From the Exhibition:

Revisions––Zen for Film

In a 1965 manifesto titled “Fluxus Art Amusement,” George Maciunas (often cited as the founder of Fluxus) boldly declared that “anything can be art and anyone can do it,” and that Fluxus art should be “simple, amusing, unpretentious, concerned with insignificances, require no skill or countless rehearsals, have no commodity or institutional value … unlimited, mass-produced, obtainable by all and eventually produced by all.”1 At the end of the manifesto, Maciunas identified his inspirations for Fluxus as gags, vaudeville, children’s games, and Marcel Duchamp. Maciunas and the subsequent Fluxus preoccupation with jokes and gags as well as mass-production are best exemplified by Fluxkits: boxed multiples filled with inexpensive readymades, visual work, essays, games, and event scores (performance instructions). Fluxkits were often multisensory and Maciunas referred to them as “miniature Fluxus Museums.”2

Fluxkits were first announced in June 1964 in the fourth issue of the Fluxus newspaper Fluxus cc fiVe ThReE. This first edition was boxed in an attaché case, a likely nod to George Brecht’s The Case, which was exhibited at the Reuben Gallery in 1959. The Case was a suitcase filled with readymades, such as wooden blocks, bells, and marbles, and viewers were encouraged to activate them however they saw fit. In the same exhibition, Brecht displayed The Dome—a glass dome covering cheap readymades—and The Cabinet, which was also filled with found objects. As with The Case, the public was invited to rearrange the objects inside.3

Brecht’s The Case and Maciunas’s Fluxkits were both inspired by Duchamp’s The Green Box (1934) and his Boîte-en-valise (1939–41). The latter was a traveling museum in a small suitcase containing sixty-nine of Duchamp’s readymades in miniature. Unlike Duchamp’s boxed multiples, the Fluxkit was a collective product, and its content was intended to be manipulated, experienced, and performed. Maciunas largely assembled Fluxkits himself: Fluxus artists would often propose ideas to Maciunas, who would design objects or find readymades in accordance with their suggestions; or, conversely, Maciunas might propose ideas for objects to the artists or design them himself.

The conceptual precursors to Fluxkits can be traced back to the collective Dada activities and the famous Surrealist collaborative poetry game, Exquisite Corpse (cadavre exquis). In addition to Fluxus editions, event scores, real and fake food items, films, and game pieces, well-known items include A-Yo’s Finger Boxes (1964)—covered boxes with a tactile mystery object inside. Fluxkits were primarily sold by mail, but Maciunas also envisioned Fluxshops, showrooms where the public could purchase objects directly from the artists. A single item or an edition would be sold between $1 and $5 and the complete Fluxkit for $100. Included in Revisions is a Fluxus edition containing a 16mm blank film leader of Nam June Paik’s Zen for Film encased in a generic plastic case. Unfortunately, the various permutations of Fluxus editions within Fluxkits have not yet been comprehensively catalogued.

At their core, Fluxus editions and Fluxkits denounce authorship and originality of the artwork. Instead, they may operate within the framework of the “opera aperta/open work,” a theory formulated by Umberto Eco that placed primacy on interpretation by the reader or the viewer.4 Engagement with the contents of a Fluxkit would be left to the performer’s discretion, thus allowing any performer to interpret and complete the work. To a certain extent, Fluxkits mirror Josephs Beuys’s idea of social sculpture (Soziale Plastik), an extended concept of art that sought to erase boundaries between art and life, between artists and the public. Additionally, as George Brecht has stated, “Every object is an event anyway and every event has an object-like quality,”5 a quote easily applied to the performative and experiential aspect of Fluxkits and Fluxus editions. By contrast, present-day conservation practices often dictate that museums safeguard these works from public engagement. John Dewey highlighted this dislocation, asserting that museums and galleries isolate art objects from their conditions of origin and subsequently their intended function within the indigenous community. According to Dewey, these “cathedrals” of art lead to activities of collecting, exhibiting, and displaying that supplant aesthetic values.6 Similarly, once exhibited within museum-mausoleums, Fluxkits are withdrawn from their original functions and remain inactivated. In these cases, they can be read as the archive and the relic of an unfulfilled work—replete with untransferable potential energy.

[1] Maciunas was the author of the “Fluxus Manifesto,” (February 1963). The Fluxus artist Joe Jones would also state “Fluxus = Maciunas.” See Ken Friedman, Fluxus Reader (New York: Academy Editions, 1998), p. 39; George Maciunas, “Manifesto on Art / Fluxus Art Amusement” (1965).

[2] John Hendricks, “Introduction to the Exhibition,” in Fluxus: Selections from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Collection (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1988), 21.

[3] Ken Friedman, The Fluxus Reader (Chichester: Academy Editions, 1999), 68–69.

[4] Umberto Eco first discussed the idea of the “Open Work” in a paper presented in 1958 at the XVII International Congress of Philosophy. Eco’s first article on the subject was published in 1961. See Umberto Eco, The Open Work, translated by Anna Cancogni (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989).

[5] Michael Nyman, “George Brecht: Interview,” in An Introduction to George Brecht’s Book of the Tumbler on Fire, edited by Henry Martin (Milan: Multhipla, 1978), p. 106.

[6] John Dewey, Art as Experience, (New York: Perigee Books, 2005; first published in 1934), p. 7-8.