David Doris:
Zen Vaudeville:
A Medi(t)ation in the Margins of Fluxus.

(A slightly shorter version of the text we present here
was published in: The Fluxus Reader, edited by Ken Friedman,
Academy Editions, 1998) [1]

Now I am going to make a statement here. I don't know whether it fits into the category of other people's statements or not. But whether it fits into their category or whether it doesn't, it obviously fits into some category. So in that respect it is no different from their statements. However, let me try making my statement.

There is a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is not yet beginning to be nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. Suddenly there is nonbeing. But I do not know, when it comes to nonbeing, which is really being and which is nonbeing. Now I have just said something. But I don't know whether what I have said has really said something or whether it hasn't said something.

Chuang Tzu

Danger Music Number Six (February 1962)

There is nothing here.

- Dick Higgins

• Pre-Face.

In the history of the arts of the twentieth century, Fluxus stands as a singularly strange phenomenon. It resembled an art movement, and was inadvertently named as such in 1962. [2] Yet unlike other art movements, Fluxus produced no signed manifestos indicating the intentions of its participants, who, indeed, could rarely agree on just what it was that constituted the Fluxus program. And, unlike other movements, Fluxus was not bound to a specific geographical location. On the contrary, Fluxus could well be seen as the first truly global avant-garde; the artists, composers, poets and others who contributed to the corpus of Fluxus work hailed from France, West Germany, Japan, Korea, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, and the United States, and quite a few lived their lives as expatriates or nomads.

Originally intended by George Maciunas (who is acknowledged as the principal organizer and disseminator of Fluxus) to be the title of a magazine for Lithuanians living in New York City, [3] "Fluxus" soon became something quite radically different, coming to signify an astonishingly broad range of practices in virtually every field of human communicative endeavor. The work produced under, or in proximity of, the flag of Fluxus includes films, newspapers, books, performances, symphonies, sculptures, sound poetry, dances, feasts, one- line jokes, insoluble puzzles, games - the list continues. However, it should be noted early on, these descriptive categories are, more often than not, inadequate to the task of containing Fluxus works, which, as I hope to demonstrate, operate in the margins between such categories. A single score, for example Ken Friedman's 1965 work, Zen is When:

A placement.
A fragment of time identified.
Brief choreography.

might be realized as a painting, an assemblage, a poem, a private or public performance, a thought, or even a thesis for a master's degree - perhaps all at once. As such, Fluxus works were some of the most important manifestations in the development of intermedia; the term itself (also applicable in part to the concurrent phenomenon of happenings) was coined by Fluxus participant Dick Higgins, denoting work whose structures determined the textures of the spaces between media. Indeed, it is this very between-ness, this marginality, that makes Fluxus, even thirty-some-odd years after its first European performances, so difficult to coax with words into stability.

The Fluxus phenomenon began at a unique moment in time, a period of relative artistic freedom and economic growth in the United States, Europe and Japan - only a decade and a half after the most destructive war in the history of humanity. The early 1960s saw the first humans in outer space, the inauguration and assassination of the youngest president in American history, the establishment of a U.S. military presence in Vietnam, the assembly of the Berlin Wall, and the rapid proliferation of television and thermonuclear weapons. It was a strange and dangerous time.

On 16 June 1962, at a concert entitled "Neo-Dada in der Musik," Nam June Paik, a Korean composer living in West Germany, slowly raised a violin above his head and, in a single furious blow, smashed the instrument against a tabletop. He called this gesture a violin solo. [4]

In the midst of all the extraordinary institutional spending and material surplus that characterized the late 1950s and early 1960s, Fluxus created a space for itself outside the structures that fostered the economic consumption of aesthetic practices, outside the established gallery and theater circuits. At a period marked by the production of massive, eminently saleable works, principally in the field of visual art, the artists of Fluxus produced works of little inherent economic value: pieces of printed paper, small plastic boxes filled with cheap, simple objects (sometimes they were filled with nothing at all) and, particularly in the first few years, performances. Fluxus produced virtually nothing to hang over the family piano, nothing that could reasonably be considered an "investment" by a potential buyer. Indeed, the artists of Fluxus seem to have waged a battle against the economic and spiritual aggrandizement of both art and artist so rampant during the period. In place of the grandiose, Fluxus took the position of a sort of aesthetic Everyman, doing many small things in many small ways. In place of the supposed timelessness and permanence of the art object, Fluxus loosed a prolific flow of seemingly inconsequential amusements and ephemera, most of which, at the time, went largely unheeded. Fluxus challenged notions of representation, offering instead simple presentations which could provoke awe, laughter, disgust, dread-the entire range of human response. In the midst of an increasingly mediated world, the artists of Fluxus attempted to wake up to the experience of simply being human, a supremely strange enterprise indeed. This essay is an inquiry into just a few aspects of that strangeness.

• Long long ago…

Long long ago, back when the world was young - that is, sometime around the year 1958—a lot of artists and composers and other people who wanted to do beautiful things began to look around them in a new way (for them).

They said: "Hey! - coffee cups can be more beautiful than fancy sculptures. A kiss in the morning can be more dramatic than a drama by Mr. Fancypants. The sloshing of my foot in my wet boot sounds more beautiful than fancy organ music."

And when they saw that, it turned their minds on. And they began to ask questions. One question was: "Why does everything I see that's beautiful like cups and kisses and sloshing feet have to be made into just a part of something fancier and bigger? Why can't I just use it for its own sake?"

When they asked questions like that, they were inventing fluxus; but this they didn't know yet, because fluxus was like a baby whose mother and father couldn't agree on what to call it - they knew it was there, but it didn't have a name.

• • •

They did "concerts" of everyday living; and they gave exhibitions of what they found, where they shared the things that they liked best with whoever would come. Everything was itself, it wasn't part of something bigger and fancier. And the fancy people didn't like this, because it was all cheap and simple, and nobody could make much money out of it.

- Dick Higgins [5]

Every voice is the voice of Buddha, every form is the Buddha form.

—from the Zenrin Kushu, A Zen Phrase Anthology [6]

In 1957, George Brecht, a chemist at the personal products division of Johnson & Johnson in East Brunswick, New Jersey, wrote an extraordinary essay entitled "Chance- Imagery." In it, he develops an outline of historical sources, methods and theories involved in the practical application of the forces of chance in the arts. Illustrating his text with examples drawn from the realms of physics and statistics, Brecht denotes "two aspects of chance, one where the origin of images is unknown because it lies in deeper-than-conscious levels of the mind, and the second where images derive from mechanical processes not under the artist's control." [7]

After a discussion of automatism in surrealist production (certainly one of this century's boldest adventures in the exploration of the unconscious) Brecht admits that he is "more interested… in the mechanically chance process." [8] He cites Marcel Duchamp as the pioneer worker in this field, noting the techniques employed in the construction of his 3 stoppages ètalon (3 Standard Stoppages), in which the "standard" measurement created by the fall of a piece of string was determined by "wind, gravity and aim;" and in his La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (le Grand Verre) [The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)], for which Duchamp employed a toy cannon to shoot paint-dipped matches at the glass to determine the positions of the nine malic molds.

Yet Brecht suggests that Duchamp's use of chance in his work was "not exhaustive," and so acknowledges the importance of other modernist applications of chance: Jean Arp's chance collages, Max Ernst's "decalcomania of chance" as well as his techniques of frottage, the Surrealist cadavre exquis, and Tristan Tzara's chance poetry. In each of these cases, the artist relinquishes, to a greater or lesser degree, the power to determine the form of a work, serving instead as a functionary, a facilitator of natural processes within a specific, limiting context (a poem, a drawing, a collage). In this strain of practice, in the denial of artistic choice and determinism in favor of the potency of apparently arbitrary natural processes, Brecht perceives profound spiritual implications. These implications, Brecht points out, were noted by the Dadaists themselves: "The almost incredibly incisive mind of Tristan Tzara, as early as 1922, even recognized the relationship of all this to Oriental philosophy (in one of the most convincing of Dada documents, the 'Lecture on Dada'): 'Dada is not at all modern. It is more in the nature of a return to an almost Buddhist religion of indifference."' [9]

Tzara aspired to indifference, of course, and so he perceived a kinship in Buddhism's evident coolness, its detachment from the world. I would suggest, however, that the Buddhist "condition" is not one of indifference, but rather of a radical involvement with the world. This condition, according to Buddhist texts, demands first that one's own preconceptions be consciously cast aside - no easy task - in order that the things of this world be allowed to manifest themselves as such, as they present themselves in their fullness of being. Neither overwhelming nor unknowable, nature is thus revealed through simple, direct engagement in its processes. Further, the operations of the individual are themselves revealed through engagement in this unfolding; one becomes an actively perceiving, infinitely mutable organ of response, not differentiated from nature. Brecht quotes Daisetz Suzuki's discussion of the role of nature as a paradigm for human action in Zen Buddhism: "Nature never deliberates; it acts directly out of its own heart, whatever this may mean. In this respect Nature is divine. Its 'irrationality' transcends human doubts or ambiguities, and in our submitting to it, or rather accepting it, we transcend ourselves." [10] This acceptance, notes Suzuki in his original text, is itself a matter of choice:

We accept nature's 'irrationality' or its 'musts' deliberately, quietly, and whole-heartedly. It is not a deed of blind and slavish submission to the inevitable. It is an active acceptance, a personal willingness with no thought of resistance. In this there is no force implied, no resignation, but rather participation, assimilation, and perhaps in some cases even identification. [11]

The artists of Fluxus were committed to the acceptance and the investigation of nature's "musts," choosing in many cases to relinquish artistic control in favor of participation in, assimilation of, and identification with the processes of nature. Both Zen and Fluxus embody principles that entail a restructuring, and even ultimately an elimination, of the supposed boundaries between "life" and "art," between "I" and "other." In this paper I will examine certain aspects of Zen that resonate within some Fluxus performance, and which offer an alternative critical vocabulary, a provisional framework within which one can allow some aspects of Fluxus to be revealed.

• • • • •

Maybe you think that whatever Fluxus may be is contained in some postmodernist phenomenon—would it be any less wiser to look upon it as East-West protestism, catharticism, hinderism, buddyism, or confusionism? [12]

—Larry Miller

This paper came about, as many do, in an attempt to satisfy a curiosity. After establishing an initial connection with Fluxus material, I noticed that critics and even Fluxus artists would make the observation, now and again—quite frequently, in fact—that Fluxus was somehow like Zen, that Fluxus works were similar in some respects to Zen works or Zen koans. Unfortunately, no one has ever chosen to examine this observation in any significant detail. How and why is it the case that Fluxus works so often bring Zen to mind? On the one hand, there is Fluxus: the name of a loosely organized group of contemporary artists (and non-artists) who were examining, in the most radical ways, the limits of what constitutes "art." On the other hand, there is Zen: the name of a centuries-old, non-theistic religion whose practitioners examine, in the most radical ways, the limits of what constitutes "consciousness." Two distinctly different explorations of the limits of what defines us as human, true, but why even mention them in the same breath?

And supposing there is some connection between the two, why the attendant critical silence?

At the first pass, it seemed to me that both Zen and Fluxus were excruciatingly difficult to explain: somehow, no matter what words came to mind, they never appeared to be adequate to the task at hand; important details of the experience - including my experience - of both Zen and Fluxus invariably escaped exposition. Contradictions arose within each set of practices which systematically frustrated attempts to say anything definitive about either. After some time, and considerably more frustration, it became clear that my own difficulties in bringing about some sort of closure, some sort of totalizing definition, were the result of the very pretensions which Fluxus and Zen perpetually mock. Words, to paraphrase a Zen adage, are so many fingers pointing to the Flux-moon, and are not to be confused with the Flux-moon itself. Or as Dick Higgins points out: "We can talk about a thing, but we cannot talk a thing. It is always something else." [13]

This "something else" is what the artists of Fluxus, like the practitioners of Zen, have sought to interrogate. What the two hold in common is an insistent attitude of questioning: a revelation of the codes by which we come to frame the world, by which we come to receive the world as given and immutable. This questioning, unfolding through demonstration rather than discourse, indicates a cognitive shift away from the modernist understanding of the self as the inviolate center of being. Both Fluxus and Zen investigate the nebulous realms between conceptual categories: between subject and object, between vision and hearing, between high and low:

The reason intermedia is called intermedia and not multimedia is that it falls between categories… Every time it seems to take a direction or form a shape, something happens that just takes it out of it again. And Zen is doing the same number. It is falling between categories. This is one of the basic secrets of Zen. [14]

—Eric Andersen

In this discussion of a relationship between Fluxus and Zen, it is not my concern to determine a linear, causal relationship between the two - to research how and why specific artists at specific times took specific "inspiration" from Zen. Fluxus artists were, and remain, proudly omnivorous in their approaches to alternative modes of living and art- making, and so it would be an error to assert that any single artist found his or her philosophical base in the ways and means of Zen - and a graver error to imply that there was a universal interest in eastern philosophies amongst the participants of Fluxus. [15] Fluxus is too slippery for that; too slippery, indeed, for one to assert anything that will not fall short of presenting an accurate, comprehensive picture. With this in mind, it should be noted that this paper—like any paper that that claims to speak about Fluxus (or Zen, for that matter)—is tentative, provisional, and according to some, entirely off the mark. "Fluxus encompasses opposites," says George Brecht; no matter what one might think about it, "there is someone associated with Fluxus who agrees with you." [16] The contrary of this statement is also true: there is someone associated with Fluxus who disagrees with you. From a broader standpoint, however:

Every word I say contributes to the lie of art.

—LaMonte Young, "Lecture 1960"

All the scriptures are only paper good for wiping off shit.

—Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768)

• The Event.

event 'i-vent' n [MF or L; MF, fr. L eventus, fr. eventus, pp. of evenire to happen, fr. e- + venire to come - more at COME] 1 a : something that happens : OCCURRENCE b : a noteworthy happening c : a social occasion or activity 2 a archaic : OUTCOME b: the issue of a legal action as finally determined c : an outcome, condition, or event that is postulated < in the ~ that I am not there, call my house > 3 : any of the contests in a program of sports 4 : the fundamental entity of observed physical reality represented by a point designated by three coordinates of place and one of time in the space-time continuum postulated by the theory of relativity 5 : a subset of the possible outcomes of an experiment < 7 is an ~ in the throwing of two dice> syn see EFFECT, OCCURRENCE - event-less / -les / adj - at all events : in any case — in any event : in any case — in the event Brit : as it turns out [17]

The group, with few exceptions, that associates itself with Fluxus is irresponsible. It is my impression that many people just simply goof-off and pretend in a kind of very very nasty way, socially speaking, and certainly socially with respect to other artists, that they have certain superiority in their seemingly indifferent little activities such as a sneeze tomorrow or a finger is as good as a hole in the wall, or any of these little directives which if acted out are somehow to me important rather than unimportant so far as its effect is to say to me and others - 'You guys are doing important things, but look, we are even more important doing unimportant things.

