Friday, December 10, 2010

the bandwagon

I've been regularly visiting the Hamburger Bahnhof, and not only for the sheer pleasure of watching reindeer get high. The museum's Friedrich Christian Flick collection includes a large number of works by Fluxus. In case you aren't familiar with Fluxus, it was a rag-tag group of conceptual artists in the late 1950s and '60s, inspired by the pioneering work of Cage. Fluxus sits in an odd place between music and art, better known to artists than musicians---Fluxus works are sprinkled all over art museums, even though you rarely hear the music played in a concert setting. As Alex noted in his recent article, the reputation of Cage is sealed in the art world; in the music world, it's still a bit precarious. So it's no wonder that Fluxus feels like it belongs more to art history than to music history. And music by composers like Nam June Paik and Dick Higgins is hardly performed today, to the extent that their happenings can even be replicated.

So these works stay in museums like the Hamburger Bahnhof. It's a shame, because most of them are so inherently musical. Like this:
This is part of a set of miscellaneous addendum for Paik's 1964 Robot Opera, in which K-456, named after Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 18, played a recording of JFK's inaugural address and excreted beans (more here).

A closer look shows Paik's awareness of operatic history, recent (Karajan, Callas) and old (Gluck, Wagner). Paik truncates all aspects of opera into one, destroying any nuance---Met-Opera IS Soap-Opera, Callas IS Karajan, Wagner IS Puccini. All of the history and conflict and character of the genre rolls up into one grand sentiment of Old World, Old Money, which Paik mocks. We are not far from Cage's Europeras, about which the composer wrote, "For two hundred years the Europeans have been sending us their operas. Now I'm sending them back."

My real favorite is this Fluxus parade of toy cars, Paik's Moving Theatre of 1963:
Each car has a name or message written on it:

Paik writes, in his New Ontology of Music,
"In the 'Moving theatre' in the street,
the sounds move in the street, the audience meets Of encounters them 'unexpectedly' In the street."George Maciunas, a founding member who wrote the Fluxus Manifesto
A play on George Maciunas = GM = General Motors

There's probably some reference here that I'm not getting.
Mr. Cage's goofy little buggy
Duchamp's (even tinier) car

And, finally, a minuscule dump truck labeled "Picasso."

It's an irreverent work, a send-up of styles and influences---rather than Paik's models looming largely, almost menacingly (think of Brahm's refusal to write a symphony after Beethoven because of the "giant marching behind him"), they zoom along, bite-size and weightless.

For further reading, Seth Colter Walls on the women of Fluxus.

Also, REINDEER UPDATE: they were more active today, and I even witnessed a brief tussle between two of them (on the not-high side of the fence). The ones who were fed mushrooms seemed to spend more time licking their own feet, but I can't say for sure that was due to the hallucinogens.

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