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Dream of George Maciunas

Dream of George Maciunas

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Published by Kovalev Andrey

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Published by: Kovalev Andrey on Oct 09, 2010
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a woman covered in a burka leaning over a man lying on a wall), are little more than anecdotal snapshots, while the third,showing a copy of the Koran held aloft during a demo in Parisagainst the Danish cartoons, tells us nothing that we do notalready know. A more subtle gesture is provided by HansHaacke’s
Commemorating 9/11
, 2002, which uses the silhou-ettes of the Twin Towers cut out of a monochrome whiteposter which has then been pasted onto existing advertisinghoardings so that the commercial images are visible within theoutlines. The memory of the destroyed building thus becomesa sort of negative icon, a blind spot in the traffic of commerce.In the second part of the exhibition, ‘Attacking the Spec-tacle’ at the nearby CM Studio, there is another take on 9/11 –Gert Jan Kocken’s retrieval of an enlarged microfilm of thefront page of the
New York Times
from September 11 2001, which was of course printed before the attacks occurred, buton closer inspection could be said to contain clues in otherstories as to what was to happen that morning. Rod Dicken-son & Tom McCarthy’s
Greenwich Degree Zero
, 2006, alsoseems to evoke 9/11, recounting as it does an anarchist attack on the Greenwich Royal Observatory in 1894. The attack actu-ally failed – the bomber accidentally blew himself up beforeplacing the bomb – but Dickenson & McCarthy document thecase as though it had succeeded. They have created a readingroom with an array of meticulously doctored contemporary newspapers, anarchist journals, letters and other documentsthat all pertain to the ‘terrorist attack’ on the Observatory, andeven a short film, shot from a static viewpoint with a hand-cranked camera, that shows flames billowing from the build-ing. This literal rewriting of history is a masterly continuationof McCarthy’s previous forays into re-enacting and revitalising‘dead events’ under the banner of his International Necronau-tical Society. It also reveals how media events thrive on thespectacle, on a distortion of the actual facts.Any exhibition on the spectacle would, of course, beincomplete without a screening of Guy Debord’s 1973 film
La Société du Spectacle
, and at the CM Studio it is coupled with a 19th-century print depicting Christians praying beforebeing thrown to the lions, revealing the fascination thatalways accompanies even the most gruesome spectacle(another reminder of 9/11).To what extent, then, are we complicit in fetishistically embracing the spectacle while simultaneously claiming to beimmune to its power? Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s
Empire of the Senseless Part 1
, 2006, an installation using motion detec-tors and construction lamps, registers the visitor’s progressalong a corridor towards a text – a quotation from Kathy Acker’s novel of the same name, including the sentence ‘weshould use force to fight representations which are idols,idolized images’ – painted in fluorescent letters on the far wall. As the lights go out, the text fades the closer one comestowards it. The viewer thus inadvertently (and frustratingly)becomes the agent of the iconoclastic disappearance of theimage. Perhaps the best we can expect of today’s image warsis an inconclusive truce.
is an artist and critic based in Amsterdam.
Fluxus:The Dream of George Maciunas
Gateshead November 25 to February 15
Fluxus never was a discrete, ring-fenced idea. To its credit itis still alive and metamorphosing, and you can be a Fluxusartist if you want. Somehow or other it has narrowly avoidedacademic ossification or becoming a religion. Invited todefine Fluxus by those documenting the history of this ten-dency, its surviving protagonists usually protest its resistanceto definition. When so propositioned, for example, EmmettWilliams (one of the extant scions of Fluxus) still declaresthat ‘Fluxus has not yet been invented’.The contents of this exhibition come from one source:the Fluxus collection of Gilbert and Lila Silverman inDetroit. It also relates to the 2007 biography by ThomasKellein of the progenitor of Fluxus, George Maciunas (1931-78), around whose persona the exhibition revolves. Here theunresolved contradictions embedded within Maciunas’sFluxus project reveal themselves by implication. It was aradical collective of artists, or maybe just a collection of mis-fits. It opposed the prevailing phallocentric aura cultivatedby the abstract expressionists, interrogated the hierarchiesof high and low culture, and promoted crossover betweenart forms but was nevertheless somewhat exclusive. It wasalso unworkably utopian, anti-institutional and anti-careerist. Humour was at the root of Fluxus, but it was atthe same time incredibly serious and ideologically based. It was preoccupied with the unmediated experience of every-day life but equally informed by the unworldly philosophy of Zen and the aesthetics of chance. It now appears to prefig-ure the conceptual and live art of succeeding generations.Free street events were at the core of Fluxus practice, as was the self-production and distribution of inexpensivemultiples and printed matter. The serious student of Fluxus (if that is not a contradiction in terms) will not want to miss this opportunity to view the hundreds of multiple objects and ephemeral documents gatheredtogether here. On that level, the exhibition merits morethan one visit. Coming upon yet another showcase of small reliquary-like objects requiring close examination –each fascinating in its own way – the attention span soon wavers. The student of graphic design will also want to seethese items. Maciunas devised a distinctive typographicstyle for the anti-luxury Fluxus products that he designed,manufactured and distributed in small numbers, a bitDada, a bit industrial (reflecting the no-fuss business signageprevalent in his Canal Street neighbourhood), but alsooccasionally contriving a vernacular vintage look.Artists who were to acquire a canonical status in theirown right appear here temporarily as Fluxus artists – forexample Claes Oldenburg, the early scores of the composerLa Monte Young, Daniel Spoerri, Wolf Vostell, Nam JunePaik, Ben – as well as other still rather undervalued artists whose work gathered a momentum of its own primarily 
