hero image of the artist, and cited artist Marcel Duchamp as an influence, who was a Dadaist among many other things, . Here is Maciunas’ text:
To establish artist’s nonprofessional status in society,
he must demonstrate artist’s dispensability and inclusiveness,
he must demonstrate the selfsufficiency of the audience,
he must demonstrate that anything can be art and anyone can do it.
Therefore, art-amusement must be simple, amusing, upretentious,
concerned with insignificances, require no skill or countless
rehersals, have no commodity or institutional value.
The value of art-amusement must be lowered by making it unlimited,
massproduced, obtainable by all and eventually produced by all.
Fluxus art-amusement is the rear-guard without any pretention
or urge to participate in the competition of “one-upmanship” with
the avant-garde. It strives for the monostructural and nontheatrical
qualities of simple natural event, a game or a gag. It is the fusion
of Spikes Jones Vaudeville, gag, children’s games and Duchamp.
The text opposed the Fluxus “art-movement” to classic art, as described by Maciunas:
To justify artist’s professional, parasitic
and elite status in society, he must
demonstrate artist’s indispensability and
exclusiveness, he must demonstrate the
dependability of audience upon him, he
must demonstrate that no one but the
artist can do art.
Therefore, art must appear to be
complex, pretentious, profound, serious,
intellectual, inspired, skillful, significant,
theatrical. It must appear to be calculable
as commodity so as to provide the artist
with an income. To raise its value (artist’s
income and patrons profit), art is made
to appear rare, limited in quantity and
therefore obtainable and accessible only
to the social elite and institutions.
In an interview discussing the movement’s artists, Maciunas said “we don’t like “Flux artists,” just “Flux men.” Fluxus diminished the importance of “the social elite and institutions,” and silenced the notion of art as a skill, profession, and “a commodity.” Music composer John Cage, another major influence on Fluxus, literally silenced the egocentricity of the artist in his influential 4’33”:
Cage’s “non-art” was an inspiration for Fluxus’ anti-art which often preferred live art events which emphasized performance and audience interaction over content. American poet Emmett Williams’ Counting Song consisted of simply counting the audience. Counting Song has the characteristic Fluxus self-reference, as a performance about the audience of the performance is essentially self-performing about itself.
Although mostly centered in New York, Fluxus was an international movement, sparked by Maciunas’ travels. As David Hopkins explains in his book “After Modern Art 1945—2000”:
Fluxus had no fixed aesthetic agenda. It was precariously held together by Maciunas’ organizational zeal. [….] Maciunas had international ambitionls for Fluxus. Having come up with the logo while assisting with a publication of La Monte Young’s scores and running his AG Gallery in New York in 1960-1, he moved to Wiesbaden in West Germany to work as a designer for an American airforce base, quickly rallying like-minded talents to his cause.
The first event to take place under the Fluxus banner, the “Fluxus Internationale Festspiele Neuester Musik,” therefore occurred in Wiesbaden in September 1962. […] This was followed by a number of densely packed festivals throughout Europe. The resultant international co-minglings, recalling the structural dynamics of the European-American Dada alliances of 1916-23 and providing a model for Conceptualism to follow slightly later, led to the establishment of various outposts centered on charismatic practitioners/publicists. […]
In autumn 1963 Maciunas’ return to New York shifted the emphasis back to America. By the end of 1964, however, the network’s fragile unity was ruptured when Maciunas supported Henry Flynt’s picketing of a New York concert by the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen on the grounds that, as “Serious Culture,” it was fundamentally imperalistic.
Fluxus became an anti-art movement not only with its goal of creating against the established art norms, but also with its real-life opposition of high-brow culture. Fluxus film lacks narrative, structure, or any of the standard film elements. Instead, it is exclusively avant-garde in style, often features text on screen, and “concerned with insignificances,” as Maciunas himself explained.