The World According to Fluxus

The Lithuanian National Gallery, Vilnius

Curated by Liutauras Psibilskis

‘The World According to Fluxus’ is the first comprehensive presentation of the Vilnius Fluxus Collection to a Lithuanian audience. It allows viewers to get to know this treasury of the Fluxus movement, which has been in the possession of the City of Vilnius and is kept at the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center since 2007. The collection was put together by the filmmaker, artist, critic and curator Jonas Mekas, the founder and long-time artistic director of the Anthology Film Archives in New York and the recipient of numerous international awards, as well as of the Lithuanian National Prize.

The Vilnius Fluxus Collection is noteworthy because of its size (it comprises around 3000 objects), because of its provenience (it was built by Jonas Mekas and a large part of it stems directly from George Mačiūnas) and because it contains many originals and sketches for well-known Fluxus works (by Mačiūnas himself and other authors).

What makes the Fluxus artists relevant to us in Lithuania is not just the insights and ideas their works communicate, but also the fact that the movement’s founder, George (Jurgis) Mačiūnas was our compatriot and that his creative and organisational activities reflect his experience – shared by many – of the Second World War and of having to leave Lithuania. Mačiūnas’s different fields of activity – curating, organising, various forms of collaboration – all come together as a unified art project, extending far beyond the usual framework of a ‘life in art’.

Mačiūnas formulated a ‘language of art’ that became a progressive and intellectually stimulating component of post-war Western culture. The uncompromising but also popular and accessible ideas of the Fluxus movement still inspire artists and audiences today. Paradoxically, although it was radical and always in opposition to established norms, Fluxus has now become an important part of many collections of twentieth century art.

Yet it is not widely known that the term ‘Fluxus’ was first proposed by Mačiūnas at a gathering of Lithuanian exiles in New York. Although it did not take root among those émigrés, it fuelled a much larger and more varied project went through several stages of change and became influenced by different regions (the United States, Japan, northern, central and eastern Europe) and by strong personalities (George Mačiūnas, Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys, Robert Filliou, John Cage and many others).

This mix of influences determined the diverse outlook of Fluxus, which could perhaps best be characterised as innovative and critical of established norms: the strong desire to erase the boundary between life and art, important elements or irony and play, the inclusion of coincidence and error in art and the belief in the unobstructed flow of ideas and expressions. (Fluxus is the Latin word for ‘flow’ or ‘flux’.)

Mačiūnas published several Fluxus manifestos, aiming to provide basic direction to the movement, and thanks to the various manifestations he organised – performance art projects, exhibitions, mail art actions, co-authored objects and thoughts – his ideas became embodied as a practice and were sustained for decades. In addition, he created the graphic style that unified the whole movement. As a gifted designer, Mačiūnas helped many of the artists associated with Fluxus to realise their ideas, and gave them hands-on assistance on many occasions. For all these reasons it is impossible to speak of Fluxus without mentioning his name. Most Fluxus researchers date the beginning of the movement to the late 1950s and let its end coincide with Mačiūnas’s own death in 1978.