- Allan Kaprow [18]

Throughout this century there has been a strain of art which has sought to eliminate the perceived boundaries between art and life. Contemporary chroniclers of the art scene of the early 1960s, as well as the artists themselves, were well aware of their predecessors in similar pursuits. Unlike, say, the Futurists of an earlier era, who saw themselves as a new breed, determined to liberate themselves from the weight of history and inherited cultural baggage, intermedia artists of the early 1960s were only too happy to point out antecedents for their work, as if to stake out their own place within an alternative lineage of artistic production, a marginalized history that stood outside and against the mainstream.

Fluxus was a group of nominally kindred spirits who together and separately surveyed the peripheral territories of their respective disciplines, or rather the margins between those disciplines. The new structures that resulted from these explorations tested received notions of the limits of the arts, as well as the limits of our ability to perceive those structures as art.

George Maciunas staked out the historical parameters of these territorial researches with a zeal bordering on the maniacal. Trained in architecture, graphic design and art history, Maciunas had a considerable attraction to structure and order; he has been described as "an obsessive/compulsive personality that accumulated, hoarded, classified, and dissected." [19] He was also a fan of film comedian Buster Keaton (1895-1966), and of Spike Jones (1911- 1965), the bandleader whose parodies of popular and classical music - incorporating in his orchestrations the sounds of pots and pans, car-horns, gunshots and kazoos - fused the boundaries between music and slapstick comedy. Maciunas's art historical essays took the form of charts: painstakingly drawn evolutionary diagrams of the newest occurrences in the arts (those new occurrences, that is, that were of interest to Maciunas). Perhaps the largest of these charts is his Diagram of Historical Development of Fluxus and Other 4 Dimentional, Aural, Optic, Olfactory, Epithelial and Tactile Art Forms (Incomplete), in which kudos are paid to Futurist Theater, Marcel Duchamp, Surrealism, Dada, Walt Disney Spectacles, Byzantine Iconoclasm, the Japanese Gutai Group, Vaudeville, Joseph Cornell, and many more—in short, a fairly broad spectrum of historical traditions and isolated phenomena which have in common a re-evaluation of accepted notions of structure, both aesthetic and ontological.

Zen is not mentioned on this chart. Nor would one necessarily expect to find it there. John Cage, however, is. Indeed, the chart, says Maciunas, "starts with what influenced Cage. Cage is definitely the central figure in the chart." In fact, he continues, "you could call the whole chart like 'Travels of John Cage' like you could say 'Travels of St. Paul,' you know? Wherever John Cage went he left a little John Cage group, which some admit, some not admit his influence. But the fact is there, that those groups formed after his visits. It shows up very clearly on the chart." [20]

"The argument goes like this," says the poet Emmett Williams, who is justifiably critical of the notion of a "direct influence" of Zen on Fluxus:

John Cage was a student of Daisetsu T. Suzuki, the Japanese religious philosopher who helped to make the Western world aware of the nature and importance of Zen. In turn, many of the activists on the American Fluxus scene studied with Cage, who opened a few of the Doors of Perception for them. Ergo: Fluxus has a direct connection with Zen.

It would be more accurate to say: Ergo: Fluxus has a direct connection with John Cage. But Cage is an artist and a teacher, not a Zen missionary, who also "studied" with Schönberg, Duchamp and Buckminster Fuller. Besides, there has been for many years a worldwide interest in Zen and other sects of Buddhism, and it would be surprising if Fluxus artists, generally a well-informed and well-travelled lot, were not aware of these disciplines, and of the value of meditation. [21]

John Cage, though certainly "not a Zen missionary," was one of the most important conduits of Eastern thought to the Western world. As if directly addressing Williams' concerns about Cage's own role in the foundation of Fluxthought (but speaking of Dada rather than Fluxus), Cage notes: "It is possible to make a connection between the two, but neither Dada nor Zen is a fixed tangible. They change; and in quite different ways in different places and times, they invigorate action." [22]

It was in large part through the activities and pedagogy of John Cage that both Dada and Zen came to invigorate action during the late 1950s. As Williams points out, Cage studied chess with Duchamp for a time, and was attracted in no small measure by the utopian thought of Fuller and the formal purity of Schönberg's music. And indeed, Cage attended lectures by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki at Columbia University from 1949 to 1951. Suzuki's thought played a great role in the formation of Cage's own production; Suzuki's teachings, he felt, enabled him to regard music "not as a communication from the artist to an audience, but rather as an activity of sounds in which the artist found a way to let sounds be themselves." [23] As a vehicle of signification, this approach could "open the minds of the people who made them or listened to them to other possibilities than they had previously considered…To widen their experience; particularly to undermine the making of value-judgements." [24]

In 1952, Cage had explored the opening of the mind to other possibilities in a piece entitled 4'33", in which the pianist, David Tudor, sat at a piano and did nothing except indicate the beginning and end of each of the three movements by shutting and lifting the piano's lid. During the piece itself, no sound is intentionally produced by the pianist on the instrument. Four minutes and thirty-three seconds of distinctly musical silence: Cage, a composer of music, has imposed as a framework a measure of time, and declared that whatever incidental sound occurs within this framework is a piece of music. With Cage came the notion that duration, sound and silence, rather than harmony, rhythm and melody, are the foundation blocks upon which musical experience is structured. With no melodic or harmonic passages to lead the listener through time, Cage's music ceases to function as narrative, but rather places the listener in the vertically structured space of synchrony - this moment in time. And time, as we have come to know it in this century, is interdependent with space.

It was the notion of opening to possibilities that Cage brought with him to the International Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt (1958), and which he shared with his classes in "Experimental Composition" at the New School for Social Research (1956- 1960). Numbered among the participants at Darmstadt were La Monte Young and Nam June Paik (Emmett Williams was also living in Darmstadt at this time). Among those who attended the New School classes, with varying degrees of regularity, were Dick Higgins, Al Hansen, Allan Kaprow, Toshi Ichiyanagi, George Brecht and Jackson Mac Low (Brecht and Mac Low had been invited to sit in by Cage), all of whom were to play pivotal roles in the development of intermedia. [25]

Cage's students were introduced to his understanding of music as time-space, and formulated their own methods for exploring these uncharted waters. On the one hand, students like Allan Kaprow and Al Hansen were impressed by the Cage/Dada notion of the "simultaneous presentation of unrelated events," and went on to create happenings, complex, multi-sensory constructions—what Fluxus artist Tomas Schmit called "the expressionistic, symbolistic, voluminous opera-type-of-thing" [26] —such as Kaprow's 1959 18 Happenings in 6 Parts.

George Brecht—for whom the Cage class was in part "a kind of confirmation" of "the thought of Suzuki that I'd already discovered on my own" [27] - was not so inclined to construct as to notice: "Composers, performers and auditors of music permit sound- experiences by arranging situations having sound as an aspect. But the theater is well lit. I cough; the seat cracks, and I can feel the vibration. Since there is no distraction, why choose sound as a common aspect?" [28] Brecht claimed to be "increasingly dissatisfied with an emphasis on the purely aural qualities of a situation," and so began to call his work, even his object-oriented work, "events." This word, he claims, "seemed closer to describing the total, multi-sensory experience I was interested in than any other…" [29] Rather than examining the extravagance and multi-sensory barrage that constituted many happenings, Brecht's work was "very private, like little enlightenments I wanted to communicate to my friends who would know what to do with them." [30]


• When the telephone rings, it is
allowed to continue ringing, until it stops.

• When the telephone rings, the receiver
is lifted, then replaced.

• When the telephone rings, it is answered.

          Performance note: Each event
          comprises all occurrences
          within its duration.

          Spring, 1961

"I don't take any credit for having written a score like telephone events," said Brecht in a radio program of May 1964. His role as "writer," in this instance, is that of the scripting of possibilities implicit in one's engagement with a ringing telephone. Brecht's addendum, noting that "Each event comprises all occurrences within its duration," informs the reader that the three performance possibilities listed may in fact be three individual perceptions of a single phenomenon. In contrast to the constructivist tendencies of the happenings, in which the ringing of a telephone becomes an aspect of a larger composition, Brecht isolates and focuses on the single phenomenon, revealing the multiplicity within that singularity. For Brecht, the "act of imagination or perception is in itself an arrangement, so there is no avoiding anyone making arrangements." It is therefore also seen as unnecessary to develop complex, polymorphic structures for presentation: a single telephone ringing provides sufficiently fertile ground for performance possibilities. It is the interaction between the percipient/performer and the object perceived that provides richness and diversity. Brecht's "little enlightenments" are acts of quotidian simplicity which are presented and noticed, or vice versa; indeed, Brecht declares, "the occurrence that would be of most interest to me would be the little occurrences in the street…" [31]

While Brecht may have coined the term "event" to refer to his "private little enlightenments," he was by no means the only individual investigating the realm of monostructural presentation. In 1960, La Monte Young produced a series of "Compositions" which built upon the ground of questioning opened up by John Cage's 4'33".

Composition #3 1960

Announce to the audience when the piece will
begin and end if there is a limit on duration.
It may be of any duration.

Then announce that everyone may do whatever
he wishes for the duration of the composition.

Similar in some respects to Cage's piece, principally in the use of duration as its limiting aspect, Young's work, a musical "composition," stretches the conception of performance by eliminating the need for a specifically musical instrument and performer, employing instead an "announcer" to simply indicate the boundaries of the event. The audience thus become the performers, and are given complete freedom to act within the established confines of the piece. While the work can still be understood as music, it is raw action and perception which themselves become the stuff of the performance, outside the limitations of our understanding of music as sound, silence and duration. In the following piece, Young questions the necessity of determining duration within a work, and examines the notion of synaesthesia, of a structured reversal or combination of perceptual acts, asking, "Isn't it wonderful if someone listens to something he is ordinarily supposed to look at?" [32]

Composition #5 1960

Turn a butterfly (or any number of butterflies) loose in the performance area. When the composition is over, be sure to allow the butterfly to fly away outside. The composition may be any length, but if an unlimited amount of time is available, the doors and windows may be opened before the butterfly is turned loose and the composition may be considered finished when the butterfly flies away.

The beating wings of a butterfly surely do produce sound - and can thus, by traditional standards, be appreciated as music - but this sound is certainly beyond the range of normal human perception. In such an extreme state, one becomes aware of the inability of a single mode of perception, in this case hearing, to reveal the totality of an object as it presents itself. The notion of a categorization or isolation of the senses, and consequently of the specific arts which are addressed to those isolated senses, comes under question. In order to understand an object in its totality, the perceiver must herself be perceiving as a totality. In a commentary to the sixteenth case of the Wumenguan (in Japanese, Mumonkan), a thirteenth century collection of koans, Wumen asks his reader:

Does sound come to the ear, or does the ear go to sound? Even if echoes and silence are both forgotten, when you reach this, how do you understand verbally? If you use your ears to listen, it will be hard to understand; only when you hear sound through your eyes will you be close. [33]

This is where matters begin to get interesting.

• The Big Problem of Naming Little Things.

A monk saw a cat and asked, "I call it a cat. Master, what do you call it?" Joshu said, "You calling it a cat." [34]

if naming: decided

- Ben Patterson [35]

Prof. Quincey Adams Wagstaff: Say, I used to know a fellow looked exactly like you, by the name of Emanuel Ravelli. Are you his brother?
Emanuel Ravelli: I am Emanuel Ravelli.
Wagstaff: You're Emanuel Ravelli?
Ravelli: I am Emanuel Ravelli.
Wagstaff: Well, no wonder you look like him. But I still insist, there is a resemblance.
Ravelli: Ha ha ha ha. Hey, he thinks I look alike.

- The Marx Brothers, from Horsefeathers

"There is, of course, one important thing that the masters of Zen and the masters of Fluxus have in common," notes Emmett Williams in his 1992 telling of the Fluxus story: "the extreme difficulty of explaining, to the outside world, exactly what it is that they are masters of." [36] While I disagree with Williams that this is the one important moment of commonality between Zen and Fluxus, William brings to light an important issue. Indeed, both Fluxus and Zen evade attempts to concretize them in language, attempts to effect their permanence, their stability.

Fluxus treads a strange terrain, a liminal space somewhere between words and silence. One of its key products are event scores, taut little propositions, exercises, or word- objects, usually printed on small, often disposable cards or sheets of paper.


smile —————————— stop to smile

C. Shiomi Feb. 1964 [37]

Hundreds of these event scores have been published over the past thirty years, and in many cases, they are all that remain of the events for which they served as the original impetus. The events themselves - elegant, ephemeral monostructural gestures which may be performed before an audience, alone or in a group, or in the mind - and the objects which are revealed within their structures, unfold in a space to which words have limited access: this space is not the space of language, nor of silence, but of being, or rather, becoming. [38]

Like Zen, Fluxus uses language to force a confrontation with the inadequacies of language, and posits instead a field of direct experience that eludes systematization.

The earliest moment of Buddhist performance and its critical reception is the stuff of legend. Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha (c. 560-480 B.C.E.), after attaining enlightenment, stood atop the Mount of the Vultures to offer a sermon to his disciples. Saying nothing, Shakyamuni held up a single golden lotus blossom before all those in attendance. His disciples were baffled by this gesture, save for one Mahakasyapa, who simply smiled in understanding. This circle of act and reception, the "transmission of the lamp" of enlightenment outside the constructs of the language of scripture, direct action with "no dependence on words and letters," came to constitute an essential paradigm of Zen's method and self-perception: Here it is; what is there to say?

The argument behind this method of disclosure, says Daisetz Suzuki, is simple, and quite beautiful:

The idea of direct method appealed to by the masters is to get hold of this fleeting life as it flees and not after it has flown. While it is fleeing, there is no time to recall memory or to build ideas. No reasoning avails here. Language may be used, but this has been associated too long with ideation, and has lost direction or being by itself. As soon as words are used, they express meaning, reasoning; they represent something not belonging to themselves; they have no direct connection with life, except being a faint echo or image of something that is no longer here. [39]

There's nothing mystical about this, really: a communication of what is true can certainly be expressed or contained in words - words themselves are dharmas, manifestations of reality - but it also suggests that transmission of understanding is independent of language, indeed, that language is something of a hindrance to genuine understanding. Zen Buddhism ultimately attempts to foster a direct, unmediated relationship between the mind and reality, an immediate experience of the world as such. This is no easy goal to achieve, given the preponderance of language in the structuring of our day-to-day experience of the world, and in the structuring of our own consciousness. It is language, after all, which comprises scripture and koan, as it is language which names the "butter" and "eggs" featured in Dick Higgins' May 1962 Danger Music Number Fifteen (For the Dance):

Work with butter and eggs for a time.

