A Brief Portrait of George Maciunas and FLUXUS

Lodged in the corner of a small dining room in a hostel in Medellin, stumbling across very little on the internet except for a few reviews on New York City based publications on the private screenings held in NYC, comes the first piece on All In Good Health.

In all honesty it is a failed attempt to watch the documentary ‘GEORGE’ – directed and produced by Jeffrey Perkins; which then became a fascination of FLUXUS and it’s philosophy.

George Maciunas (pronounced ma_chew_ness) was born in Lithuania – 1931 and lived in Berlin up until 1944. His family had fled from Germany in 1944 to Lithuania to escape potential capture or death from the advancing allied forces in World War II, then migrated to New York City settling in Long Island – 1948. It was here that George’s education began; starting with Architecture and Art at Cooper Union – an important set of classes that would lead to a hefty exploration into the methods in which Modern Architecture is carried out in regards to production and design, this lead to often a clashing of views with his associates of Architecture in due course.

George went on to study Musicology at the Institute of Technology, Pittsburg – which would lead to further interests in Experimental Music, influenced by classes taught by John Cage at the New School for Social Research titled ‘Experimental Composition’ – these would give influence to the approach to music and audio in relation to the FLUXUS philosophy. This course was taught over ten years between 1950 – 1960; with additional courses being offered by Cage during this period; a brief description of this particular course follows:

Experimental music, a course in musical composition with technological, musicological, and philosophical aspects, open to those with or without previous training.  Whereas conventional theories of harmony, counterpoint, and musical form are based on the pitch and frequency components of sound, this course offers problems and solutions in the field of composition based on other components of sound: duration, timbre, amplitude, and morphology; the course also encourages inventiveness.” 

Incorporating the philosophy of FLUXUS, George’s approach to Architecture was an exploration of creating processes that would simplify it; simplifying the designs with a focus on function over form and encouraging access to readily available and fewer variations of materials. The view that structures should exist with function as the primary; lead to many architects at the time being heavily criticised by George under the label of ‘Capitalist Fetishism’ for favouring design over function.

The FLUXUS cooperative was born out of South Houston (SoHo), New York City in the early 1960s, which then existed as rows of abandoned industrial warehouses as industry left the city. Left vacant for so long, these buildings went for a paltry sum somewhere between $50 – 125$ per month, depending on the square footage of the space, you could expect between $0.25 to $1.00 per ft2 depending on the property; these spaces were often referred to as ‘Lofts. Landowners at the time wanted to have the buildings occupied, as the occupants of both artists and general residents would have to renovate the buildings for residential living conditions including the installation of bathrooms and kitchens.

FLUXUS would be one of the first cooperatives to actively purchase properties for their artists. These would be affordable in cost and expansive enough to allow large works to be produced

 

Maciunas’s largest scale project was underway as he began converting the dying industrial buildings of Soho into a network of artists lofts to create the Flux House Cooperative, the first real estate co-op of artist owned buildings in downtown New York.” 

 

The increased activity in the area led to extensive battles with local authorities and planning which included many verbal and written conflicts with the Zoning Ordinance who were responsible for drafting the uses of residential and industrial buildings to be separate – essentially this meant it was illegal to occupy these buildings as residents, and basic rights such as sanitation would not be provided.

Drafts of the ‘Legalization of Interim Multiple Dwellings (Article 7C) were to address the new occupation in multiple dwellings. The major issue with this bill was that a large majority of the artists required a dual-purpose occupation which fell in to neither category of residential or commercial. In addition; occupants required certified leases to remain in occupation of these properties. Of course many residents did not have such lease – rendering their occupation illegal; inevitably meaning they were subject to eviction at any time.

Further complications were made by the declaration of what made commercial or residential properties. Residential buildings are given stringent obligations to abide by, and the onus is put on the landowner to make repairs and maintain the property; liabilities will fall to them. Whereas a commercial property would be upon negotiation between lease and owner. So we can see a clear difference between these and why there were issues in maintaining occupation under this current bill.

The bill received variations which can be read here, and the revisions did improve the artist and resident’s rights to some degree, but multiple issues remained between the legality of possession, and maintaining residential rights to a dwelling under the landowners.

In addition to the legalities of occupation, another threat came to SoHo.

In an article discussing the introduction of the Lower Manhattan Expressway and the social issues it could bring in connection to driving low income residents out of their homes into other areas with likely exorbitant rents by the increasing cost of city living; Stephen Petrus writes.

 

“Out of all this turmoil in 1968 emerged a coalition of artists, for the most part living in lofts in the South Houston industrial district and calling themselves Artists Against the Expressway (AAE). Artists had begun to trickle into the area in the late 1950s and early 1960s, enticed by low rents and ample space in which to live and work. A colony of approximately 600 artists was burgeoning, and their living and working space was threatened by the Lower Manhattan Expressway” 

 

It continues…

 

“The expressway would kill the last suitable place in the city for lofts,” said Julie Judd, chair of the AAE and wife of the sculptor Donald Judd. “There’d be scarcer space and higher rents. And we don’t want to be urban-renewed.” Not only did the AAE mobilize locals, it also contacted artists, dealers, critics, curators, trustees, and other influential people from all over the world including eminent figures such as Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella.” 

