Fluxus and Performance Art

This week, I had to read for my Art History 3 course, a text on “Post-Cagean Aesthetics.” I am not too happy about the writing I did because it is still all congested in my head, but I thought I still ought to share the love:

The discovery of Fluxus was mesmerizing. Reading about a half a century-old body of works, centered around the creation of a “script” or an intention, whose purpose was more or less to make the imperceptible appear was a revelation. As  I was reading about “Post-Cagean” aesthetics, I could not help but to project the experiments, and discoveries to my field of design. If anything, the discussion around the status itself of the script as “poetic material” and fully embracing it as the anchor for a whole panel of performances that could stem from it was a very interesting notion, especially in terms of product design. Throughout the text I wondered about how to apply this logic of minimally scripted performances, and its ability to create a high degree of emotion, impact, experience via as simple of a tool as a word can be.


Above all, there is the relationship to language. Modern product designers often pride themselves in being ubiquitous: you pick up this tool, you “intrinsically” seem to know how to use it. For instance, take any of the more recent Apple products; they are meant to be used right off the shelf. Therefore, there is “no need” for language. I think this is a great intention. However it should not be mistaken for the “only” possible intention. Language itself is central to human interaction, it is, as confirmed in many of its uses by Cage, Brecht, or Young, a device (a product?) of its own. This is why seeing the immensity of possibilities that can be yielded by such a simple instrument so long as it is properly used was very exiting and inspiring for my own work.


It was very interesting to be able to witness the evolution of musical theory and how Cage’s work broke scores out of their own shell to turn them into a more universal system of instructions. This process to me showed the importance of observing the relationship of “form follows function” as a cyclical pattern rather than a linear one: form is informed by function just as much as it informs function. In Fluxus art, there is the script and the performance or experience. Both show this fluid, organic evolution between form and function.


The script has a form, and through its conscious “modest and de-skilled” design, its function becomes to generate and experience. On the other hand, the performance has a form as well, some times directly linked to the use of the original script, sometimes related to chance operation (Candle Piece for Radios, summer 1959), sometimes other scripts (Motor Vehicle Sundown [Event], spring-summer 1960) and this form, when it carries out its function, will provide an experience.


Coming full circle, though many of the pieces had similar forms and perhaps similar functions as well, the intentions behind them differed. My understanding is that in its development, performance art became divided into two main schools of thought: “anything goes” which goes back to the closing of Kaprow’s essay on Pollock’s legacy, and the notion of impersonality and highlighting casual, mundane, events. Both have immense value in my eyes and are essentially the same in terms of art, but differ I think, in the relationship the artist has to their art.


What I find most interesting as a product designer, is the relationship of performance art to what is called “ready-made” things. Being an “aspiring” product designer, NOTHING in my eyes is truly ready made. In essence, a chair, a vase, a vacuum, are all “scripts” of their own, with a conscious (but many times not) intention to generate an experience, an emotion. I want to stress that I say product design, because it is the field I study but I feel this is true of all design fields.


Is design performance art? Is Fluxus art design? Does it matter?


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