Yet the words which constitute this language are not themselves the beliefs contained within scripture, nor are they the eggs that were tossed about during the performance, and which I'm still rinsing out of my hair. A paradox thus presents itself. Language constitutes our subjective experience of the world, yet this very subjectivity simultaneously prevents us from experiencing the world in its suchness. Do we then discard language in order to gain access to an authentic experience of the world?

Yes and no. Chuang-tzu, one of the founders of philosophical Taoism, an important influence on the development of Zen in China, suggests that words be regarded as a net which is employed to catch fish; this net (known in Japanese as sengyo) is required to perform a task, but it is the fish themselves which are consumed: "Words," says Chuang-tzu, "are there to convey a profound meaning; we should keep the meaning and forget the words." [40]

One must cast one's net if one is to catch any fish at all. One must also be wary of becoming entangled in the net. Language must by necessity be employed as a tool, but in such a way that it will create the conditions in which it is no longer useful, a void in which its own absence can be filled by unmediated perception and direct action. The principal tool used by Rinzai Zen (one of the two major schools of Zen) to accomplish this end is the technique of kanna Zen - literally "Zen of the contemplation of words." The form of this contemplation is embodied in the koan.

The term koan is derived from the Chinese kung-an, which originally signified "a legal case constituting a precedent." [41] Koans have been used as a systematic medium of training since the 11th century, when the students of Lin-Chi (Rinzai in Japanese) compiled the discourses and sayings of their master into a single volume, the Rinzairoku. [42] A koan may take the form of a portion of a sutra, an episode from the life of one of the great masters of the tradition, a mondo (a baffling dialogue between master and student), or a paradox; in short, any form that will, through the use of words, ultimately engage the student in a direct relationship with reality. Rather than being theoretical or discursive in nature, the constitutive form of a given koan (question or statement and response) is an example of its own teaching, codified in language. Ruth Fuller Sasaki points out:

The koan is not a conundrum to be solved by a nimble wit. It is not a verbal psychiatric device for shocking the disintegrated ego of a student into some kind of stability. Nor, in my opinion, is it ever a paradoxical statement except to those who view it from the outside. When the koan is resolved it is realized to be a simple and clear statement made from the state of consciousness which it has helped awaken. [43]

The beginning student, however, has no notion of this, and struggles to seek an answer founded in the codes of language itself; after all, it is language which constitutes her very subjectivity. But how does one respond in language to a problem such as the familiar, classic koan: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Sitting on her solitary meditation cushion - legs locked in the lotus position, spine straight, hands folded in mudra, eyes half-open, breathing normally - the student begins to focus on the problem: One hand, the student may think, makes no noise at all; indeed, two hands are required for clapping. Tentatively, she will go to her roshi, or master, perhaps offering as a solution: "The one hand makes no sound at all." The roshi will deny the validity of this answer in some fashion (he might even strike the student, if this seems necessary, in order to bring the student into an immediate, incontestable appreciation of this moment), and the student will return to her problem. Time and again, she confronts the roshi with a solution, and time and again she is turned away. This state of affairs breeds a considerable and mounting tension. After some time, the problem becomes the single thought contained within the student's mind; there is room for nothing else. Finally, the tension has to break. [44]

The traditionally "correct" response to the problem of the one hand is this: the student thrusts her hand out toward the roshi, and says nothing. Effectively, this is something akin to saying, "Here is the sound. Listen." (In response to certain koans, the roshi may himself be slapped by the student, an appropriate gesture signifying, in part, the transcendence by the student of the master-student power relationship). Here then is a severing of the hand, if you would, and of the perceiving subject, from their linguistic correlatives. What is being presented is not "one" hand clapping, and not "two" (that is, not "not-one"), but the sound itself as such, beyond such a dualistic notion as "one"/"not-one": just this act presencing, a fact unfolding here before you. In short, an answer to a koan must be revealed experientially, as a demonstration or an example of the very principle it embodies.

What do koans have to do with Fluxus? Victor Musgrave, whose Gallery One hosted the 1962 Festival of Misfits, notes: "some of the Fluxus artists have…produced significant equivalents" to "the bandaged, all-seeing ambiguities of [Zen's] marvelous koan." He asserts that this is "the most formidable task that Fluxus artists have attempted." [45] I agree. But how do the artists of Fluxus engage this "formidable task"? How are Fluxus works the "significant equivalents" of koans?

It is important to note that, according to Musgrave, an equivalence is seen not between Fluxus work and Zen painting or haiku verse, but between Fluxus work and koans. Rather than compare the work of Fluxus artists to the expressions of the specific sensibility that accompanies Zen practice, Musgrave likens Fluxus events to the principal pedagogical tool of Zen, the koan. The Fluxus work is not an index of the performer's relationship with his or her materials, as the exquisite brushwork of a Zen painting traces the path of the scribe's hand and presence of "no-mind." Rather, the Fluxus work, like the koan, is the exposition of the path itself, the restructuring and presentation of a process of meaning-production. The form a work takes is the demonstration of the unfolding processes of its own presentation and reception. Like the circular, stimulus/response form of the koan, Fluxus "presentation," to quote Dick Higgins, "would always have to do somehow with the general principle that ideas could be displayed or demonstrated rather than argued for or against." [46]

• No-Hand.

No-Play #1.

          This is a play nobody must come and see. That is, the not-coming
of anyone makes the play. Together with very extensive advertising of the spectacle through newspapers, radio, T.V., private invitations, etc.…
          No one must be told not to come.
          No one should be told that he really shouldn't come.
          No one must be prevented from coming in any way whatsoever!!!
          But nobody must come, or there is no play.
          That is, if the spectators come, there is no play. And if no
spectators come, there is no play either…
          I mean, one way or the other, there is a play, but it is a No-Play.

- Robert Filliou (1964)

In 1976, Higgins formulated his "Exemplativist Manifesto," in which he outlines the mutable structures of what he terms exemplative work; that is, work in which "the idea is developed through its embodiment in the actual work, and thus the work is an instrument for conveying a thought-and-feeling complex by implying a set of examples of it." [47] George Brecht describes this notion as "an expression of maximum meaning with a minimal image, that is, the achievement of an art of multiple implications, through simple, even austere, means." [48] Exemplative work offers the audience/percipient/participant a construct of notation and performance, "an image of the set of possibilities intended by the artist." [49] The following snippet of conversation between George Brecht and Irmeline Lebeer gives an indication of how one might respond to a specific work:


GB How would you realize this?
IL Me? Oh… for example by pushing the piano into the center of the room.
GB And how would you choose the center of the room?
IL The center of the room? You can feel where that is, can't you?
GB You mean intuitively?
IL You could also strike a note in the middle of a piano. Or drop something on the strings in the middle of the piano.
GB Yes. There are lots of possibilities, aren't there?
IL And you? What did you do? You've already realized it yourself, no?
GB Yes. With my two index fingers I began to play the notes of the piano starting from the two ends until I found the note in the center.
IL Oh, of course. That's fantastic. In that case, that's the piece?
GB No, no—it's completely open. The realizations you've just made up are as good as any other. [50]

Event scores such as "Piano Piece" mark a culminating moment of what Umberto Eco described in 1959 as the "open work." Such works, notes Eco, "tend to encourage 'acts of conscious freedom' on the part of the performer and place him at the focal point of a network of limitless interrelations, among which he chooses to set up his own form without being influenced by any external necessity which definitively prescribes the organization of the work in hand." [51] Rather than presenting the conditions of an ideal performance—e.g., tempi, musical cues, specific notes to be played on specific instruments, colors, lighting, materials, etc. - the Fluxus event score suggests certain parameters in which the performer is free to determine his own form.

This suggestiveness, notes Eco, is the ability of the event score text to stimulate in a performer/reader the capacity to adapt his own inner life to that of the work being performed, "some deeper response that mirrors the subtler resonances underlying the text." [52] But where does one look for the "subtler resonances" in a text such as this one by Robert Watts, which simply reads:

winter event


Indeed, the performer of this work is faced with an object that is nearly tautological in its apparent simplicity. Such a work can not be regarded on its own merits - there's almost nothing here to be regarded. This is a work with virtually no intrinsic merit, no form of its own, no qualities of which to speak. Rather, as Eco says, it is "the focal point of a network of limitless interrelations," and as such, has an infinite potential number of possible realizations.

Now, rather than argue for or against this (we will return to this notion later in the paper), here's something the reader can do on his or her own that might help make the issue clearer. It's a piece by Fluxus artist Takehisa Kosugi called Chironomy 1 (Chironomy, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is "the art or science of moving the hands according to rule, as in pantomime or oratory"). The text of the piece reads:

Put out a hand from a window for a long time.

According to this text, the only tools needed to perform the piece are a hand, a window, and time (how much time constitutes "long time" is up to the performer). So choose a window, choose a hand, decide on a length of time, and perform the piece. The discussion will continue afterwards.

• • • • •

Like Watts' "winter event," the written text of Kosugi's piece, enjoining the performer to "Put out a hand from a window for a long time," says very little: it presents a simple image which offers nothing more than itself as proof, as baffling an injunction as it is apparently meaningless. What does it mean to "put out a hand from a window for a long time?" To search for meaning in the written text as a closed, autonomous form is futile; there's simply nothing there to explain, and no clue to understanding. One must look elsewhere for direction: Kosugi's text is a musical score; like any written musical score, one must perform the piece, follow its instruction in real-time, in order that it may reveal itself as meaningful.

The hand serves as the focusing element, a meditative stasis around which the world unfolds. During my own private performance of Chironomy 1, [53] I heard some yelling across the way, and the cry of a baby. Cars passed on the street below, there was a rich aroma of frying meat floating on the wind, and the soft hum of my computer on the desk nearby. After quite a few minutes of maintaining the gesture, I felt a slight pain in my forearm, a slow throb which worked its way up to my shoulder and the base of my neck. In the face of this pain, I became more determined to maintain the gesture, and soon it seemed clear that the piece, for me, was no longer one of formal duration - that is, was no longer concerned with the simple passing of time - but of endurance, of a body situated within a shifting, temporal network of physical and mental phenomena; this network in turn was brought to light by the body's situation within its structure, simultaneously inside and outside, revealed by the act of a single gesture presencing. In my performance of Chironomy 1, the gesturing hand - the distinct object named in Kosugi's text and thus initially the primary focus of my own consciousness - could not be located as an object independent of its context.

Kosugi described his own experience of Chironomy 1 as follows:

I did one performance related to this piece in an outdoor space in Kyoto. There was an outdoor stage, and there was an auditorium, and at the rear of the stage was a backdrop, a wall and a door. I just slightly opened the door and put my hand out. The audience could only see my hand. The opening in the door was very narrow, so I couldn't see the audience. So the outside space was so different; the hand was exposed to the audience, and this part, my body, was behind the wall, so I was very isolated. Psychologically very strange.

Window, door, the same thing. It is the passage between in and out, so one can shut the door, and make an inside and outside. Putting one part of the body through the window, it becomes part of the outside - but the body is the inside - psychologically, it's very unusual, very affecting to the consciousness. So this is a part of mine, and I'm exposing a part of the inside into a part of the outside. A kind of feedback. This part of my body, the hand, is very much a part of me. But if you expose it to the outside, and if there's a barrier between the hand and the body, then the hand could be independent - a little bit.

This side, my inside, and the outside, are so different, but still they are the same. So from the audience side, they can only see my hand. I can not see my hand. But as a total reality, they are the same thing. I have my hand with me, but I can not see it. The audience can see only my hand, but they can not see my body. So, take this chair as an example. Maybe it has another part and it is exposed to another dimension, but we can not see it. But everything is together. On the physical stage, it's just a chair.

A tactile experience, this piece. Eyes and ears are open; perhaps this makes the eyes and ears more sensitive. But most important is the hand: the hand is an antenna. [54]

What Kosugi has succeeded in creating is a wholly liminal state, a condition in which the notions of "interior" and "exterior" have been reversed, and finally revealed as inappropriate.

"In exemplative art," says Dick Higgins, "the action is always between: it cannot take place at any one pole without the conception of another. It is therefore:

                                  between the heart and the mind,
                                  between the personal and the objective,
                                  between the unitary and the general,
                                  between the warm and the cold,
(as af Klintberg put it) between the water and the stone." [55]

If an open window serves as a frame, it also functions as a space of transit and becoming, neither solely inside nor outside. When a body part, such as a hand - Kosugi also experimented with other body parts during his career - is positioned within that marginal space, our ability to locate the space, or to name the "isolated" body part within that space, is put into question. The body, as it enters the space of the margin, is neither inside nor outside - and it is both inside and outside. The apparent opposition of terms is unified - and nullified - through direct action. Both one and zero. Neither one nor zero. The sound of one hand clapping.

From a Buddhist perspective, there is no hand, no object, but for that act which enables the world to come to presence, and there is no world but for that context in which this hand reveals itself. Likewise, there can be no "subject" and no "object," but rather a relationship between the two which exists beyond one's ability to name them, or even perceive them, as isolated entities. Each is the cause of the other, each implies the existence of the other. It is thus conceptually inaccurate to distinguish between the two: they are one and the same thing. [56]

George Brecht examines the complexity of this mutual causation and the attendant problem of naming in this event score from Fall 1961:


Consider an object. Call what is not the object "other."

EXERCISE: Add to the object, from the "other," another
                    object, to form a new object and a new "other."
                    Repeat until there is no more "other."

EXERCISE: Take a part from the object and add it to the
                    "other," to form a new object and a new "other."
                    Repeat until there is no more object.

In attempting to create a "new object" from an "object" and an "other," it becomes clear that the "object" constitutes the "other," and vice versa. "What is 'it,"' says Chuang- tzu, "is also the 'other,' what is the 'other' is also 'it.'… Are there really It and Other? Or really no It and Other?" This question is ultimately unanswerable. "Therefore," says Chuang-tzu, "the glitter of glib debate is despised by the sage. The contrived "that's it' he does not use, but finds things in their places as usual. It is this I call 'throwing things open to the light."' [57]

This notion of "finding things in their places as usual" proved attractive for many of the artists involved in Fluxus. For Brecht, it came as something of a "surprise" when he "learned that George Maciunas in Germany and France, Cornelius Cardew and Robin Page in England, Kosugi, Kubota, Shiomi in Japan, and others had made public realizations of the pieces I had always waited to notice occurring" [my emphasis]. [58] Brecht's event scores—some of them, that is—can be seen as little exercises in concentrated attention, indices of phenomena yet to occur, virtual events waiting to be perceived or enacted. The participant in such exercises himself resides in a condition of relaxed awareness, attentive to shifting details in the noetic field - or perhaps he doesn't. Either way, Brecht's event scores serve to describe the parameters in which this attention - or distraction - is practiced.