 

George had often gone head to head with the Authorities and Local Planning during this period. One notable playful act to ward the away the officials was mounting 4 large industrial sized, paper-guillotine blades on to his front door and if they passed this stage, various traps and comical notes were left for the victim to peruse on their quest for relentless harassment.

Letters to the Attorney General are both at times serious, in that George’s family members and friends were interrogated or harassed, to at times playful in his approach to dealing with their nonsensical and brutish actions.

A selected favourite;

fx04715-excerpt.jpg

George philosophises that FLUXUS is to  ‘promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art, promote living art, anti-art’. With an international background of artists, including revered names such as Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono and Joseph Beuys. It is important to note that there was a lack of black artists involved with FLUXUS, for reasons this may of been are not clear or well documented; but with the Black Arts Movement being within the same time period, it is difficult to understand why incorporation or collaboration was not initiated. One notable artist from the African American community was experimental musician and multi-media artist ‘Benjamin Patterson’- who had participated early on in FLUXUS – including their first live concert in Germany in 1962. Benjamin was involved in Chance Scoring, which his most notable work titled – ‘Ants’ involved dropping a handful of ants on to score paper and taking photos and different stages.

You can read more about Benjamin Patterson here.

George had introduced a playful philosophy to FLUXUS, which I feel is better viewed through the imagery in the following section:

 

32111.jpg

 

 

maciunas-menifesto1

 

“Manifesto:

  1. To affect, or bring to a certain state, by subjecting to; or treating with, a flux, “Fluxed into another world.”
  2. Med. To cause a discharge from, as in purging. Flux (fluks), n. [OF., fr. L. FLUXUS, fr. fluere, fluxum, to flow. See FLUENT; cf. Flush, n. (of cards>.]
  3.  Med. A flowing or fluid discharge from the bowels or other part: esp., an excessive and morbid discharge: as, the bloody flux, or dystentery.
    B. The matter thus discharged

 

Purge the world of bourgeois sickness, “intellectual”, professional & commercialized culture, PURGE the world of dead art, imitation, artificial art, abstract art, illusionistic art, mathematical art, – PURGE THE WORLD OF EUROPANISM”!

 

  1. Act of flowing: a continuous moving on or passing by, as of a flowing stream; a continuing succession of changes.
  2. A steam; copious flow; flood; outflow.
  3. The setting in of the tide toward the shore. Cf REFLUX.
  4. State of being liquid through heat; fusion. Rare.

 

PROMOTE A REVOLUTIONARY FLOOD AND TIDE IN ART

 

Promote living art, anti-art, promote NON ART REALITY to be fully grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes and professionals.

 

  1. Chem & Metal. a Any substance or mixture used to promote fusion, esp. The fusion of metals or minerals, Common metallurgical fluxes are silica and silicates (acidic), lime and limestone (basic), and fluorite (neutral). b Any substance applied to surfaces to be joined by soldering or welding, just prior to or during the operation, to clean and free them from oxide, thus promoting their union.

 

FUSE the cadres of cultural, social & political revolutionaries into united front & action.”

When we look at the disciplines in the manifesto and drawings, we see that FLUXUS was not a movement; but was a way of doing things – a new approach put against “professionalism” – a way of being.

 


 

FLUXUS also influenced other cooperatives across the globe, one notable collective in particular and personal favourite in the form of COUM Transmissions (which made up of Cosey Fanni Tutti, Genesis P-Orridge, Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson and Chris Carter_ – took influence from the FLUXUS expression of Mail Art. Their much esteemed show “Prostitution” was decried by Conservative MP – Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (who has amounted sexual allegations and suspected child abuse) labelled COUM as “Wreckers of Civilisation”, with the harrowing events that unfolded with Nick (drop the Sir), was he not able to realise the irony of his statement?

 

1_zh4-CI6q_9O-EXe-Fd3Hnw.jpeg

 

Art cooperatives were, and still are important within the artist community, especially those who practice (or don’t practice) a range of artistic disciplines (but not limited to~): film, sculpture, illustration, audio or a mixture of those – as it helped to secure shared funds for machinery and supplies, allowing freedom to interchange between these for personal and/or group expression in art’s varying forms.

FLUXUS was often incorrectly likened to form of DADA – but the FLUXUS philosophy was not archaic or destructive in it’s approach to art and existence.

 

FLUXUS is not: -a moment in history or -an art movement.

 

FLUXUS is: -a way of doing things, – a tradition, and -a way of life and death

 

The most notable of George’s contribution to FLUXUS in my opinion was the introduction of the various FLUXKITS that were assembled by George. Often created with simplicity over complexity – contributing to the ethos and philosophy of creating art for all.

