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Unfinished Filliou

Unfinished Filliou

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Published by Kovalev Andrey
Unfinished Filliou: On the Fluxus Ethos
and the Origins of
Relational Aesthetics
Martin Patrick
Unfinished Filliou: On the Fluxus Ethos
and the Origins of
Relational Aesthetics
Martin Patrick

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Published by: Kovalev Andrey on Oct 09, 2010
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Robert Filliou, Alan
Carrying
His Own Sun on
a
String, 1973,
cardboard box in two parts withpastel and photograph, closed l7Vix l3/4x2%in.(45.1
X
33.7
X
5.7 cm) (artwork © Marianne Filliou;photograph by Florian Kleinefenn. Paris, providedby Galerie Nelson Freeman. Paris)
 
"Pure foolishness restores."—Friedrich Nietzsche
Unfinished Filliou:On
the
Fluxus Ethosand
the
Origins
of
Relational Aesthetics
Earlier drafts
of
this text were presented
at
"The Stephen Bann Effect" symposium,University
of
Bristol, United Kingdom,
and at
••MIS-PERFORMANCE," Performance StudiesInternational conference
#
15,
Zagreb. Croatia(both held in
June
2009). Thanks also
to
MasseyUniversity's Strategic Research Fund, whichenabled
my
participation
in
those internattonalevents,
to
multiple audiences
and
readers
for
theirgenerous feedback, and
to the
Belkin
Art
Galleryfor allowing access
to
Filliou^s video works, whichaided
the
development
of
this essay.The epigraphs are from Friedrich Nietzsche,
Twilight
of
Ihe
Idols,
trans. Waiter Kaufmann( 1895)
in
The Portable Nietzsche
(New
York:Penguin Books, 1977), 532,
and
Brecht quoted
in
The Ashgate Research Companion
to
Experime/Ho/
Music,
ed.
James Saunders (Burlington: Ashgate,2009), 71.
1.
Robert Filliou, quoted
in
epigraph
to
NicolasBourriaud,
Formes
de vie:
L'art
moderne
et
l'inver\tion
de
soi
(Paris: Éditions Denoël, 1999).
My
transla-tion
of the
original: •'L'art
n^est
qu'un moyen pourrendre
la vie
plus intéressante que
l'art."
2.
See Nicolas Bourriaud,
Relational
Aesthetics.
trans. Simon Pieasance
and
Fronza Woods withMathieu Copeland (Dijon:
Les
Presses du
réel,
2004), and Claire Bishop^s essays "Antagonism
and
Relational Aesthetics'' October
110
(Fall 2004):SI-79,
and
••The Social Turn: Collaboration
and
Its Discontents,^'
Artfonim.
February 2006,
179-
185, as well as liam Gillick, ''Contingent Factors:A Response
to
Claire Bishop^s •Antagonism
and
Relational Aesthetics'" October
115
(Winter2006): 95-106.
"There
is so
little
to do
and
.so
much time
to do
it in"—George BrechtThe current essay comprises a discussion of the influential yet underrated workof the French Fluxus artist Robert Filliou {1926-1987) and aspects of his inter-woven theory and practice, especially as recorded in his book Tcochinfl
und
Learning as
Martin Patrick
Performing Arts and related video works. I intend also to examine theinfluence of Filliou's work on other contemporary artists and thecorresponding use of the critical formulation "relational aesthetics"(as posited by the French curator and writer Nicolas Bourriaud),In Filliou's 1970 artist's book Teaching and Learning as PerformingArts,the layout designed by the artist leaves a blank section of eachpage for the reader to add her own comments, thereby participatinginteractively in the unfolding of the book
itself,
wbich includesinterviews with (among others) Joseph Beuys, John Cage, and AllanKaprow, Moreover, it has become increasingly evident that Filliou'smethods can be linked by association to examples by several later artists, includ-ing RirkritTiravanija, Pierre Huygbe, and Christine Hill, whose works have beencited as exemplary of the relational-aesthetics paradigm, insofar as the impor-tance of social relations, relations of exchange, and broader relations with thesurrounding context outweigh the direct consideration of the aesthetic proper-ties of the work in question. Significantly, Bourriaud has frequently cited Filliou'scomment: "Art is that which makes hfe more interesting than art."'The primary goal of this essay is to offer a provisional attempt to reconsiderFilliou's visionary approach to artmaking in the late 1960s and early 1970s andwhat it portended for so much "relational" art yet to come. This radically inter-disciplinary creative model helped to usher in a drastic shift in the notionsunderlying many younger artists' works in terms of both theory and practice.With increased historical perspective, the model has become highly relevant tothe current moment, as wimessed by the debates diat have played out recentlyin several international magazines and journals.'While the first major museum retrospective of Filliou's work in over adecade, entitled Genie sans talent, traveled across Europe in 2003-4, the artistremains a cult figure.' Although recognized by many experimental artists for thecompelling and innovative nature of his work, lie is all too rarely discussed bythe scholarly community* Meanwhile, relational aesthetics has become a topicfor global discussion. Closer examination of Filliou's life and work thus delin-eates an important case study in the integrity of art practice as a holistic activity,situated in an entirely different context and rooted in vastly different expecta-tions than those promulgated within today's art world,'
Fil[l]liou*s Background:
A
Sort
of
Introduction
When does a work of art begin its existence? How can one evaluate its impor-tance? How does a work of art made with peripheral and tangential relationto the art market have determined worth? When is a "creative action" to be
45 artjournal
 