• Attention.

The question is not: How much are you going to get out of it? Nor is it: How much are you going to put into it? But rather: How immediately are you going to say Yes to no matter what unpredictability, even when what happens seems to have no relation to what one thought was one's commitment?

- John Cage [59]

Theatre Music

Keep walking intently

- Takehisa Kosugi

Yün-men was asked: "What is the Tao?"
Yün-men replied: "Walk on!" [60]

From the beginning, intermedia was concerned with matters of noticing phenomena as they occurred, requiring an act of attention by the participant in order for the work itself to be realized. This posed a dramatic shift of roles for both artist and receiver: as Dick Higgins points out, the artist becomes the creator of a matrix, rather than a completed work; the role of the receiver becomes that of a participant and collaborator. [61] In effect, the receiver does not merely finish a work, but creates it anew with each performance. This is a position of considerable responsibility—a work can never be performed precisely the same way twice, and so one must be attentive to the work's unique process of unfolding. Jackson Mac Low, a poet and co-editor of the seminal collection of the new arts, An Anthology (1961), has given some attention to the practice of attention:

From Zen I gathered the conviction that giving one's complete attention to any dharma (perception, form, feeling, etc.) may lead to a direct insight into reality, and that such insight can free us from suffering, which, as Buddhism teaches, pervades all sentient existence. (Briefly, through this insight the world of suffering, or samsara, is revealed to be basically the world of blissful awareness, or nirvana.) This way of perceiving is often characterized in Buddhist literature as "choiceless awareness" or "bare attention."

Being "choicelessly aware" is perceiving phenomena - as far as possible - without attachment and without bias. Artworks may facilitate this kind of perception by presenting phenomena that are not chosen according to the tastes and predilections of the artists who make them. One way of doing this - though not the only way - is to bring phenomena (including language) to the perceivers of the artworks by means of chance operations or other relatively "nonegoic" methods in which the artist's tastes, passions and predilections intervene much less than when artworks are made in other, more traditional, ways. [62]

In this passage, Mac Low is concerned with the means of presenting, rather than with the content of presentation. Choiceless awareness can be facilitated by processes in which the participant, by "perceiving phenomena…without attachment and without bias," structures a psychic space in which each percept is as meaningful - or as meaningless - as any other. One method of creating this space, according to Walter De Maria's contribution to An Anthology, is to engage oneself in "Meaningless Work:"

By meaningless work I simply mean work which does not make you money or accomplish a conventional purpose. For instance putting wooden blocks from one box to another, then putting the blocks back to the original box, back and forth, back and forth etc., is a fine example of meaningless work. Or digging a hole, then covering it is another example. Filing letters in a filing cabinet could be considered meaningless work, only if one were not a secretary, and if one scattered the file on the floor periodically so that one didn't get any feeling of accomplishment…

Meaningless work is potentially the most abstract, concrete, individual, foolish, indeterminate, exactly determined, varied, important art-action-experience one can undertake today. This concept is not a joke. Try some meaningless work in the privacy of your own room. In fact, to be fully understood, meaningless work should be done alone or else it becomes entertainment for others and the reaction or lack of reaction of the art lover to the meaningless work can not be honestly felt.

Meaningless work can contain all of the best qualities of old art forms such as painting, writing etc. It can make you feel and think about yourself, the outside world, morality, reality, unconsciousness, nature, history, time, philosophy, nothing at all, politics, etc. without the limitations of the old art forms. [63]

De Maria's "Meaningless Work" is concerned specifically with process for its own sake. While it opens up a space in which one can "feel and think about yourself, the outside world," etc., such a result is a secondary function of the work. De Maria's principal concern is that the participant experience a complete engagement in the work-process, devoid of purpose. Such engagement may be enacted in a condition of either directed attention or unfocused distraction; the texture of the experience is inscribed within the parameters of this reception. The work itself offers no reward - the receiver will draw from the work what meaning he or she will. Dick Higgins enjoys this sort of activity for just this reason: "The nature of purposelessness interests me very much," he says. "It is a great source of mental refreshment to do something for no particular reason, especially when it is not interesting or refreshing. One simply becomes conscious of nothing in particular. That phenomenon is implicit in a lot of my work." [64]

The phenomenon is also present in much of the work of Ken Friedman, whose Scrub Piece - first performed in 1956, when Friedman was age six - stands as something of a paradigmatic piece of meaningless work:


On the first day of Spring,
go unannounced to a public monument.
Clean it thoroughly. [65]

From one perspective, the notion of meaningless work, "work which does not make you money or accomplish a conventional purpose," is an ironic commentary on the traditional role of the artist as a "bohemian" producer of autonomous, transcendental, "useless" objects. Indeed, George Maciunas believed Fluxus to be an intermediate step on the way to a total dissolution of art. In art's stead, he posited concretism and anti-art. The merit of the concrete artist, says Maciunas, "consists in creating a concept or method by which form can be created independently of him." [66] Maciunas's anti-art is concerned with dismantling the pretensions that accompany the notion of the artist. It is "directed against art as a profession, against the artificial separation of a performer from audience, or creator and spectator, or life and art: it is against the artificial forms or patterns or methods of art itself; it is against the purposefulness, formfulness and meaningfulness of art." For Maciunas, "Fluxus should become a way of life not a profession…Fluxus people must obtain their 'art' experience from everyday experiences, eating, working, etc." [67] And even further:

Anti-art is life, is nature, is true reality - it is one and all. Rainfall is anti-art, a babble of a crowd is anti-art, a flight of a butterfly, or movements of microbes is anti-art. They are as beautiful and as worth to be aware of as art itself. If man could experience the world, the concrete world surrounding him, (from mathematical ideas to physical matter) in the same way he experiences art, there would be no need for art, artists and similar "nonproductive" elements. [68]

For Maciunas, "anti-art," like nature, is ultimately the most complete sort of aesthetic experience, for it is presented without aesthetic intention; like rainfall, it just happens. Purposelessness - attentive engagement in a task simply in order to be engaged in engaging in a task - is thus a singularly radical conflation of the praxes of "art" and "life:" Anyone can do it. Yet as Jackson Mac Low points out, this purposelessness indeed becomes a purpose when it is employed to specifically political ends; that is, when "works such as ours are considered merely tools with which to do away with art and artists. There may be, as some critics express it, 'an anti-art moment' in such works, but this is subsumed in an immanently oppositional art with widened horizons." As Mac Low sees it, "the aesthetic of most artists associated with Fluxus is and always has been nearer to [John Cage's]"opening to the world" aesthetic than to Maciunas's anti-art position." [69]

The composer Philip Corner agrees, noting:

George wanted to use the expansion of aesthetic awareness to ultimately (he hoped, with a kind of radical-left ideological trapping) eliminate completely all art, worthless distractions from "real work," I guess this would have to finally include Fluxus too. While I saw it as an addition to every valid thing/activity already existing so that the culmination of that would be just the opposite—that all other work would become transformed to the artistic dimension. [70]

• Making a Salad.

There are no rules for composing salads, only a few generalizations and lots of room for experimentation. As you plan the salad, let the occasion and its use - appetizer, side dish, salad course, main course, or dessert - dictate the ingredients and the size.

• • • • •

In putting together a salad from the myriad combinations of foods and seasonings at hand, try to balance the textures, colors, and flavors…And, keep garnishes simple and edible. Often a dash of paprika or a sprig of watercress is sufficient. The best arrangements have a natural look, not one that seems artificially composed.

- Rodale's Basic Natural Foods Cookbook [71]

Alison Knowles often created situations of delicate, even mysterious, elegance in much of her early work. Her simplest and perhaps best known work, Proposition, was first performed on 21 October 1962 at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London: [72]

Make a salad.

Here is an act that is performed many times a day, in many different ways, by countless hungry individuals around the globe. [73] Knowles does not offer a recipe for a salad, does not elucidate the form the form that such a salad should take, but rather instructs the performer to act, to simply make a salad. Transplanted into the context of the concert hall, such an act becomes a specifically artistic or musical presentation - an unwritten contract between the performer and the audience that the work will be received within the horizon of art- or music-production.

Estera Milman: There's an awareness that the audience has, and that the
                        performer or performers have, of participating in a situation that
                        stands outside everyday experience.

Alison Knowles: Yes, there is. It's hard to define that ingredient, but it's what
                        made the making of the salad in London absolutely amazing.
                        Everybody handles lettuce and cucumbers, carrots, and blue cheese.
                        And yet it was…you could just hear every crack of the knife; there
                        were six of us mixing it in a huge pickle barrel… People finally
                        realized it was going to go on for a while, and they got angry and left.
                        Some came back after a while. [74]

There is a mode of heightened perception that attends the making of a salad within the four walls of the concert hall; one is ostensibly there, after all, to listen to music or experience a theatrical presentation. Yet, with a work such as position, peculiar reversal takes place which draws the work outside the contract of theatrical presentation: one becomes explicitly aware of a quotidian object/action as having become something extraordinary (ie, "art") by virtue of its context; one is immediately reminded of Marcel Duchamp's ntain1917, a common urinal signed by the artist and relocated into the space of the gallery, the museum and, ultimately, art historical discourse. But Knowles' salad-production makes an additional leap: such an action need not be supported by the structures of artistic presentation in order to be extraordinary. While one might return from viewing Fountain with a renewed awareness of and respect for the form of common urinals, and with a sense of the power of institutions to frame and shape our perceptions of the world, one does not henceforth experience the act of urination itself as an act of producing art. In Knowles' work, by contrast, there is nothing but the performance of an action. Clearly, such a work need not be performed in an Art Institute for it to become meaningful. Nor does it have to be perceived as meaningful in order for it to be performed at all. "Art" becomes "life," "life" becomes "art," and finally the distinction between the two becomes confused, superfluous. Knowles comments:

I think that many of the pieces are just simple refreshment pieces done for whatever day's work you have to do, supporting occurrences in life. It gives members of the audience the ball; they can make their own salad differently, even if they are doing it for their family…Whatever it is you have to touch and work with, you can make a kind of performance of it, but it has to be stripped of the hangings and accoutrements of theater. What happens is that a kind of revelation, no an emptiness, opens up. [75]

This quality of emptiness, says Knowles, is brought about through action performed "exactly, precisely and modestly." She notes: "That's why Zen is mentioned in terms of Fluxus event performing. The action is directed and precise with nothing added." [76]

By adhering to a strict procedure, by bracketing "artistic" intention and simply making a salad, the performer allows that action to come to presence as such, unfolding in a space between states of being art or non-art. The making of Knowles' salad—or your salad, or mine—is a narration of the condition of liminality itself, the disruption of the frames of reference in which the act of making a salad occurs: making a salad is not art, yet it is not simply making a salad. And of course, it is both.

• Just Sitting.

When walking, just walk,
When sitting, just sit,
Above all, don't wobble.

- Yunmen (964-949) [77]

The central practice of Zen is sitting meditation, or zazen. In Soto Zen, the second of the major schools, the use of koan has been virtually eliminated, and practical procedure has been minimized to this practice, "just sitting," a practice which one can apply when engaged in more complicated actions, such as making a salad, dripping, or playing baseball with a fruit. The act of sitting is perceived as a "dynamic stillness" — one sits in a rigorously prescribed posture, unmoving, yet constituted by interior processes in constant motion: the heart beats, blood courses through its vessels, air enters and is expelled from the lungs, the stomach churns away at its food…

In Robert Filliou's Yes - an action poem, performed on February 8th, 1965 at New York's Cafe au Go-Go, [78] Alison Knowles described in encyclopedic detail the physiological workings of the bodily functions of "the poet." The text of this portion of the performance is divided into sections entitled "Of the Necessity of Alimentation" (e.g. - "Once his food is chewed, the poet swallows it, and it passes down the gullet [or 'aesophagus'] into the stomach of the poet."), "The Blood of the Poet" ("As to quantity, blood constitutes five to seven per cent of the body weight of the poet."), "The Poet's Breathing," "The Excretion of the Poet" ("Under a microscope, one can see that the kidney contains many small tubules, which filter off waste material from his blood."), "The Brain of the Poet," and "Reproduction and Senses of the Adult Male Poet." As Knowles read this rather elaborate treatise, Filliou "sat cross-legged upstage, motionless and silent." As Knowles finished her description, Filliou the poet rose to his feet and recited Part Two of the poem, which consisted of the following:

Yes. As my name is Filliou, the title of the poem is:
It is an action poem and I am going to perform it.
Its score is:
           not deciding
           not choosing
           not wanting
           not owning
           aware of self
           wide awake
                            DOING NOTHING

Having actually already performed his score, sitting quietly and doing nothing during the preceding enumeration of his body's facticity, Filliou affirms his presence as body with a simple, resounding "Yes." He states his name, another fact. Filliou then proceeds to address mind, listing the qualities of a mind in an "ideal" state (at least from Filliou's perspective), a mind "aware of [it]self" as a unity, before, or rather with no regard for, the dualistic notions inherent in the acts of deciding (yes/no), choosing (between this/that), wanting and owning (that "out there," as opposed to what is already "in here"). The mind is "wide awake," but utterly receptive.

The body of the poet is demonstrated as a realm of supremely complex dynamism, of manifold facts and disclosures. Its systems are engaged in day-to-day processes that are taken for granted, but which, physiologically, constitute the poet's self as a living, breathing, bleeding, shitting entity. Even the skin of the poet is itself a process, home to "sensitive nerve endings which tell him when, what and whom he is touching." For Filliou, what unifies these disparate processes is not the enveloping sheath of skin, but the very act of "sitting quietly, doing nothing." This engagement with the world is a condition of concentrated, active dissociation from the human tendency to systematize and classify, to construct dualities. It forms the core and the strength of Filliou's work. It is "better," he says, "to accept all the possibilities in advance, and accepting them always, to remain beyond that region where everything is parcelled out, and everybody is owned by what he owns." This is the Filliou ideal, "the absolute secret I took from soto Zen tradition." [79] It is this same condition, this same ideal, that in Buddhism is known as samadhi..

• Music For a Revolution.