 

Alison Knowles, an artist who contributed work with the FLUXUS collective speaks about the FLUXKIT. Her contribution to the FLUXKIT was the Bean Rolls Can – small scrolls inserted into the can on research of Beans.

 

“I started going out to the Public Library and doing this tremendous amount of research, they really saw me coming into the veg section every morning.”

“We got all this bean information on to an off set printer, and printed it up, then of course they had to be cut into scrolls because they arrived in these huge packs.” 

 

 

With the FLUXKITS, they were objects consisting of play or indulgent – with existing works being included by a range of the contributing artists in the cooperative.

 

 

We can also find Archived videos by George and other notable artists who contributed to filmography and cinematics on the George Maciunas Foundation website – even today, works appear missing from the archives.

 

georgemaciunas.com/exhibitions/fluxfilm-anthology/

 

 

And HERE you can find a link to some of these films

Sonic composition was also an important part of FLUXUS, an anthology below brings together works ranging from experimental composition, spoken word to German pop; you will find the full track listing on the description of the video.

 

 

Talking about the importance of the FLUXUS cooperative and it’s philosophy, we still see important works of art from associated artists today…

 

As part of their FRKWYS series, RVNG INTL have released a series of recordings by Tashi Wada and FLUXUS composer – Yoshi Wada, still active today in the use of experimental composition – music for listening, music for indulgence, music for fun. Guest artists who also contributed to the recordings are Julia Holter, Simone Forti, Cole MGN, and Corey Fogel – who plays percussion on the recordings with Julia Holter.

In ‘GEORGE’ – Tashi Wada is the composer for the soundtrack on the documentary, giving us the strong sense of continuation of collaboration – passing the proverbial torch from father to son, togetherness.

 

 

There is also a detailed documentary on the life of Ludo Mich, a multi-media FLUXUS artist from Belgium is being aired for the first time at the end of October in Antwerp, De Studio – Tuesday 30th October.

 

Ludo Is Fantastic from SC1 on Vimeo.

 

Ludo is still active today, and has been since the early stages of FLUXUS – creating humorous films in the late 60s and through the 70s with to his most notable film -Lysistrata (1976). Below is a ‘Making Of’ documentary of the film.

 

 


 

A brief portrait above on George, FLUXUS and the vast array of negative experiences they received from Authorities and Local Planning  is something we still experience today. A prime example I have been close to and have experienced is the nightlife community in which the councils have passed legislation on proposed new venues to close before midnight rendering most uneconomically viable. One example I am talking of here is the recent events in Hackney, London – an area that offered lower rates of rent in comparison to the rest of London in the early 2000s which: had existed in poverty, was poorly served by mass-transit (until the introduction of the Overground) and left properties in an abandoned state. A large area of Hackney still exists in this state and a range of social, economic and political issues linger over the residents there.

Artists from all around the world had moved to Hackney to seek low cost rents for large spaces, all from a range of backgrounds; but quickly the area became rapidly gentrified. As we see Estate Agents selling “Luxury Apartments” in these areas as a vibrant, lively, “up-and-coming” area – in which I can only sum up as being now an area of cringe-worthy notability for the most part, begins to saturate the area with housing for those who may not share the same views of the creative community – bumping the prices up and campaigning against the venue that has been there for 20+ years.

We require revised legislation to protect these communities all across the world, especially nightlife institutions that harbour creative output from a range of disciplines: graphics designers, film and editing, musicians, general entertainers, DJs and not forgetting the flexible jobs available to locals and students. The only legislation we have seen revised up until the time of writing (and I don’t see this changing any time soon), was – The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) – 2016 No. 332; this stated that a material change of use, which is the change from commercial to residential, would put responsibility on developers assess the noise impacts to residents (you can find this on page 9 under the Article 7 explanation)


 

Writing is an art, in that it is accessible to everyone if they see fit, and that the writing to be as quoted by George anti-capitalist, anti-elitist, pro-community and pro-play. On the one hand, its goal was to propose a new kind of art in which anyone could participate, and to create an avant-garde so integrated into life as to become the new, enlightened normal”

 

As this is the opening piece for All In Good Health, I wanted to highlight first of all this is for my enjoyment, first and foremost, the enjoyment of discovering all corners of human output (but not limited to~) and my passion for the written word;  secondly it’s for those with an interest of reading, to engage debate, or just simply for fun.

 


 

REFERENCES

[1] http://johncagetrust.blogspot.com/2014/08/john-cage-at-new-school-1950-1960.html

[2] From Gritty to Chic: The Transformation of New York City’s SoHo, 1962-1976 By STEPHEN PETRUS

[3] From Gritty to Chic: The Transformation of New York City’s SoHo, 1962-1976 By STEPHEN PETRUS

[4] GEORGE- http://www.georgemaciunas.info/the-film.html

[5] The Museum of Modern Art – Alison Knowles discusses the Fluxkit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPi0UyHB95U

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  1. Pingback: Your Own Self – All In Good Health

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