Critic’s Notebook: In Fluxus — making sense of the amorphous anti-art movement’s arrival in L.A.
On the morning of Sept. 30 in Koreatown, David Allen Moore began a performance of La Monte Young’s “Composition 1960 #10: Draw a straight line and follow it.” The intention of the Los Angeles Philharmonic bassist had been to lay down a blue chalk line as he walked along Wilshire Boulevard and up Grand Avenue to the Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of the orchestra’s “Celebrate LA” street party. He didn’t get very far.
This was the unannounced first event in the Fluxus component of the orchestra’s vastly varied centennial season. The police had been alerted and, after a considerable amount of explanation that his action was an artwork and not a defamation of public property, gave the go-ahead with the understanding that there would be officers on duty at various points along the route who had final authority. Unwittingly, the anonymous officer who didn’t get the message and stopped the performance became a Fluxus artist. The portion of the blue chalk line that remained long enough for thousands to pass over it, including the larger-than-life Gustavo Dudamel puppet on parade, is a fine piece to enter the event into the annals of Fluxus.
So what is Fluxus? Wrong question.
The minute you try to define it, it is no longer Fluxus. Or maybe it is. And if it is Fluxus, it no longer matters. Or maybe it does.
Fluxus is generally known as an art movement that flourished in the 1960s as an anti-art movement. At least three of its participants — Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuys — have become legendary. John Cage was dubbed the Father of Fluxus because much of the inspiration for the movement came from the classes he taught in New York at the New School for Social Research in the late 1950s. But he wasn’t Fluxus, himself, and once asked if he might instead be called Fluxus’ uncle.
Still there is something about Fluxus, be it a performance of having an ensemble of musicians hit their heads against a wall, a game of “smell chess’ (don’t ask), a metal keyhole mounted on a wooden board, film strip with nothing on it but flickering scratches, a sound-text poem, a graphic music score with bullet holes as the notes to be played, loudspeakers in a pond in a small town in Germany broadcasting the croaking sounds of frogs, a cellist performing topless, and here we are, once more, in a state of Fluxus.
By its very nature, a conventional symphony orchestra is hardly Fluxus-friendly (there are, no doubt, union rules against asking musicians to hit their heads on the wall), yet the L.A. Phil, in conjunction with the J. Paul Getty Museum, will put Fluxus front and center this season, beginning with a concert/workshop at the Getty on Sunday.
What Fluxus ultimately is, but please don’t take this as a definition, is mindfulness — doing, seeing, hearing, cooking, building, confronting something in a way that wouldn’t in a million years occur to you and suddenly feeling a tiny bit more alive. If you accept my non-definition definition of Fluxus (and you are more than welcome, indeed expected, to make your own), Fluxus is mostly happy. Unless it isn’t, as in Ono’s “Cut Piece. 1964,” during which an audience was offered scissors to cut off pieces of her clothing.
Get too fluxed, and sometimes everything seems “Fluxus.”
More than one Fluxster was huckster. On the surface, the recent self-destructing Banksy painting, “Girl with Balloon,” at a Sotheby’s auction, appears pure Fluxus. But as Times’ art critic Christopher Knight has pointed out, rather than art prank, this is art market big-business connivery.
In the midst of all this flux, there was, Wednesday night at REDCAT, a concert by the double bass/microtonal tuba duo Reidemeister Move, which has at least ancillary roots in Fluxus and the work of La Monte Young. Young, who, like Cage, doesn’t like to be considered a Fluxus artist, turned dedicated activities such as drawing a straight line and following it into a profound art that incorporates acoustically rich sustained tones that can produce a remarkably liberating, downright cathartic, effect.
Robin Hayward (tuba) and Christopher Williams (bass) play long, slow tones that, on an elementary level, are marvelously soothing. On a deeper level, these tones feel, in some indefinable way (more problems with definition), cleansing.
In the 40-minute “Arcanum 17” by Williams and Charlie Morrow, the duo plays against a recording of distant environments recorded off the coast of Quebec. The odd thing is the way the low, microtonal tones of bass and tuba rather than transporting a listener to this world create a “thereness” to our own time and place.
For the first movement of Ben Leeds Carson’s “Wonderment and Misgiving,” short bursts of low bass andtuba energy act like a kind of acoustic acupressure. Hayward’s half-hour improvisational “Borromean Rings” returned to long tones this time organized as a kind of acoustic chess.
As for the Reidemeister Move’s further Fluxus credentials, an entrancing recording of “Arcanum 17” by the duo has just been released on the Fluxus-friendly local label Recital.
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