28 February – 05 April 2009.
21 Herald Street, London E2 6JT
+44 (0)20 7729 4112
+44 (0)20 7729 4113 www.maureenpaley.com
tonic cardboard catalogue designed by Maciunas for aYoko Ono show, squeezing the squeakers in Joe Jones’snoise-making suitcase, suddenly the things lying inert inthe showcases downstairs come alive in all their ingenuity and full silliness (some of Jones’s self-playing musicalinstruments meanwhile sit unplugged and sadly mute inthe gallery). Why isn’t this film shown at the entrance tothe exhibition?You will not learn from this exhibition that at somepoint Fluxus escaped the diktats of Maciunas and returnedto the wild. Rhizomic versions of Fluxus sprang up acrossEurope, notably Fluxus East (in the former Warsaw Pactcountries), Scandinavian Fluxus and British Fluxus (clus-tering around the Fluxshoe project). In fact, the hardcoreFluxus editions and publications exhibited here were noteasy to lay your hands on in the UK in the 60s. More oftenthey were encountered only as enticing descriptions insmall magazines like the
ICA Bulletin
, or via Fluxus artistDick Higgins’s more widely distributed Something ElsePress books and pamphlets. A consideration of these off-shoots would have made an even more unwieldy exhibition, ora quite different one.Only one of the artists associated with Fluxus has becomea household name. Ono’s parallel exhibition at the Baltic isprobably perceived by most visitors to be the main attraction,to which the Fluxus exhibition serves as an addendum. But itis equally possible to think of it the other way around. Ono’sexhibition incorporates a substantial retrospective element,including significant works dating from her years as a coreFluxus artist and her early years in London, since when, forreasons we all know, she has become an internationalcelebrity brand.Ono also has her own showcase of items in the Fluxusexhibition. Therein sits a modest little low-tech, hand-heldfilmstrip viewer, loaded with a very short loop of one of herfilms. It is a wonderfully fugitive thing compared with Ono’sunder the aegis of Fluxus, such as Emmett Williams, Dick Higgins and in particular George Brecht (who died lastDecember) the originator of the ‘event score’ who practised what his obituarist Ken Johnson described correctly as a‘modest, slyly provocative kind of art’.Boxes of all sizes predominate. Many of the editions arehoused in small plastic flip-top cases. Others, using readymade wooden or leather carrying cases, comprise ‘kits’ of foundobjects, deriving from the model of Duchamp’s
. Mostengaging of all are the Flux Yearboxes, exquisite accumulationsof objects in the lineage of Joseph Cornell. They were not meantto last forever. Most are evidently pre-owned and a bit worn, afew almost archaeological. Some of the exhibits really do look like holy relics, such as the white lab coat with its embroideredinsignia ‘Fluxworker’ hung high on the gallery wall.The majority of the objects and books in this exhibition were bought and taken home, or received in the post by individuals. An essential part of experiencing them wasthe private, intimate experience of unwrapping, openingand examining them. Encountering the history of Fluxusin another way, as an exhibition, involves an inevitable andunavoidable compromise. Boxed objects and paginatedprinted items (often just a small booklet) which are too valuable to handle can only be displayed under glass. Thatis a common enough shortcoming with any exhibition of such material, but in this case it is almost unbearably frus-trating. Some of the objects exhibited almost don’t existuntil they are physically handled – like Takako Saito’s
Sound Chess Set for John Cage
, 1977, in which the chesspieces are little white card boxes each containing differentsound-making sources such as dried grains or tiny bells.On another floor, in the Baltic’s learning area, you can watch a DVD of the Silverman Collection’s curator, JonHendricks, sitting at a table describing and handlingsome of the exhibits. Opening and removing the contentsof boxes, pulling apart and reconfiguring the architec-
Poster by George Maciunasfeaturing Dick Higgins,Lette Eisenhower, DanielSpoerri, Alison Knowles andAy-O New York 1964
George Maciunas
 An Anthology
Gimpel Fils
30 Davies Street London W1K 4NBT: +44 (0)20 7493 2488 F: +44 (0)20 7629 5732E: info@gimpelfils.com www.gimpelfils.comMon-Fri 10-5.30pm Sat 11-4pm
Christopher Stewart:
Super Border 
Robert Adams
27 February - 18 April 2009
recent works, some made specially for this exhibition, whichare tiresomely unimaginative, thin in a pejorative way andgrandiose in scale. In the vast top gallery at the Baltic whichfew artists ever know quite what to do with, Ono has installedseveral large accumulations of identical or similar objects (anactivity that many artists, from Arman to Antony Gormley,have exploited) – umbrellas, discarded books, recorded birdsounds, stepladders. Here also is a giant marble chess set, anoverblown version of the all-white ‘unplayable’ chess boardthat has literally outgrown its original, perfectly modulatedincarnation at the Indica Gallery in 1966.Another Japanese Fluxist, Mieko Shiomi, is a far moreinteresting artist than her compatriot. But this revelatory Fluxus exhibition is somehow in the wrong place. Somethingas small in physical scale as Shiomi’s tiny booklet
Disappear-ing Music for Face
, 1966, almost does disappear, tuckedaway in a big showcase alongside ranks of other objects in ahuge glass case, itself set within the enormity of the Baltic’sexhibition spaces.
