Fluxus : from life to art

Stéphanie Thrt
Published in
11 min readMar 2, 2018


The aesthetics of ordinary gestures that would break the line between art and life (the regime of indiscernibility) found his expression through Kaprow and more widely in Fluxus. The group as part Fluxus moves, Fluxus gesticulates, and around their thinking and their performances gravitates elements and concepts to consider.

Fluxus in festival in Germany (1962)

The movement Fluxus born informally in the twilight of the 1950s. In a preamble, a meeting of personalities who position themselves for the teachings of John Cage and feel inspired by its. Some of them received its at the New School for Social Research. Allan Kaprow develops happenings. Monte Young is interested, in the lineage of John Cage, in music. Georges Brecht reflects on the removal of boundaries between the arts and life and will lead the eponymous journal of the group (from 1964). All of them and Dick Higgins, Robert Watts, will become the major figures of the group. The latter performs many happenings, offers an abundance and a multiplicity of art proposals. Heterogeneous group, moving, recognized for its role in modern art which is difficult to set all characteristics and list all actions.

Define Fluxus in a closed way would be contrary to the idea that movement has about itself. Some events bring artists together in New York at the George Maciunas’s Gallery. Then, George Maciunas settles in Germany and organizes the Fluxus tour. It continues for 2 years, until 1964, mainly in Europe, and make the group to be really identified and known.

Cage, Duchamp, Pollock and the Dada legacy


Influences are obvious. French artist Ben Vauthier wrote: “Without John Cage, Marcel Duchamp and Dada, Fluxus would not exist.” The fathers are recognized, and the first of them is Pollock, to whom Kaprow renders a vibrant homage, 2 designating him as “a great figure”, connecting audacity and authority. He opened the door on the paths of modern art and happening. By dripping, he joined the body with the brush, the hand with the canvas, to end up confusing everything, a celebration of the ordinary gesture. By the large format, and the amplitude of the gestures, he has freed himself from the physical limits of the canvas, just as, by extension, the conventions of painting.

Kaprow explains: “Pollock, as I see that, has left us at the point where we have to worry about, and even be dazzled by, the space and objects of our everyday life : our bodies, our clothes, the rooms where we live 3”. Action painting and happening may be from experience and perception. For one as for the other, the accident and the random are fully present and have a positive charge.

Art theorist Barbara Formis summarizes: the happening is in the theater what action painting is to the painting (in general) 4 : the opening of the field of possibilities, experimentation, and the experience — finally? — by the bodies and souls of dailylife through different ruses. In addition, Formis reminds that Duchamp has made legitimate the practice of the ordinary (or the daily?) in the arts. The happening is, in a way, the bodily expression of the ready-made and the collage. Duchamp also had a favorable comment about the happenings: “I like very much happenings because it is something that is totally opposed to the easel painting […] The happenings have introduced into art an element that no one had never put: boredom. Do something for that people get bored by looking at it, I never thought about it. And it’s a shame because it’s a very nice idea. It’s basically the same idea as John Cage’s silence in music; nobody had thought of that […] the introduction of new ideas is only valid in happenings. In a painting, we can not make bored. It would obviously happen, but it’s easier with the semi-theatrical side. 5

Thus, the happening would stage a certain boredom. Where would it fill this boredom? In the empty spaces of happenings, the spectator is invited to take part and to be himself a comedian. Formis dares this idea: the happenings would be to the theater what the ready-made is to art. They are in any case from the register of experience. Allan Kaprow gives six modalities of which three operate more or less under the order of indiscernibility 6:

“- Work under recognized art modes, but present the work in contexts of non art; for eg. a Rembrandt as an ironing board.” This is an interpretation of Duchamp’s idea of ​​reciprocity, which establishes a path from art to banality.

“- Work in non-art modes, but present work as art in non-art contexts; eg. perception tests in a psychology laboratory, repair of a typewriter […]” The institutions remains intact but we imagine the possibility of having an art outside of it.

“Working in non-art modes and in non-art contexts, but ceasing to call the work “Art”, keeping in that Consciousness can be sometimes art too.” This last modality exploits the indiscernability regime most fully, at the risk of generating the disappearance of art. That means : art = life. For art still exist, there must at least be symbolic recognition of the art world, and the consciousness of the one who fulfills gesture. There is, however, life and life: one lived without being thought of and the other lived consciously. The happening finds his place in the interstice between the two, trying to bring the first category to the second and to awaken people’s consciousness.