3. See Sylvie jouval
et
al.,
Robert
Filliou:
Génie Sans
Tatent.
exh.
cat.
(Villeneuve d'Ascq: Musée
d'art
moderne Lille Métropole, 2003). The exhibition,organized
hy
Sylvie Jouval. first traveled
to
Barcelona and Dusseldorf.
4.
Major exceptions are
the
contributions
of
Fluxus scholars, including Hannah Higgins
and
Chris Thompson. See
the
final chapter
of
Higgins'sbook Fluxus
Experience
(Berkeley: University
of
California Press. 2002). which addresses Filliou'swork as a pedagogical model, and Thompson'sessay "Responsible Idiocy and Fluxus Ethics:Robert Filliou and Emmanuel Levinas,"
o-r-c 5
(July2001).
5.
Premiers mouvements-fragile correspondances.
the 2002 inaugural exhibition
of the
FRAC Ile-de-France gallery
Le
Plateau, enlisted contemporaryworks
to pay
homage
to
Filliou, According
to the
curators Sylvie Jouval and Eric Corne, "The goaiof
the
project was...
to
offer up connections(either possible
or
impossible) between his work,its underlying thought process, and the work
of
other contemporary artists." Exhibition descrip-
tion,
available online
at
www.fracidf-leplateau.com/en/index.html (consulted October 30.2009).6.
The
richest source
of
biographical informationon Filliou
is the
French language biography
by
Pierre Tilman. RoberT Fí/1'ou;
Nationalité poete
(Dijon:
Les
Presses
du
réel.
2006),
16.
considered
a
performance,
a
happening,
or a
simple life occurrence? Whendoes simply "doing nothing" spawn creativity? When
do the
terms "art,""research,"
and
"leisure" become equivalents? These
are the
sort
of
challengingquestions that emerge from even
a
cursory acquaintance with
the art of
Filliou,later Fillliou,
as he
intentionally in.serted
an
L
between
the two
already present
in
his surname—likely
a
gesture that infuriated numerous copy editors. The bilin-gual artist who used "Franglish" puns especially
in the
context
of
his
writingsand performative works also became enamored
of
the near-rhyme word pairing
"FEEL YOU
[Filliou]."
Contradictions played major roles
in the
artist's work,
as in his
life, which
is
not
to
treat them as mutually exclusive realms, however, because Filliou was
an
integral figure
in
blurring such boundary distinctions. Today, this
has
become
a
commonplace
of
{often altogether more lucrative) performative
and
interdisci-plinary approaches.Yet from
the
1960s
to the
1980s FiUiou's concepts, driven
by
a hyperactive, inquisitive intellect
and the
determining behef that
art
was
the
most genuine route
to
personal freedom, were extraordinarily provocative
in
their interrogation
of
contemporary
art
practice.Raised
in
France
and the
recipient
of
a
scholarship
to
secondary school—though often less than
a
model student,
due to
his wandering interests—he
was
intellectually curious
but
according
to one
childhood friend, "with
a
pen,
he
was
the
king,
but in
manual tasks,
he
was
a
nothing,"
an
interesting foreshadow-ing
of
Filliou's dedication
to the
mere basic
and
skeletal rather than overly
pol-
ished craftsmanship.*' Filliou became
a
young member
of
the French Resistancebut later notably rejected any medals, accolades,
and
status as
he
became increas-ingly dedicated throughout
his
life
to
pacifism.
A
onetime Communist,
he
alsodiscarded specific ideological
and
political involvements,
as
time went
on, in
favor
of
a
broader interest
in
social commitment
via the
apparatus
of
art
and its
surrounding dialogues.We
can see
liis views
on
nonviolence
and
pacifism evidenced
on
severaloccasions, such as
üi the
multiple Optimistic
Box
no.
1, which carries
the
phrase:"Thank
god for
modern weapons/we don't throw stones
at
each other any-more."
On a
larger scale.
Seven
Childlike
Uses
ofWarlike Maierid (1970)
is a
sculpturalinstallation
of
modest materials brought together with various textual inscrip-tions.Planks
of
wood state "Could
be
guns";
on a
rectangular frame appears"Could
be
outer space";
on an
overturned chair, "Could
be
Mountains";
on a
bottle, "Could
be a
Bonfire";
on a
coat. "Could
be
Uniforms";
on a
bucket:"Could
be
stars";
and on
several cards, "Could
be
Flags
and
Bureaucratic Docu-ments."
It is a
subtle,
yet
terrifying piece,
as it
depicts "warlike materials" withgreat candor
and
simphcity
as a
bunch
of
grouped-together, ordinary object-toyscoupled with word-text juxtapositions
one
might more readily associate withRené Magritte
or
(Filliou's friend) Marcel Broodthaers.Filliou gained training
as an
economist—earning
a
master's degree
at
UCLAin 19Ç0—and spent several years
in the
"straight world"
in a
variety
of
seem-ingly normal guises.
He
learned English while bottling soft drinks as
a
factorylaborer
in the
United States,
and
later
he
ironically referred
to his
job designa-tion as "Coca-Cola Man." FiUiou subsequently assisted
in the
production
of
a
regular American television series
on
current political events,
and
acted
as a key
economic advisor
and
negotiator with
the
United Nations
in
Egypt. Japan,
and
SPRING-SUMMIK 30IO

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