In 1961, a number of music students at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, including Takehisa Kosugi, Yasunao Tone and Mieko Shiomi - all of whom were ultimately to be connected with Fluxus - formed an organization called Group Ongaku ("Music Group"). This group, an offshoot of a musicology class, examined the nature and limits of the operations by which perceptible phenomena come to be received as music. Of considerable importance to the members of Group Ongaku was the concept of the objet sonore, "sound as an object, rather than as an element in a musical piece." [80] The transformation of the reception of music, from a specifically listenable object to a generally perceptible object, is described here by Mieko Shiomi:

One day in school, while I was performing our improvisational music, I got tired of loud and rich sounds. I started tossing a bunch of keys to the ceiling to make an ostinato, with its faint sound. And while I kept doing it, I began to look at my performance objectively as a whole, and I noticed that I was performing an action of tossing keys, not playing keys to make sound. This was the turning point, when I became concerned with action music or events. [81]

Takehisa Kosugi elaborates on this transformation, the expansion of the sphere of music:

The sound object is not always music, but action, action. Sometimes no sound, just action. Opening a window is a beautiful action, even if there's no sound. It's part of the performance. For me that was very important, opening my eyes and ears to combining the non-musical part and the musical part of action. In my concerts, music became this totality, so even if there was no sound I said it was music. Confusing. This is how I opened my eyes to chaos. [82]

Kosugi's "confusion" about music as a totality was in fact a redefinition of the terms which limit music to perception by the ears alone - indeed, as Kosugi points out, his questioning of these terms as "musical" is an opening of the eyes to chaos. Kosugi's explorations of this chaos resulted in works that examine the nature of breathing:


Breath by oneself or have something breathed
for the number of times which you have decided
at the performance.
Each number must contain breath – in – hold - out.
Instruments may be used incidentally.



Keep walking intently

close inspection of an object:


Watch over every part of Mr. Y's body about
10 cm. apart when he brushes his teeth.
If it is dark, a flashlight may be used.
If it is bright, a magnifying glass may be used.

Like George Brecht's event scores, Kosugi's work can certainly be seen as a series of "little enlightenments," revelatory examinations of common minutiae. In Music For A Revolution, perhaps Kosugi's most memorable event score, the process of "enlightenment," of throwing things open to the light—opening the eyes to chaos—is simultaneously a descent into the gruesome darkness of not-knowing:

Scoop out one of your eyes 5 years from now and
do the same with the other eye 5 years later.

This is music, says Kosugi: music for a revolution in perception, a revolution in consciousness:

Politically at that time there were many movements in Japan and the world. People wanted some kind of social revolution, but of course it was not realistic, changing society. And I thought changing, revolution, should be done by individual people, revolutions in consciousness. Dada and Surrealism - these offered imaginative, logical, practical, artistic approaches for seeing inside. Of course art activity in itself is a seeing-inside, a reflection from in and out, a feedback. So revolution should be done inside first. And yoga was a kind of training for me, like Zen, which is about self-revolution. This is one part of my thinking: self-revolution.

And then I met the awful, beautiful but awful, magical images of the Luis Buñuel film Le Chien Andalou. You know the image: cutting the eye with the razor. And it was so shocking, but the total film image was so gorgeous. It's a daytime dream. Cutting the eye, taking only the visual function. As an allegory it means we open our eyes to an unopened part of existence. So shocking, but such a strong message to our consciousness. This image is so cruel, it was hateful to me. But I took that message and brought that image into my own work. Scooping out eyes. Before opening eyes, there's a stage of consciousness of normal eyes. Beyond that, we have another consciousness. My idea was to open consciousness. [84]

Kosugi points out that Music For A Revolution "marked a sort of conceptual shift in my music. Seeing and hearing are the same thing. Opening a door became a part of music, as a function of performance. While you listen to the sound, you can see the sky…it's a combination. So I thought, this combination is music. Normally music means for ears, sounds. But for my concerts, music became much bigger, not limited. This is a kind of confusion." [85]

The confusion of this transformative shift in perception elicited by both Music For A Revolution and the eye-slashing scene of Un Chien Andalou is echoed in the work of other Fluxus associates. Daniel Spoerri created Lunettes Noires, or Fakir's Spectacles (1964), a pair of eyeglasses with needles extending inward from each of the lenses. Clearly indebted to Man Ray's Cadeau (1921) - a clothes iron which has been studded with nails, rendering it not merely useless but counter-productive to its initial intention, the proper maintenance of clothing - Spoerri's spectacles create a terrifying paradox: this tool, originally intended to correct a dysfunction of vision, will now destroy the eyes. Other Fluxus work that explores the transformative power of sensory deprivation and deterritorialization include Ay-O's Black Hole (1990), a permanent installation in the basement of the Emily Harvey Gallery in New York - bereft of vision, one must work one's way through a lightless passage, relying solely on a single handrail for guidance; and Ben Patterson's Tour (1963), in which a group of participants are blindfolded and led through the streets of a city - like much of Patterson's work, Tour is an inquiry into the realm of interpersonal communication, particularly the limits of trust. In these works, one is denied the naturalized primacy of (and the consequent dependence upon) the visual frame, and so one must restructure one's apparatus for positioning oneself in the world, reconstitute and reframe the world within the expanded field of the entire sensorium or, as Patterson's Tour indicates, within the network of social relations.

This perceptual deterritorialization is made particularly palpable in Music For A Revolution. Like the collapse of vision prompted by the slash of the surrealist razor, Kosugi's scooping of the eyes is a clinical, mechanical process, an invasion of the body's integrity. Yet, in contrast to the terrifying suddenness of the surrealist razor, Kosugi's revolution - equally terrifying - is a slow process, unfolding in three stages over the course of more than ten years:

1) Having determined to perform the piece, the performer has five years in which to anticipate the removal of the first eye.

2) Single-eyed after a period of five years, the performer necessarily undergoes a period of adjustment; having just lost the sense of visual depth, the performer's other senses—particularly that of hearing, the seat of balance—become more acute, compensating for the loss.

3) Blackness. After ten years, all that remain are the senses of hearing, touch, taste and smell, as well as the memory of sight. The adjustment continues, and becomes complete.

• • • • •

"Self-revolution must take a long time," says Kosugi. "Time is a cushion for transformation." [86] In Japan, perhaps the most well-known figure of transformation is Daruma. Throughout Japan in bars, restaurants, store windows, temples and private homes, one finds small votive figures by this name, representations of Daruma, or Bodhidharma (d. 532), the first patriarch of Zen, who brought the teachings of Shakyamuni from India to the East. [87] Esteemed as harbingers of good fortune, Daruma figures are believed to assist in the achievement of goals and the attainment of wishes. They are short and squat, usually mustachioed, and they have no eyes.

A Daruma is acquired eyeless, and the purchaser paints in one of the eyes when he or she makes a wish, or determines to set out on a goal-achieving path. When the goal is finally achieved, the second eye is painted in, and the Daruma is complete.

This becomes meaningful, and perhaps even sheds light on Music For A Revolution, when seen with respect to the life of Bodhidharma. It is said that Daruma spent nine years facing a wall sitting in zazen, hell-bent on satori, or enlightenment. According to legend, he never moved from the spot, so earnest was he in his pursuit, and so over the course of time his legs atrophied, just withered away. But he achieved his goal of enlightenment; he lost his legs, but gained in-sight in that peculiar sacrifice. Like Bodhidharma himself, the little Daruma figures, always legless— they wobble but they don't fall down - only fully "see" when one has attained one's goal, a goal which ostensibly has been pursued earnestly and with great effort.

In Music For A Revolution, a reversal of this order takes place: in sacrificing one's sight, one regains one's legs, as well as ears, nose, tongue…; in short, one becomes embodied within a strange new sensorium, a beginner in one's own body, fully present. In Zen, this shift is directed from the senses to the essence of mind. Here, in an extraordinary passage by Nyojo (1163-1228), the teacher of Dogen, founder of the Soto school of Zen, we are given explicit instructions on how to affect this shift:

You should "gouge out" your eyes and see nothing at all - after that there will be nothing you don't see; only then can it be called seeing… You should "block off" your ears and hear nothing at all - after that there will be nothing you don't hear; only then can it be called hearing… You should "knock off" your nose and not distinguish smells - after that there will be none you can't distinguish; only then can it be called smelling… You should "pull out" your tongue, so that the world is silent - after that your ebullience will be uninterrupted; only then can it be called speaking… You should "slough off" the physical elements and be completely independent - after that you manifest forms adapting to various types; only then can it be called person… You should permanently stop clinging thought, so the incalculable ages are empty - after that arising and vanishing continue unceasing; only then can it be called consciousness. [88]

• Returning to the Source.

       In Kyoto…I had a concert at Yamaichi Hall. It was called "The Strip-tease Show" (it was stripping of the mind). When I met the High Monk the next day, he seemed a bit dissatisfied.
       "I went to your concert," he said.
       "Thank you, did you like it?"
       "Well, why did you have those three chairs on the stage and call it a strip-tease by three."
       "If it is a chair or stone or woman, it is the same thing, my Monk."
       "Where is the music?"
       "The music is in the mind, my Monk."
       "But that is the same with what we are doing, aren't you an avant-garde composer?"

—Yoko Ono [89]

In much of her early work, Yoko Ono engaged a patently mystical investigation in which she studied the nature of the "unceasing arising and vanishing" called consciousness. Her work questions our construction of the real, a construction bound to the mediation of reason and the stabilizing function of language. Often taking the form of paradoxes - insoluble by reason - Ono's meditative works demand an intuitive response from the participant. Other works engage the participant in intense, silent examinations or revelations of minutiae normally unheeded - and often unimaginable - within the course of daily life. In creating such works, Ono seeks to establish a psychic space beyond the intervention of dualistic discourse, a space of unthinkable thought.

"The mind is omnipresent, events in life never happen alone and the history is forever increasing its volume," says Ono. "The natural state of life and mind is complexity. At this point, what art can offer (if it can at all - to me it seems) is an absence of complexity, a vacuum through which you are led to a state of complete relaxation of mind."

At first glance, Ono's statement calling for an "absence of complexity" recalls the oft-quoted words of Henri Matisse: "What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which might be for every mental worker, be he businessman or writer, something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue." [90] Indeed, art, for Ono as for Matisse, is seen as an antidote to the "complexities" of contemporary life. In her early works, like those of Matisse all "devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter," Ono seeks temporarily to transcend the quotidian, to set a space apart for contemplation. Yet the serenity offered by Yoko Ono's work is not that of Matisse's "good armchair;" the weary bourgeois rises from an armchair refreshed and reassured, but Ono makes no such promises for her work. She adds: "After that you may return to the complexity of life again, it may not be the same, or it may be, or you may never return, but that is your problem." One is changed by the work only inasmuch as one allows or discovers in oneself the capacity to be transformed by, and to transform, the experience:

Sun Piece

Watch the sun until it becomes square. [91]

—y.o. 1962 winter

In a "footnote to my lecture of January 13th, 1966" at Wesleyan University, Ono asks: "Didn't Christ say that it was like a camel trying to pass through a needle hole, for John cage to go to heaven?" Cage, according to Ono an epitome of "mental richness," is ultimately as deluded and vainglorious as the materially rich man of Jesus Christ's original proverb. Ono's concerns during her early years of activity are primarily spiritual; in contrast to the "mental richness" of Cage, as well as to the comparative extravagance of happenings, she assumes and prescribes the role of the ascetic: "I think it is nice to abandon what you have as much as possible, as many mental possessions as the physical ones, as they clutter your mind. It is nice to maintain poverty of environment, sound, thinking and belief. It is nice to keep oneself small, like a grain of rice, instead of expanding. Make yourself dispensable, like paper. See little, hear little, and think little."

Lighting Piece

Light a match and watch
till it goes out.

- y.o. 1965 autumn

Ono asks: "After unblocking one's mind, by dispensing with visual, auditory, and kinetic perceptions, what will come out of us? Will there be anything? I wonder." A key aspect of Ono's work is her desire to dispense with sensory stimuli altogether, creating works which seek to focus the participant's attention on a solitary idea or perception. Possessing little, dispensable as paper, concerned with ostensibly insignificant details of experience, the participant stands in direct confrontation with Western traditions of accumulation, reason and utility. Now there is only this match, burning for no practical purpose. It lights no cigarette, destroys no property, starts no cooking fire - yet potentially it may perform any of these functions. The match simply consumes itself, leaving only ash behind. The only object, says Ono, is the image of the match that has been constructed in the mind.

The spiritual intention of this sort of monostructural presentation is made explicit in Ono's work, and it is echoed to varying degree in the work of her Fluxus compatriots. Her outspoken asceticism reminds one that the role of the ascetic in history has traditionally been that of the revolutionary: one need only think of Siddhartha Gotama, Saint Francis of Assisi, Matatma Gandhi. Now, while it is not my intention to nominate Ono, or any other Fluxus artist, for sainthood, it should be recognized that the assumption of such an ascetic posture was in effect conceived as a powerful revolutionary tool during this period, a denial of the material surplus and icy logic that, in two brief flashes, had made possible the deaths of thousands upon thousands of Japanese during the summer of 1945. As Ben Patterson has pointed out:

Perhaps, the one thing everyone forgets or represses is that I, and my generation of Fluxus artists, were all more or less twelve to fourteen years old when the first atomic bomb exploded and left its mark on civilization. Perhaps only Zen or existentialism could begin to deal with such finality… [92]

It is clear from reading Ono's "To the Wesleyan People"—which seems to function as her manifesto—that she was quite compelled by Zen thought. "If my music seems to require physical silence," she says, "that is because it requires concentration to yourself— and this requires inner silence which may lead to outer silence as well. I think of my music more as a practice (gyo) than a music." Gyo is a technical term derived from Zen; expressed more fully, the term is Gyo-ju-za-ga. Translated literally, this means "practice-walking-sitting-lying," suggesting that one should maintain Zen practice during all activities of daily life. [93] It is bare, undivided attention, the very sort of attention that Ono seems to require in her Lighting Piece, a work of music-as-practice; a practice of complete awareness of a single Dharma, an object coming to presence in the fullness of its being, outside the frameworks imposed by utility.

Ono's metaphysics is clearly indebted to the more hermetic, intuitive aspects of Zen. In her essay, Ono quotes two Zen poems, one by Shen-hsiu, who was a contender for the role of sixth patriarch of Zen, and who went on to establish the Northern school of Zen, noted for its gradual approach to enlightenment and its reliance upon intellectual understanding of the sutras:

The mind is like the Bodhi Tree [94]
The mind like a bright mirror standing
Take care to wipe it all the time
And allow no dust to cling.

The other poem, a response to that of Shen-hsiu, is by Hui-neng, who rose from the role of monastery cook to that of the sixth patriarch as a result of this response. Hui-neng's brand of Zen, the Southern school, stressed an intuitive leap into the immediacy of experience, apart from any intellectual understanding. This method is one in which a radical doubt is shed on the stability and isolability of the object:

There never was a Bodhi Tree
Nor bright mirror shining
Fundamentally, not one thing exists
So where is the dust to cling?