A stage space remains necessary for the gesture belongs to the performance and not to be a simple ordinary gesture. Of course this space can be outside of the theater. Barbara Formis 7 indicates that the gestures of the happening generate a “tiny awareness” — with the Kaprow’s terms — the metaphorical power of life; the happening reveals and associates itself with the infinitesimal, the detail, the inframince.

If Duchamp evokes the boredom that would be present in Cage, and in Fluxus, Robert Filliou (Fluxus artist), abounds: “Whatever you thought, think something else. Whatever you do, do something else. The absolute secret of permanent creation is to be without desire, without decision, without choice, conscious of oneself, wide awake, sitting quietly, doing nothing “. By this, he invites to free oneself from the thought patterns “whatever you think”, and to abstain from any creativity. Considering this, Formis hypothesis: the creation would be permanent since it resides in the fact of doing nothing, in empty spaces of boredom 8. She continues: “the artistic creation is similar to its opposite: the non -creation “. This is the whole lesson of Duchamp. Kaprow himself defines the an-artist 9 and the non art (different from the anti-art), an art that would be more art than the art itself, and that would not have been accepted yet as an art but as somethings which is suggested to the artist. Art would be easier and easier, it brings creators to take an interest in this paradox; but it is still collectively uncertain. The an-artist is an experimenter; he reformulates art, without figure this reformulation as an ultimate quest. Filliou also explains what Formis 10 designates as the principle of equivalence: a “well done” work would be equivalent to a “badly done” work as well as to a work “not done” at all. Filliou gives the example of a sock presented in a box, then, a sock similar but presented upside down in the box, and finally a box without sock. Yet each of these boxes remains valid, individually or associated with other possibilities, and is the fruit of a creation. The two ideas presented by Filliou: abstention from activity and the principle of equivalence, let the art’conventions and general standards. Formis summarizes: the only criterion is the absence of criteria and the aesthetic is freed from Art.

“We are at the Cafe du Midi, at Gisele and Raymonde’s place. “

la Cédille qui sourit

In 1966, Filliou and Brecht opened the store “la Cédille qui sourit” in Villefranche-sur-Mer (France). On the door, a door hanger: “La Cédille is usually closed during normal business hours. We are at the Cafe du Midi, at Gisele and Raymonde’s place. On the other hand, Cédille opens at any time of day or night. Important dates for Cédille qui sourit: every three months: how to pay the rent? 11

Initially considered as a bookstore, la Cédille qui sourit was, as Filliou said, “a kind of workshop and shop, non-shop would we say now, because we have never registered the trade, and the Cédille was always closed, only opening at the visitors’s request.’’ Whom were actually not very numerous because the tenants of the shop — who did not have a telephone line — were not even very often presents, spending more time at the local café.

Natilee Harren 12 told that this space was ultimately a place of constant creation, through researches, jokes, puzzles, games, recipes, poems, drawings and events.

“We made games, we invented and “disinvented” objects, we were in contact with children and adults, we drank and talked with neighbors, we produced suspense poems and riddles that were sold by letters. We started an anthology of misunderstandings and jokes from which we made movies, with one-minute scenarios …”

The informality of the place and the lightness reigning there were totally representative of the Fluxus spirit. The movement renounces to neither and to everything and tries to play with the properties of life and art, which are combined in a common flow. Formis: “We alternate between these two logical options: one that considers life ‘’as art‘’ and the other who takes life as such.

Ben Vauthier, a frenchie in the crew

Ben consired himself as an apostle of Duchamp, asking (about Duchamp’s work and legacy) “and after? ». He began with Mes gestes (My gestures) (from 1960): “Do not do like the others: eat in the middle of the street, shine the shoes of others, bang my head against a wall, etc. There are simple gestures and spectacular gestures. Barbara Formis categorizes its 13:

  • mechanical gestures: eat, a croissant, sleep, vomit
  • static gestures: look at the sky, wait, lie down on the street
  • symbolic gestures: throw God into the sea, get into the water all dressed and with an umbrella
  • interrelational gestures: receiving and speaking, fighting
  • creative gestures: to paint, sign everything, sign the paintings of others.

Sign the paintings of others. Ben is in a process of appropriation: “I systematically try to sign everything that has not been. I believe that art is in the intention and that it is enough to sign. So I sign: holes, mystery boxes, kicks, God, chickens, etc. 14 »

Formis emphasizes that Filliou’s nothin answers to the Ben’s everything, which describes it thus: “Anything. Sculpture: lift anything. Poetry: say anything. Music: listen to anything. Painting: look at anything. Literature: write anything. Dance: do anything. Absolutely anything is art 15 “.