is an independent writer and curator.
The Art of Participation:1950 to Now
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
November 8 to February 8
At the exhibition ‘The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now’ Itried to balance two brooms and two broomsticks using my hands, feet and chin, picked up a souvenir poster, spoke andsang in microphones, sat on black, yellow and white chairs,and drank two beers as part of Tom Marioni’s
The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art 
,1970/2008. Participatory works usually keep you busy; if they don’t, there is a good chance that they are not really par-ticipatory.All artworks arguably invite a form of viewer par-ticipation, but participatory art requires you to engage withthe work by actively doingsomething (that is why I like tocall them ‘do-it-yourself’ artworks). At times, the curator of this extensive survey of participation since 1950 seemedunfortunately to have lost sight of this basic, yet crucial,definition. A work by John Baldessari that lists ‘terms mostuseful in describing creative works of art’, for example, is nota participatory work because it is a parody of art criticismrather than an invitation to become an art critic; similarly,Raqs Media Collective’s systematic permutation of the words‘please do not touch the work of art’ on the gallery wall may be related to the theme of participation in content, but is notparticipatory in form. Although it may trigger unconsciousreflexes, fears and desires, in my opinion active participationalso needs to be initiated consciously and voluntarily, which would exclude the category of ‘unwitting participation’ fea-tured in the show. The Japanese customs officers and Mexi-can policemen involved in Maria Eichhorn’s and FrancisAlÿs’s works respectively may have contributed to the works,but they were doing their jobs, not participating in an art- work (when they did, in the latter’s
, 2001, they kept to their actual roles as policemen). As to the museum visitors, whom Vito Acconci decided to crowd together in
Proximity Piece
, 1970, rather than participants they becamemere props for his performance.Of course there are some participatory works that are nolonger available for participation. Some of them were con-ceived as events to be experienced in specific sites outside themuseum (such as the street), and/or in the presence of theartist. Documentation of such event-based works in the show ranged from invitations, scripts, diary entries, photographsand props to videos. During my visit, I watched other viewersgravitating towards the videos, even if they were only a few minutes long. As uneasy voyeurs, we all watched the films of Yoko Ono having her clothes cut in both the 1964 and 2003 versions of her
Cut Piece
, and Valie Export letting others touchher bare breasts enclosed in her portable
Tap and Touch Cinema
, 1968-69. Those other 60s artists who failed to pre-serve their participatory events in easily consumed imagescertainly risk getting shortchanged by history, but their worksmay be the ones that best embody the central emphasis onaction and experience in participation, often conceived inexplicit opposition to the capitalist ‘society of the spectacle’. I would even argue that the most radical participatory works arethose in which the work does not exist until the participantactivates them. George Brecht’s
Universal Machine
, 1965, themid-60s Fluxkit packed full of Fluxus objects and scores, orLygia Clark’s sensory objects, for example, lie waiting to bediscovered and used by the participant – unless, of course, themuseum has encased them in vitrines. Sadly, much of theplayfulness and sensuality of early participatory works seemsto have been lost along the way to the museum.Overall, the participation in ‘The Art of Participation’remained largely disembodied. The exhibition’s aim to tracea trajectory from John Cage’s
, 1952,to today’s internetculture – the show was initially titled ‘MyMuseum’ –resulted in an emphasis on technology and a profusion of computer screens and their faithful mice (but, sometimesfrustratingly, without keyboards). Had they been included inthe show, the kinetic experiments by the Groupe deRecherche d’Art Visuel in the 60s, or by Carsten Höllermore recently, sensory experiences such as Hélio Oiticica’s60s capes and environments or the immersive installationscreated by many artists since, and participatory activities likeDavid Medalla’s exemplary 
 A Stitch in Time
, 1968, whichinvited participants to stitch onto a stretched piece of fabric, would all have pointed to this more phenomenologicaldimension of participation. The exhibition curator’s choice of 
, 1969, a very untypical work in Allan Kaprow’s life-longparticipatory practice, is telling: rather than celebrating every-day gestures and behaviours, as in the artist’s early 60shappenings or his 70s activities,
highlighted the
Matthias Gommel
2002sound piece

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