This weekend I went back to what I did a few months back, and went down to the Tate Modern all the way from Bristol, to play (very little) crazy music and perform in front of loads of people in London.
Last time we were on Millennium Bridge, which (to explain for the non-londoner) is a very narrow bridge which gets swamped around 4pm on a Friday afternoon, by commuters going both ways. We were there lined up with loads of loud and eccentric instruments, in t-shirts and responding to a conductor, and to an orchestra by the Tate, and a boat with lots of improvising musicians (Evan Parker included, who is now coming to the Cube Cinema in June) playing samples of maritime, Thames noises - boats, seagulls, and some of the most complicated classical as well as improvised and participatory music that was a beautiful tribute to that space.
This time for us performers it was a 4 day experience - 2 days rehearsal, and 2 of performance, with some of the surviving masters of the Fluxus time, still around performing and writing material, as of course more famous people like Yoko Ono do. We performed from Alison Knowles' fantastic repertoire - including the really colourful and beautifully simple "Make a Salad" piece, and the really funny and proto-improv Newspaper Music. There was also loads of other work by other Flux performers, including a first realisation of the FluxOlympiad - an incredibly accessible way to get kids into experimental arts - "A gateway drug to Rembrandt" as baptised by our great deliverer of the most wonderful lecture in Fluxus, Simon (whose surname I forget, but he's a university professor specialising in this movement's history in the US).
Through this lecture and then through many memories and explanations given by Simon, Sara Seagull and Alison Knowles through this intensely arty weekend, I got to see a lot more of the history of Fluxus than is possible through a quick read of Wikipedia the night before the first rehearsal. Firstly the controversy of Fluxus's life-span, which for some starts with John Cage's Experimental Composition class, and ends with George Maciunas' death in 78, but for all the fluxus people present, was still very much alive and well, as we saw with the performances. What you can say though is that the network of artists who performed Fluxus was described in the past tense, in the exhibition that accompanied our performances at the Tate. Some of the later newspapers had a very Creative Commons-like copyright - anyone is authorised to perform any fluxus Event Score whenever they want, provided they use the names they stated, and if it's most of the event, it has to have the name they provide - in this case the FluxOlympiad, or a FluxFest or many other FluxEverythings from audience participation pieces, to distorted musical performances, or even video, hospitals and toilets in Fluxus style. This is a beautiful spirit, and the participatory element combined with the multimedia element, synaesthesia and the beginnings of improvised or loosely structured experimental artistic practices, as well as the DIY element, which have filtered through from the Fluxus hayday that mesmerised a young John Lennon, but seem to have gotten to today having forgotten their lovely playful origins.
It was very interesting to see the rejection our Fluxus initiators had for the internet - it's always easier for our younger generation to think technology has to be involved in artistic practice but as one performer said, shunning technology becomes a choice, now that it's so ubiquitous. No digital divide to straddle, more imagination needed to get to the same destination. And that aspect was refreshing, although a Fluxus facebook group is now hopefully to be created, and maybe it will only be through this technology that we will now assist in a re-birth of practice in the UK - at least if I can have my way and do a performance at the Cube Cinema...
The pieces were so accessible because they were tiny, some carried out in seconds, like the famous squeaky-toy-into-cymbals piece "C/T Trace", while others needed more time, like the Yoko Ono piece "Sky piece for Jesus", but were incredibly fun to perform and somehow symbolic and spiritual to carry out -we had to wrap up a string quartet in gauze and lead them away with care, like critically injured patients. In another piece we had to scratch our fingers down a small black board, or in another, bang our heads against the wall. So the beginnings of the "pain" aspect so famously put forward by people like Franco B - which Sara summed up wonderfully - "if there's so much pain in the world, what's the value as a privileged western artist in hurting yourself?" - are also to be found in Fluxus. That's terribly misquoted though, a flash of a memory in the middle of a very excited evening lounging in the Tate Modern's staff cafe after the first performance and talking about what went wrong and right. Also the pieces are accessible because they are available to all to perform, although I'd agree they wouldn't make much sense if you didn't get it, or get to share some of the original spirit.
The salad was a wonderful part of it all. It really used our senses, without resorting to video or high art concepts - Alison (and a team of cooks) just cut vegetables and made a lovely (if a bit gritty) salad for all the audience to consume. She made it on top of the turbine hall, in a long 10 minutes with all of them hidden up there cutting them up, but with the knives miked up so we could hear interminable chopping. And then our sight was first to see the spectacle of food, now so scarce in the world - flying greens, reds, purples, liquids and solids, some falling light as feathers, others heavy and squirting bits all over us poor performers - who in this piece had to hold the tarpaulin and toss the salad, and for this had our name written on the wall of the Tate. And then finally it was stirred with rakes and spades, and served on paper plates, and it tasted great! Also because I was a bit skint, it was even better to be fused with art in a culinary way...