In 1958, after have hold a stationery shop — bookstore, the artist opened a store in Nice which became an exhibition space called “The Laboratory 32” and “The gallery Ben doubts everything”. The space is full of an important accumulation of objects. It becomes a meeting place for the groupe « school of Nice », l’école de Nice which brings together Caesar, Arman, Martial Raysse (New Realists Artists) etc; but keeps its commercial vocation, with the sale of records. Dismantled in 1974, the store is relocated to the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris.

Furthermore, Ben brings his approach closer to the Duchamp’s: “In 1958 I have the shock Duchamp. So for me the painting is over, I did not want to throw anything away. A match was as beautiful as the Mona Lisa. So we had to keep everything: empty paint pots, brushes, etc. I have everything nailed. To make a living, I sold used records and on the first floor I made a small gallery to look for the new 16 “. On the other hand, Formis evokes the commercialization of Ben’s works: once signed, objects, sometimes devoid of any value, gain one; the gestures ‘les gestes’ of the artist too, because HE performs them. He recounts: “I am a living and moving sculpture in all My moments (mes moments) and all My actions (mes actions) for sale: £ 250. Everything I touch and look become art … I’m jealous. I want to do what has not been done. I am the only one. I cry at night. I hate others. I sign everything? I am God creator. “17 Thus, more than art and life merge, the first borrows a characteristic of the second: it becomes a merchant. Art is now being coined, acquired, sold, and produced, as Ben’s Quotations (citations) and all of its derivatives can be bought.


1_Vautier Benjamin aka Ben, Art press n°13, sept/oct 1974 2.Kaprow Allan, « Jackson Pollock’s heritage », 1958, Essays on the blurring of art and life, reunited texts by Jeff Kelley, french edition L’art et la vie confondus Paris, Éditions Centre Georges Pompidou, Supplémentaires, 1996 3. Kaprow Allan, op. cit. 4. Formis Barbara, Esthétique de la vie ordinaire, Paris, Éditions PUF, Collection Ligne d’art, 2010, see Part II Chapter 4 « Le pari du geste » § Ce qui se passe … Le Happenning, ou l’art semblable à la vie, voir p. 155 — no english version, book title would be translated as “Aestethic of ordinary life5. Barbara Formis, op.cit. Formis cite Lettre de Marchel Duchamp à Hans Richter du 10 novembre 1962, citée par Hans Richter, Dada, art et anti-art, Bruxelles : Éditions de la Connaissance, 1963 6. .Kaprow Allan, « The non-theratrical performance », 1976, Essays on the blurring of art and life, texts reunited by Jeff Kelley 7. Formis Barbara,Ibid. Part II Chapter 4 « Le pari du geste » §Ce qui se passe … Le Happenning, ou l’art semblable à la vie 8. Formis Barbara, Ibid. Part II Chapter 4 « Le pari du geste » Formis cite Filliou Robert, Enseigner et apprendre, arts vivants par Robert Filliou, (1970), Paris et Bruxelles : Archives Lebeer Hossman, 1998, p. 23 9. Kaprow Allan, « Performing life » 1979, Essays on the blurring of art and life, texts reunited by Jeff Kelley, Kaprow summurizes : « the ordinary life perfomed as art/non-art can add to everyday life a metaphoric power ». see also « Education of l’An-artist » part I, II, III, 1971 to 1974 10. Formis Barbara, Ibid., Part II Chapter 4 « Le pari du geste » p.176–177 11. Anecdots told by Harren Natilee, Basically consulted in Arts and Education La cédille qui ne finit pas: Robert Filliou, George Brecht, and Fluxus in Villefranche URL not available any longer. Can have a preview in english : http://www.jstor.org/stable/41413136?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents 12. Historienne et art critic d’art américaine 13.17 Formis Barbara, Ibid., Formis quotes Ben, Ben, pour ou contre. Une rétrospective, Marseille : MAC, Galeries contemporaines des musées de Marseille, 1995, p. 77 + Formis quotes Vautier Ben, Tout Ben, Ibid., p. 70, p. 58 + Formis quotes Ben, pour ou contre. Une rétrospective, op.cit, p. 88



Stéphanie Thrt

Journalist - Read all in order on my medium publication medium.com/stephaniethrt