It is with Hui-neng that Ono has the greatest affinity. In an undated work, she seems to pay homage to the sixth patriarch:

Wind Piece

Make a way for the wind.

This was first performed in 1962 at the Sogetsu Art Center, Tokyo, with a huge electric fan on the stage. In 1966 at Wesleyan University, Connecticut, the audience was asked to move their chairs a little and make a narrow aisle for the wind to pass through. No wind was created with special means.

As part of the score itself, Ono describes two distinctly different performances, one in which the wind was created by a "huge electric fan," and the other in which "no wind was created with special means." In the latter performance, was there a wind at all? Why does Ono need to mention specific examples of performances? In the following koan, the twenty- ninth case of the Wumenguan, Hui-neng addresses the problem of wind in a language that is - at least in translation - remarkable in its similarity to Ono's own rhetorical style:

Once when the wind was whipping the banner of a temple, the Sixth Patriarch of Zen witnessed two monks debating about it. One said the banner was moving, one said the wind was moving.

They argued back and forth without attaining the principle, so the Patriarch said, "This is not the movement of the wind, nor the movement of the banner; it is the movement of your minds."

The two monks were both awestruck. [95]

As a further critical illustration of what I believe to be the guiding structural principle of Ono's Wind Piece, here's a passage written in 1233 by Dogen, the founder of the Soto school of Zen:

Zen master Hotetsu was using a fan. A monk asked him about this: "The nature of wind is eternal and all-pervasive - why then do you use a fan?" The master said, "You only know the nature of wind is eternal, but do not yet know the principle of its omniscience." The monk asked, "What is the principle of its omniscience?" The master just fanned. The monk bowed. [96]

The "principle of omniscience" of which Hotetsu speaks is simply wind itself; the act of fanning is the demonstration of that principle, rather than a theoretical, verbal explication of such. Meaning is conveyed by direct engagement, uncodified, manifesting itself in a space which pre-exists language. The content of the expression is the expression of the content. Fanning is an example, an embodiment, of wind, or rather of wind-ing, an action, a becoming which won't stand still long enough for one to apply the grid of language. The wind, the object in question, is what one does.

Yet, if this sheds any light on Ono's use of a fan to create wind for her performance at the Sogetsu art Center, how does it explain the performance at Wesleyan in which "no wind was created with special means?" Clearly, at an indoor performance there will be no perceptible wind of which to speak. Where is the movement of the wind? As Hui-neng points out, it is no different than the movement of the mind. Ono seems to concur, declaring, "my interest is mainly 'painting to construct in your head:"'

In your head, for instance, it is possible for a straight line to exist - not as a segment of a curve but as a straight line. Also, a line can be straight, curved and something else at the same time. A dot can exist as a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, dimensional object all at the same time or at various times in different combinations as you wish to perceive. The movement of the molecule can be continuum and discontinuum at the same time. It can be with color and/or without. There is no visual object that does not exist in comparison to or simultaneously with other objects, but these characteristics can be eliminated if you wish. A sunset can go on for days. You can eat up all the clouds in the sky.

In short, the mind, as Ono perceives it, is able to simultaneously embrace contraries, can reconcile the poles of dualities - dualities which exist only as constructs of language. This is also the perception of Zen, as it is of many mystical traditions, both Eastern and Western ("Eastern"?/"Western"?). And, as Ono suggests, it is the case in contemporary physics, where, for example, light is simultaneously conceived as wave ("continuum") and particle ("discontinuum"). This, at last, is the realm of non-sense, the bottom line of both physics and metaphysics. Here our notions of the stability of physical phenomena are overturned, as both the limits of logic and the bounds of certainty offered by faith are tested. Our efforts to frame the world invariably come off as provisional, subjective and, ultimately, false.

• An Infinite Number of Variables.

Intermedia makes no sense. It has absolutely no meaning. There is no focus to the work. You can not define what is actually included in the work and what is excluded from the work. There are no limits to it…It doesn't comment on anything, it doesn't change your opinion about anything, it's not a reflection of anything. It is something…it's reality, it's plain reality. It's not specific, it's very general, as general as the rest of the world. Certainly not specific…Sometimes you don't know if the work happens at all…

- Eric Andersen [97]

In 1959, Alan Watts, arguably the most important Western exponent and disseminator of Eastern philosophies at mid-century, lodged his complaints against "Western artists avowedly using Zen to justify the indiscriminate framing of simply anything—blank canvases, totally silent music, torn up bits of paper dropped on a board and stuck where they fall, or dense masses of mangled wire." [98] While Watts admits that "it is indeed the basic intuition of Zen that there is an ultimate standpoint from which 'anything goes,"' he declares, "this standpoint does not exclude and is not hostile towards the distinction between right and wrong at other levels and in more limited frames of reference." [99]

Watts proceeds to point out that it is precisely the artist's ability to frame reality that sets his work apart from nature: "every work of art involves a frame. A frame of some kind is precisely what distinguishes a painting, a poem, a musical composition, a play, a dance, or a piece of sculpture from the rest of the world." Framing and lighting, he says, are the tools which create "marvelous compositions" in the hands of a truly skilled photographer. An unskilled photographer will create "only messes, for he does not know how to place the frame, the border of the picture, where it will be in relation to the contents. How eloquently this demonstrates that as soon as we introduce a frame anything does not go." [100]

As we have seen, it is this notion of framing as a function of mastery and power that the artists of Fluxus questioned relentlessly. The emergence of intermedia, a range of structures that lay between media, was an extraordinary manifestation of this questioning. At a period in aesthetic thinking characterized by Clement Greenberg, Abstract Expressionism and serial music, all seeking to foster the self-reflexivity of media - that is, which claimed that the genius of modernism lays precisely in that each medium increasingly comes to express its own materiality, limits and language - the notion of intermedia was radical, at the very least. [101] But the artists of Fluxus went a step further, questioning the enframing of the artist him- or herself as a site of privilege, whose mastery lends special weight to aesthetic choices.

George Brecht, two years before the publication of Watts' essay, appraised the role of chance in the work of Jackson Pollock, noting that the most remarkable aspects of Pollock's work happen beyond the artist's ability, conscious or unconscious as it may be, to assert total control over his materials. Unconscious production, or better, "improvisation," is still a form of control, a framing, a function of the interiorization and mastery of a set of learned skills and familiar materials. For the experienced artist such as Pollock, or Watts' master photographer, skills have been internalized to the point where production becomes naturalized, becomes "second nature," as it were; as such, the works produced by the artist occur with the apparent effortlessness and certainty of natural force. In a sense, this is indeed the "Zen" of the arts.

But for Brecht, trained as a scientist, the value of Pollock's work is strictly a technical matter. He sees the intervention of an "infinite number of variables," such as "paint viscosity, density, rate of flow at any instant; and direction, speed and configuration of the applicator, to say nothing of non-uniformity in the paint," as mitigating the artist's power of absolute expression. Brecht cites Pollock's One, 1950, as an example of an exercise in which "differently-colored streams of paint have flowed into each other after application, resulting in a commingling completely out of the artist's hands." [102]

What is of greatest concern to Brecht are the microscopic, natural processes which occur beyond the artist's capacity to assert his will over them, as the paint settles into itself, drip melting into drip. At this level of occurrence, the notion of "paint" on "canvas" no longer makes any sense; in the realm of the molecular, paint might just as well be molten lava, hurricane winds or tomato sauce. If this is the case, according to Brecht, then it is no longer valuable to regard the artist as the producer of extraordinary objects, as these objects are no longer perceived as set apart from any other object in nature. The physical laws of a painting are no different than the physical laws that govern nature itself. To subject this continuum to an arbitrary fragmentation - the function of a choosing subjectivity - is seen by Brecht as a pretension in direct conflict with natural law.

Alan Watts contends:

Some artists may argue that they do not want their works to be distinguishable from the total universe, but if this be so they should not frame them in galleries and concert halls. Above all they should not sign them or sell them. This is as immoral as selling the moon or signing one's name to a mountain. [103]

Here Watts makes an important point. The artist, if she has no wish for her work to be considered "art"- as here opposed to "the total universe" - should avoid framing devices of every sort, should not commodify, or even present, the work in any way. But can such a task be accomplished? Can an artist create an artwork that transports none of the signs of being "art"? For George Brecht, the artist, and the images produced by the artist, are simply manifestations of nature:

Here I would like to introduce the general term "chance-imagery" to apply to our formation of images resulting from chance, wherever these occur in nature. (The word "imagery" is intentionally ambiguous enough, I think, to apply either to the physical act of creating an image out of real materials, or to the formation of an image in the mind, say by abstraction from a more complex system.) One reason for doing this is to place the painter's, musician's, poet's, dancer's chance images in the same conceptual category as natural chance-images (the configuration of meadow grasses, the arrangement of stones on a brook bottom), and to get away from the idea that an artist makes something "special" and beyond the world of ordinary things. An Alpine peak or an iris petal can move us at times with all the subtle power of a "Night Watch" or one of the profound themes of Opus 131. There is no a priori reason why moving images should originate only with artists. [104]

With no clear distinction between "art" and "nature," or between "artist" and "nature," there opens up a democratized field of production in which anyone can fulfill the role of an artist, in which anything - anything fully an example of itself - can be appreciated as a "unique" work, that is, as nothing particularly special or extraordinary. "Act of imagination or perception is in itself an arrangement," say Brecht, "so there is no avoiding anyone making arrangements." How then can one create a work that is not art? One response is simply to call everything art, as in this 1967 work by Ben Vautier:


       at your

And this 1973 score by Ken Friedman:


Choreography considered as the motion between
your present position and your next position.

In these works, however, a question arises. If everything is "art," if every object is "sculpture," if every movement is "dance," then what becomes of "art," "dance," "sculpture"? How can these terms continue to maintain any power of signification? Vautier and Friedman have made efforts to entirely collapse the traditional oppositions of sculpture/non-sculpture and dance/non-dance, and in doing so, have created specifically anti- art works. Yet there remains an attachment to the notions of "sculpture," of "dance," and so, of "art." The terms "anti-art" and "non-art" acquire meaning only inasmuch as they are the oppositional and complementary terms for "art." "Art," its parameters indeed broadened by such works, remains as an enframing.

As George Brecht points out, the distinctions between "art" and "non-art," between what is "inside" the frame and "outside" the frame, are inappropriate, arbitrary, and without real meaning. [105] Brecht addresses this arduous, paradoxical problem in a 1972 interview with Robin Page, presenting a challenge to "anybody who thinks they're making art, or non-art: to make a work which cannot possibly be considered art. There's the problem. Send your letters to George Brecht…and I'll send you something in return…unless I'm too busy." [106] The artist presents the problem, then sits back to read his collection of "thrillers," leading a perfectly inartistic life as others fumble through the semantic labyrinth. [107] The artist himself has become an exemplative work, the embodiment of his own idea. The difficulties presented by Brecht's proposition are echoed in this Zen tale of Mañjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom:

One day Mañjusri, ordering Sudhana to bring him a medicinal herb, added, "Search for an herb that is not medicinal." Sudhana went out and searched for one such, but in vain. He came back and announced, "There is not a herb in the field that is not medicinal." Mañjusri said, "Bring then what is medicinal." Sudhana just picked any herb growing around there and handed it over to Mañjusri, who took it up and made this declaration: "This herb is medicinal: it takes life, it also gives life." [108]

• Objects Making Mischief.

A monk asked: "To transcend the Buddha—what is that like?"
Joshu clapped his hands and roared with laughter. [109]

When the best student hears about the way
He practices it assiduously;
When the average student hears about the way
It seems to him one moment there and gone the next;
When the worst student hears about the way
He laughs out loud.
If he did not laugh
It would be unworthy of being the way.

- Tao Te Ching, Chapter 41 [110]

Stupidity and beautifulness together is very profound.

- Takehisa Kosugi. [111]

For George Maciunas, the decentering of the artist's position of mastery and privilege, and the attendant reconstitution of the art object within the expanded field of natural processes, had inherently revolutionary applications. In the chart below, clearly a manifesto (although like all Fluxus "manifestos" it is unsigned, and was no doubt widely disputed), Maciunas outlines his view of the difference between the functions of traditional art as practiced in contemporary capitalist society and what he calls "Fluxus Art-Amusement:" [112]

[Fluxus Art-Amusement Chart here]

In regarding the Fluxus phenomena as "art-amusement," George Maciunas has pinpointed an essential ingredient for an art of genuinely subversive power, an interruptive art that questions the power and pretensions of both frame and framer: laughter. As Dick Higgins points out, the art world into which Fluxus was born was dominated by abstract expressionism in visual art and post-Webernite serialism in music, both of which "were apt to be extremely solemn and tendentious affairs indeed." Seriousness, he notes, "tended often to be equated with solemnity. Fluxus tended often to react against this by moving in the direction of humor and gags, introducing a much-needed spirit of play into the arts." [113] By introducing knee-slapping laughter into the horizon of art, Fluxus confounded art's claims to sublimity and ritual power.

Fluxus performance, more often than not, is very funny. Maciunas declared that he "wouldn't put it in any higher class than a gag, maybe a good gag." He ties this aspect of Fluxus performance to what he calls the "monomorphism" of the work; a Fluxus work must be direct and simple, like a good joke, in order to be effective, in order to be Fluxus. Indeed, as previously noted, it is this monomorphism that sets Fluxus performance apart from the "polymorphism" of happenings. After all, says Maciunas, "you can't have six jokers standing and telling you jokes simultaneously. It just wouldn't work. Has to be one joke at a time." [114]

f/h Trace Fill French horn with rice
bow to audience

Watts' piece is effective - will be read as "funny" - only to the degree that it subverts the audience's expectations. As is standard practice in classical Western musical performance, one expects the musician or performer to acknowledge the audience with a polite bow before he commences the work at hand. In this piece - frequently performed in formal concert attire, as were many Fluxus works - Robert Watts turns the expectation of the audience upside-down, as the performer's requisite bow is accompanied by a sudden splashing of rice upon the stage. Here the bow is the performance, and…well, I suppose you had to be there, really. The simplest gesture at once overturns the pretense and pomp of traditional performance etiquette, by jamming the received codes that constitute the viewer's frame of reference.

Another example by Mieko Shiomi:

Event for the Late Afternoon (1963)

Violin is suspended with rope or ribbon inserted through pulley at top and secured to floor. Performer in samurai armor positions himself under suspended violin, draws his sword and cuts the rope in front of him.

One by George Brecht:

Saxophone Solo (1962)

• Trumpet

Yoko Ono:

Wall Piece for Orchestra (winter 1962)

Hit a wall with your head

Ben Vautier:

Tango (1964)

The audience is invited to dance a tango.

and Ken Friedman

Zen Vaudville (1966) [115]

The sound of one shoe tapping.

What these simple events have in common is a particular mode of fiddling with the culturally conditioned constructs by which one comes to receive - and so expect - the experience of performance as social ritual. A theatrically-garbed performer is whacked on the head with her own violin, an unlikely trumpet is pulled from a saxophone case, the members of an orchestra line up and bang their heads against a wall on cue from the conductor, the audience - and not the "performers" - dance the tango, a single shoe taps. During Fluxus performance, received notions of performance are mocked inverted, and shown the door.

Word Event (1961)

• Exit

- George Brecht

Ken Friedman calls this aspect of Fluxus Zen Vaudeville. [116] Maciunas calls it Neo- Haiku theater. [117] Indeed, like Fluxus, Zen regards laughter as an important index of understanding: as we have seen, the transmission of Zen began with a monomorphic gesture - the presentation of a single flower - and a smile of reception. The smile is the signifier of sudden realization, of "getting the point" and approving its significance. In Zen, says Christmas Humphries, laughter is "a sign of sanity; and the comic is deliberately used to break up concepts, to release tensions, and to teach what cannot be taught in words. Nonsense is used to point to the beyond of rational sense." [118]

In Nam June Paik's Zen For Head, the grand abstract expressionist gesture is turned quite literally on its head. The performer simply dips his head into a bucket of ink and paints a line down a sheet of cheap kraft paper that has extended along the floor. Using his head as a brush, the performer paints a line (indeed, Paik's work is an interpretation of La Monte Young's Composition #10 1960: "Draw a straight line and follow it."). In contrast to the monumental status of, say, a large-scale calligraphic work by Franz Kline, Paik's gesture does not, can not function as an index of the master's hand - no hand was used, for one thing - but is rather the index of any body, any performer who chooses who enact the work. The painting is thus no masterpiece, at least not by traditional standards, and so points an accusatory finger at the very notion of mastery. Paik's "crazy Zen," as it is called by Ken Friedman, provides a welcome, unexpected relief from the high seriousness of abstract expressionism. [119]

Paik's work is not without its precedent. Conrad Hyers notes a certain Zen painter/priest by the name Wang-hsia (8th c.), nicknamed Wang-mo (Ink Wang): "'When he was drunk, he would splatter ink on the surface, laughing and singing the while. He might kick it, or rub it on with his hands, wave (his brush) about or scrub with it…[Then] he would follow its configurations to make mountains, or rocks, or clouds, or water.' According to another authority he would even dip his head in the container of ink, and paint with his hair as a brush." [120] And there is another story:

Hokusai was summoned to paint at court for the Emperor. He did not want to do this, but he knew that he could not refuse.

He arrived at court with a strange assembly of materials and put them out in front of the Emperor. Two chickens, a bucket each of blue, crimson and yellow paint, and a large roll of paper which he rolled out before the Emperor. After bowing, he undid the topknot of his hair and dipped it in the blue paint, using his head as a paintbrush, and making a long wavy line all along the bottom of the paper. He then took one of the chickens, dipped its feet in the crimson paint and let it walk all over the paper. He did the same with the other chicken in the yellow paint, letting it loose to leave yellow footprints on the paper.

Hokusai bowed again ceremoniously to the Emperor and said, "Autumn leaves falling on the Yangtse, your Highness." [121]

The resulting laughter, says Conrad Hyers (speaking of the laughter that seems so prevalent in Zen, and which often accompanies the solution of a koan), is an expression of cognitive shock in the face of a rupture of the expected, the dissolution of the frame's authority - an explosive decentering of the self. According to Hyers, this sort of laughter

leads toward the debunking of pride and the deflating of ego. It mocks grasping and clinging, and cools desire. It cuts through ignorance and precipitates insight. It turns hierarchies upside down as a prelude to collapsing them, and overcomes dualities and conflicts by embracing and uniting opposites. The whole intellectual and valuational structure of the discriminating mind is challenged, with a result that is enlightening and liberating. [122]

The space of the comic is thus a forum for the investigation of boundaries, a site of transgression in which received, unspoken codes are simultaneously revealed and overturned. Like the blasphemies of the Zen koan, the irreverent wackiness of many Fluxus works condemns self-serving notions of the sacred in art. For the artists of Fluxus, no act was absolute, no artwork was transcendent, and no artist was above receiving a pie in the face. In Zen and in Fluxus, humor throws a monkey-wrench into the smooth operation of the given and the known, posing instead a fragmented world of questions, of absolute instability, a stream of flux in which the integrity of both the object and the subject are perpetually up for grabs.

• No-Self.

Ten Rules: No Rules [123]

forgoing intention: nothing unaccomplished
forgoing needs: no requirement unfulfilled
forgoing satisfaction: no favoring
forgoing judgement: no inappropriate action
forgoing comparison: exact oneness
forgoing attachment: nothing to eliminate
no true generality
no progress, no regression: static change, complete punctuality
no coming, no going
no grasping

- George Brecht, 1962

The way never acts yet nothing is left undone.

- Tao Te Ching, Chapter 37

The very name of Fluxus points to an appreciation of the world as a field of transformation, as flux. Like Zen, Fluxus posits a reconfiguration of the subject as an inextricable component within this field. Rather than presenting the subject as acting upon the world, there is a sense of reciprocal determination, an inter-action. George Brecht notes: "I conceive of the individual as part of an infinite space and time; in constant interaction with that continuum (nature), and giving order (physically or conceptually) to a part of the continuum with which he interacts." [124] In Zen thought, this continuum is known as sunyata, the primordial emptiness.

"Form is emptiness, emptiness is form," reads the Hannya Shingyo, the Heart Sutra, one of the essential texts of Zen. Indeed, the essence of Zen thought is found in the notion of emptiness, sunyata, the very ground of being. All dharmas, that is manifest forms, are seen as having no independent self-nature, no individual essence that separates them from the fabric of being, from any other dharma. These forms are themselves impermanent, provisional, continually becoming but never arriving at a moment of being.

Norman Bryson examines the notion of sunyata in the work of the Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani, pointing out that the notion of an entity as a fixed body, clearly delineated from the world, does not hold up when regarded in the light of sunyata. "Subject" and "object" become inappropriate terms, as they are both revealed to be aspects of the other, each part of "the universal field of transformations."

Moved on to the field of sunyata or radical impermanence, the entity comes apart. It cannot be said to occupy a single location, since its locus is always the universal field of transformations: it cannot achieve separation from that field or acquire any kind of bounded outline. Because of its inseparability from the field of impermanence it cannot be said to enjoy independent self-existence, since the ground of being is everything else. And it cannot present itself in the guise of enduring form. [125]

Nishitani's project, as outlined by Bryson, is a radical critique of the Cartesian cogito, the notion of the subject as a permanent, stable center around which objects arrange themselves, shifting in and out of the subject's experiential horizon. Rather than regarding the subject as isolable entity, Nishitani - whose terms are clearly structured after Buddhist progenitors - asserts that what appears to be a given object is only the difference between that object and the surrounding field. The inverse is also true: the surrounding field is constituted of the difference between it and the given object. As discussed earlier, object and field, "it" and "other," are interdependent, and thus the object can not be examined in isolation from that field, can not be framed. Nor, for that matter, can the subject be isolated or framed.

In Zen, the individual, not bound by the notion of self as fixity, is rather understood as an integral part of an ever-shifting field of becoming. With no selfhood to preserve, the individual - who Rinzai calls "the one who has neither shape nor form, neither root nor trunk, and who, having no abiding place, is full of activities" [126] -is perpetually responding to the newest developments within the field of sunyata.

If a man comes to me and says, "I am seeking the Buddha," I come out in conformity with the situation of purity. If a man comes to me and asks about the bodhisattva, I come out in accordance with the situation of compassion (maitri or karuna). If a man comes to me and asks about bodhi [or enlightenment], I come out in accordance with the situation of incomparable beauty. If a man comes to me and asks about nirvana, I come out in accordance with the situation of serene quietude. The situations may vary infinitely, but the Man varies not. So, [it is said], "[It] takes forms in accordance with conditions, like the moon reflecting itself [variously] in water." [127]

It is thus inaccurate to conceive the self as a static entity, sitting solitary on a meditation cushion. On the contrary, the individual continually manifests both stasis and motility, and produces these experiences as new occasions arise. "He responds to all kinds of situations and manifests his activities, and yet comes out of nowhere." [128] Suzuki points out that the self, a manifestation of the formless field of sunyata, is thus difficult to locate as a center of experience.

The Self is ever moving or becoming. It is a zero which is a staticity, and at the same time an infinity, indicating that it is all the time moving. The Self is dynamic.

The Self is comparable to a circle which has no circumference, it is thus sunyata, emptiness. But it is also the center of such a circle. The Self is the point of absolute subjectivity which may convey the sense of immobility or tranquility. But as this point can be moved anywhere we like, to infinitely varied spots, it is really no point. The point is the circle and the circle is the point. [129]

Meditation, the principal practice of Zen, is thus not a recentering of the subject, a cultivation of "inner" tranquility or stability. Rather, meditation is a continuous process of responsiveness in accordance with "exterior" forces, a decentering of the subject's illusory selfhood. As Dick Higgins explains, the "point" of which Suzuki speaks can indeed be moved anywhere:

We have no fear of becoming: our thought processes are meditations (for our parents, the purpose of meditation was medicinal—it was to clear the mind and restore perspective. It had to be slow, for fear of losing control. But we begin where they left off—we need not control in order to experience, so we can meditate at any speed and virtually in any situation)— "meditations" they are, in the sense that they are liberated processes of thought and feeling, as opposed to directed ones. We are quite readily capable of experiencing these as emptiness and beyond concrete conceptibility. All this adds up to a new mentality, at least for the Western world. [130]

As Higgins points out, thought is not "directed" outward, but is "liberated," able to respond and conform to any given situation. The thinking self is reflexive of its surround, reconstituted in the margin between the subject and object. Here is a mutual interdependence of subject and object, two centers which reestablish themselves—through interaction—as a unity. In a 1978 interview, John Cage examines the notion of the "new mentality" of the decentered self, the dismantling of the cogito:

John Cage   I like to think that each thing has not only its own life but its
                   own center and that that center is, each time, the exact center
                   of the Universe.That is one of the principal themes I've retained
                   from my studies of Zen.

Daniel Charles   Must we dissociate the idea of life and the idea of the

John Cage   Suzuki taught me that in fact we never stop establishing,
                   outside the life of things, a means of measure and that we
                   then continually try to re-place each thing into the grid of our
                   measure. Thus, we lose the things; we forget them, or we disfigure
                   them. Zen teaches us that we are really in a situation of decentering,
                   relative to the grid. In this situation, everything is at the center.
                   There is then a plurality and a multiplicity of centers. And they are
                   all interpenetrating. And Zen adds: in non-obstruction. To live, for all
                   things, is to be at the center. That entails interpenetration and
                   non-obstruction. [131]

This non-obstructive interpenetration, or rather, interaction, is a principal function of Fluxus event scores, themselves meaningless if taken as isolated structures. As discussed above, it is precisely the engagement of a participant in the interpretation and realization of a score which enables the work - and the participant - to come to presence. There can be no one correct interpretation, only provisional examples of realization. In this respect, Fluxus event scores are similar to koans, and they are also similar to Nietzschean aphorisms. Gilles Deleuze describes the generation of meaning in the aphorism as wholly contingent upon the intervention of external forces:

An aphorism is a play of forces, a state of forces each of which is always outside the others. An aphorism means nothing, signifies nothing, and has no more a signifier than a signified element. … An aphorism is a state of forces, the last of which is at the same time the most recent; the most present and ultimate/temporary one is always the most external force. Nietzsche poses it very clearly: if you want to know what I mean, find the force which gives a meaning, a new meaning if need be, to what I say. Connect the text with that force. There are no problems of interpretation of Nietzsche, there are only problems of machination: machinating Nietzsche's text, trying to find out with what external, current force he succeeds in getting something through, a flow of energy. [133]

Like the aphorism, the Fluxus event score is forever unfinished, continually calling to external forces to provide completion, to resonate with and overlap the text as set forth by the author. In the field of transformations, there is only a perpetual coming into being of the text—a becoming which includes as part of its constitution the very subjectivity that is engaged in its realization. There is thus only "legitimate misinterpretation," notes Deleuze: "treat the aphorism as a phenomenon awaiting new forces that come and "subjugate" it, make it work, or else make it explode."


Determine the center of an object or event.
Determine the center more accurately.
Repeat, until further inaccuracy is impossible.

- George Brecht

It is the provisional nature of the Fluxus event score, its ability to be legitimately misinterpreted by any external force, that releases it from the grid of subjectivity, the notion of a permanent fixative power, which Deleuze calls the despotic machine. Like Nietzsche's aphorisms, Fluxus scores maintain an immediate relationship with the outside; indeed, they can not be said to have independent being apart from this externalizing relationship. Another blow to the cogito. Says Deleuze, "opening a text by Nietzsche at random dispenses us for one of the first times from interiority, the interiority of the soul or of consciousness, the interiority of essence or of concept, in other words, from what has always been the principle of philosophy." [134] The same is true of Fluxus event scores. To quote Rinzai, the work - like the participant who is engaged in the work's realization - "takes forms in accordance with conditions, like the moon reflecting itself [variously] in water."

Shadow Piece II

1. Project a shadow over the other
side of this page.

2. Observe the boundary line between
the shadow and the lighted part.

3. Become the boundary line.

- Chieko Shiomi, 1964

As sites of potential transformations, with no autonomous formal or material interiority, such texts stand outside the mechanisms which serve to implement social codes: laws, contracts and institutions. Such works, notes Deleuze, "can be understood neither through the establishment or the application of a law, nor through the offer of a contractual relationship, nor through the setting up of institutions. The only conceivable equivalent might be 'to be embarked with.'…Rowing together is sharing, sharing something irrespective of law, contracts, institutions. A drift, the movement of drifting, of 'deterritorialization."' [135] This is the movement of flux.

Opus 50

Place the palms of your hands side by side on this
piece of paper - After a short time: Raise the hands
and place your eyes in the same level as the palms -
Notice the coincident unus pultorum retardation in
the situations


or something else

- Eric Andersen

In place of interiority, both of the text and of the subject, Fluxus events establish a shifting zone of impermanence, a nomadism in which the self is continually redefined in accord with the external force (e.g., an event score, a performer, the weather) which is now asserting its momentary demands, and with which it now interacts. In Fluxus, as in Zen thought, the self is whatever one happens to be doing at any given moment. In the field of sunyata, a third entity reveals itself, an entity neither subject nor object, and yet constituted by both - subject and object are, as we have seen, the same thing. Identity becomes multiplicity.

One must take special care not to influence oneself. Tomorrow one will write Schubert's Fifth Symphony, cook some kohlrabi, develop a non-toxic epoxy, and invent still another kind of theater; or perhaps one will just sit and scream; or perhaps…

- Dick Higgins [136]

You don't try to make a style, or to achieve some identity - I mean your artwork doesn't try to achieve identity. You try to be out there in the waste open land and fool around.

- Eric Andersen

Here is the notion of self as a passage, a nomad, a flow of intensities as one shifts from one plateau of experience to the next. [137] On the periphery, out in the "waste open land," the nomad is a marginal entity (if he can be called an entity at all), a circle without circumference, without a center. The nomad stands in direct confrontation with the prevailing understanding of the artist as mythic subjectivity, the Producer of Great Works, organic, whole, fixed, comprehensible. The nomad escapes the over-coding of the State, of stasis, functioning instead within a smooth, open-ended, decoded space, a space in which one can freely move from any one point to any other. This perpetual play of difference and joyful anarchy in the face of the determinate is the space of a counterculture. "Its mode of distribution," says Brian Massumi, "is the nomos: arraying oneself in an open space (hold the street), as opposed to the logos of entrenching oneself in a closed space (hold the fort)." [138]

America was, you know, patting itself on the back. It already had its new art form [Abstract Expressionism], but we could have the street.

- Alison Knowles [139]

We are not nonparticipants, like the beats were: We are arming to take the barricades.

- Dick Higgins [140]

As Higgins notes, the beats were a generation of self-perceived rebels who played the role of "nonparticipants," and whose pursuit of a romantic individualism ultimately led them back into the fold of a tradition, back into the mythos of the American frontier. (Indeed, the beats' attraction to Eastern philosophies rang of transcendence, of the sublime, of the ecstatic Self subsumed into the Oneness of Nature.) This same mythos was concurrently being lionized and reified in the visual arts as "American-Type" painting: big, fast and unshaven, the abstract expressionist gesture became the loaded signifier of American Selfhood - the automatic writing of the American unconscious, vast and spontaneous, but always bound to its territory.

Nam June Paik points out that it is not only the destiny of American arts to be the vehicles of such territorialities, but that of Zen as well. In the June 1964 edition of cc fiVe ThReE, Paik had a great deal to say about Zen:

Now let me talk about Zen, although I avoid it usually, not to become the salesman of "OUR" culture like Daisetsu Suzuki, because the cultural patriotism is more harmful than the political patriotism, because the former is the disguised one, and especially the self-propaganda of Zen (the doctrine of self-abandonment) must be the stupid suicide of Zen.

Anyway, Zen consists of two negations.

the first negation:
       The absolute IS the relative.
the second negation:
       The relative IS the absolute.

The first negation is a simple fact, which every mortal meets every day; everything passes away… mother, lover, hero, youth, fame… etc. The second negation is the KEY-point of Zen. That means........

       The NOW is utopia, what it may be.
       The NOW in 10 minutes is also utopia, what it may be.
       The NOW in 20 hours is also utopia, what it may be.
       The NOW in 30 months is also utopia, what it may be.
       The NOW in 40 million years is also utopia, what it
       may be.


We should learn,
       how to be satisfied with 75%
       how to be satisfied with 50%
       how to be satisfied with 38%
       how to be satisfied with 9%
       how to be satisfied with 0%
       how to be satisfied with -1000%......

Zen is anti-avant-garde, anti-frontier spirit, anti-Kennedy. Zen is responsible of asian poverty. How can I justify ZEN, without justifying asian poverty ?? It is another problem, to which I will refer again in the next essay.

• • •

The frustration remains as the frustration.
There is NO catharsis.

Paik, in this passage, in part an invective against Zen, strikes an important note. Zen, he asserts, is "responsible of asian poverty," and if Zen is to be justified, it must be seen in that light. In feudal Japan, for example, Zen was revived in the fourteenth century, transmitted within a monastic system overseen and subsidized by the Imperial court, as well as by the many military governors, or shogun, who ruled the provinces. The monks, trained in cloistered mountain monasteries and respected by the masses as highly educated spiritual leaders, were regarded by the rulers as "effective means for quelling unruly elements among the populace." [141] Zen promotes an essential quietism amongst its practitioners, a "doctrine of self-abandonment" which demands that one reigns in desires. As Paik points out, Zen teaches "how to be satisfied with 75%, how to be satisfied with 38%;" in short, it teaches one to accept and be satisfied with one's lot in life, even if that lot is economic poverty. Clearly, such a teaching would have been immensely useful to a military ruler (who himself would certainly not be satisfied with these percentages), and Zen quickly became official culture in Japan.

In the United States of the 1950s and 1960s, the incorporation of a methodology of Zen in the arts meant something quite different than that of its use in feudal Japan. For the beats, and for artists such as Franz Kline (a student of D.T. Suzuki, Kline painted large-scale canvases that fetishize the spontaneous calligraphic gesture), Zen's appeal was that of a pure, exotic, certainly mystifying Other. Zen offered an ancient, solemn set of artistic traditions far removed from reason and naturalistic representation; a sanction and inspiration for a self- perceived advance guard, Zen was employed by artists and poets as a tool to explore the frontiers of the unconscious, the unmitigated, spontaneous source of selfhood.

Like the beats, and certainly like the counterculture(s) that flourished throughout the 1960s, the artists of Fluxus were concerned with establishing an unmediated relationship with the world. But the artists of Fluxus, as we've seen, did not regard the self - particularly the unconscious - as the absolute, generative center of this world. Rather, there was a concern with decentering the self, positioning the self as one provisional center in perpetual interaction with the infinite multiplicity of centers that constitute the world. In contrast to the Zen of the beats - a means to consummate the "manifest destiny" of modernism, the revelation of the frontiers of selfhood - the Zen appreciated by the artists of Fluxus was, as Paik says, "anti-avant-garde, anti-frontier spirit, anti-Kennedy." Indeed, Zen, as received by some of the artists of Fluxus, posits a self that is no self at all. George Maciunas understood this, and employed it to advance his own notions of "selflessness." Here, in a letter dated March 16, 1964, Maciunas offers some advice to Ben Vautier:

…I notice with disappointment your GROWING MEGALOMANIA. Why not try Zen method - Curb and eliminate your ego entirely. (if you can) don't sign anything - don't attribute anything to yourself - depersonalize yourself! that's in true Fluxus collective spirit. De-europanize yourself! [142]

As Jackson Mac Low points out, Maciunas' notions of "depersonalization" and "true Fluxus collective spirit" "were based on half-baked Leninist ideas and have little if any relation to Buddhism." [143] Yet the understanding of Zen as a method of decentering the self is consonant with Maciunas' desire to eliminate "the idea of the professional artist, art-for-art ideology, expression of artists' ego through art, etc." [144] Such a radical revision of the conceit of authorship goes hand-in-hand with the critique of the autonomy of the object posited by Fluxus artists. This stance stood in marked contrast to that of the thriving art market of the period - a market that flourished by promulgating the mythic individuality of the artist as well as the monolithic authority of the artist's product. Fluxus downplayed - indeed, it sought to eliminate - the artist's traditional role as unique producer of unique objects, instead creating situations in which objects, often objects of daily use, would be allowed a space in which to reveal themselves.

Know honor
But keep to the role of the disgraced
And be a valley to the empire.
If you are a valley to the empire,
Then the constant virtue [power] will be sufficient…

- Tao Te Ching, Chapter 27

The artists of Fluxus walked an alternative, ultimately revolutionary passage through, or rather as, a valley to the empire of representation. In contrast to the logos of the beats and abstract expressionists - the narrative of the frontier, the production of a myth of formal wholeness validated by a logic of transcendental affirmation - the artists of Fluxus posited no absolutes, no methods, no tools, no fixed structures for their works. Rather, their mode of production was based on the notion of a plenitude of possible meanings and interpretations - detached from an understanding of the work as an extension of the artist's identity. Dick Higgins calls such work post-selfcognitive, or postcognitive for short. The postcognitive work, says Higgins, is concerned with

…the object qua object, the poem within the poem, the word within the word - the process as process, accepting reality as a found object, enfolding it by the edges, so to speak, without trying to distort it (artistically or otherwise) in its depiction. The work becomes the matrix - any kind of matrix will do for the particular needs of the particular work. The artist gives you the structure: you may fill it in yourself. This is not formalism (though it includes structuralism as an aspect) - the emphasis is still on the subject. But the subject is accepted - the artist will have to look elsewhere, if he wants to prove his identity. [145]

The works of which Higgins speaks are no longer grounded in the subjectivity of the artist, but in the horizons of a particular work's inception, its many possible centers and contexts. The form of a work is entirely contingent upon the exigencies of its moment(s) of realization, beyond the control of the artist. In another essay, Higgins notes:

One thing above all was foreign to Fluxus works: personal intrusion on the part of the artist. In fact there was almost a cult among Fluxus people - or, more properly, a fetish, carried far beyond any rational or explainable level - which idealized the most direct relationship with "reality," specifically objective reality. The lives of objects, their histories and events were considered somehow more realistic than any conceivable personal intrusion on them. [146]

Higgins' statement might be fruitfully related to this passage by R.H. Blyth, in which he discusses the place of the object within the poetic form of haiku:

Each thing is preaching the law [Dharma] incessantly, but this law is not something different from the thing itself. Haiku is the revealing of this preaching by presenting us with the thing devoid of all our mental twisting and emotional discoloration; or rather, it shows the thing as it exists at one and the same time outside and inside the mind, perfectly subjective, ourselves undivided from the object in its original unity with ourselves… It is a way of returning to nature, in short, to our Buddha nature. It is a way in which a cold winter rain, the swallows of evening, even the very day in its hotness and the length of the night become truly alive, share in our humanity, speak their own silent and expressive language. [147]

Adopting this viewpoint, it would be incorrect to say that Fluxworks (many of which were known as "neo-haiku events") are inexpressive as a result of the artist's self-limiting role in their production. Rather, the site of expression in Fluxworks has been radically shifted from the artist to the object (no longer necessarily an art object), which in turn must be engaged by a receiving subjectivity, an arbitrarily imposed force, if it is to come to presence at all. In Zen thought, object and subject are interdependent, and this is clearly the case in Fluxus as well. Fluxus works are singularities, each moment of performance identical only with itself, subject to the intervention of an infinite number of potential, temporary forces. Lines of force and transformation can be drawn between any number of works, realizations, participants, available materials, points of view. There is thus no repetition, no re-presentation, in the space of the Fluxus nomad, only the production of possibilities, permutations, and new intensities. Nothing lasts long enough, or speaks with enough authority, for it to be re-presented. Jean-François Lyotard declares that, in the place of representation,

…one should insist on the forgetting. Representation and opposition imply memory: in passing from one singularity to the other, the one and the other are maintained together (through channels of circulation, set-ups, fantasies or libidinal configurations of cathexes). An identity (the same) is implied in this memory. In the eternal return as a desire for potentiality, there is precisely no memory. The travel is a passage without a trace, a forgetting, instantaneouses which are multiple only for the discourse, not in themselves. Such is the reason for the absence of representation in this voyage, this nomadism of intensities. [148]

We find this same idea in Zen - the notion of forgetting as a way of maintaining an immediate awareness of the shifting present, beyond representation. In the Hsin Hsin Ming, one of the earliest Zen texts, Seng Ts'an (d. 606?), the third patriarch of Zen, points out that in forgetting, one moves beyond the realm where comparisons can be made, and where even the notion of identity ("oneness") is transcended:

Forget the wherefore of things,
And we attain a state beyond analogy:
Movement stopped is no movement,
And rest set in motion is no rest.
When dualism does no more obtain,
Even oneness itself remains not as such.

In this idealized space of transcendence, says Seng Ts'an,

Nothing is retained now,
Nothing is to be memorized,
All is void, lucid, and self-illuminating,
There is no strain, no exertion, no wasting of energy -
This is where thinking never attains,
This is where the imagination fails to measure. [149]

This idealized space of transcendence and forgetting is sunyata, emptiness, the source of everything that is the case. [150] In the Hsin Hsin Ming, itself quite imbued with a Taoist sensibility, we are given instructions as to how one might fully experience this: "no strain, no exertion, no wasting of energy." [151] In Zen and Fluxus, one simply does what one is doing now, even if that something is not very much at all. This can be art, if one wishes to call it such, or it can be Zen or meditation, sport, music, work, relaxation, education - whatever one might wish to call it. In a 1967 letter to John Cage, George Brecht strikes to the heart of the matter: "I continue to do as little as possible and to be closer perhaps to Chuang- Tzu than to Hui-Neng though they're both great guys. The refrigerator door works better now that I've oiled it." [152]

In Zen, many of the artists involved in Fluxus found a paradigm for destabilizing the individual's relationship to the object and to the world. This paradigm necessitated a rethinking of the forms of presentation that would seek not do violence to the object or the individual by submitting them to closure. Instead, the new forms would re/cognize the relationship between object and self within a condition of constant change, each presencing for a moment and then receding back into the horizon whence it came, leaving behind scarcely a trace of itself. In this recognition, Fluxus, like Zen, shed doubt on the notion of ownership and so circumvented the mechanisms of the system of official "avant- garde" culture, the business of art as business - at least temporarily. Commerce, after all, has a way of catching up with even the most fleeting of ephemera.

1997 marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the first Fluxus festivals. During these thirty-five years, the artists of Fluxus have dodged and flitted between categories, surfacing now and again to tweak the collective nose of the art world. Fluxus brought the very act of perception up for accounting by attempting to clear the slate, eliminating everything that was held to be nonessential to the acts of perceiving, of doing, of simply being in the world and acting as if it mattered. If the sporadic outbursts of performances and publishing offer any indication, Fluxus still has the power to do so. In Fluxus, said George Brecht in 1964, "individuals with something unnamable in common have simply naturally coalesced to publish and perform their work." [153] Today, after so many exhibitions and articles, that "something" remains unnamable, those "individuals" remain individuals. Perhaps this is what has kept Fluxus vital over the course of these thirty-some-odd years: try as one might to name it, Fluxus still can't be pinned down, can't be explained away. The passage of time has demonstrated that the ultimate fact of Fluxus may be that which is inscribed within its very name.

Coda: The myriad creatures rise from it yet it claims no authority;
It gives them life yet claims no possession;
It benefits them yet exacts no gratitude;
It accomplishes its task yet lays claim to no merit.
It is because it lays claim to no merit
That its merit never deserts it.

- Tao Te Ching, Chapter 2

Return to Institute of Broken and Reduced Languages
or Light and Dust Anthology of Poetry