Sunday, September 20, 2015


[Giorgio Maffei, Patrizio Peterlini, editors]
Milano, Italy: Mousse Publishing, 2015
295 pp., 16.5 x 24 cm., softcover
Edition size unknown

There are very few traditional books listed in the Fluxus Codex, Jon Hendricks' indispensable 1988 600+ page book that catalogues every item published by Fluxus or mentioned in a Fluxus newsletter or any known correspondence from George Maciunas. Most histories focus on either the performative side of Fluxus, or the object-based multiples. FLUXBOOKS is the first title to present a detailed study of artists' books produced under the auspices of Fluxus.

Subtitled Fluxus Artists Books from the Sixties to the Future, FLUXBOOKS serves as the catalogue for the exhibition of the same name, which took place in Venice, earlier this year (see previous posts, here, here and here). The show was a collaboration between the Bevilacqua La Masa Foundations and the Luigi Bonotto collection.

The name Fluxus was first used as the title for a proposed magazine of experimental musical notation. The performances were initially designed strictly as fundraisers for the publication. It never materialized, but Maciunas' dedication to publishing remained unwavering throughout his life (“I have lots of paper," he wrote an artist, proposing a project).

Perhaps the closest he got to a bound Fluxus anthology was the first Yearbox, from 1964. But even early on, his innovative approach produced a work so novel that the title is often considered alongside the group's object-based multiples. The pages of the book were manila envelopes, held together with detachable metal bolts. Inside the envelopes were a variety of printed materials (both text scores and documentation of works) and other flat objects (a napkin, a mirror, a plastic glove, a burnt matchstick, smaller envelopes, a paper boat, typewriter ribbon, etc.). The printed materials also ranged in size, printing techniques and approach (accordion folds, small cards, and so on). No two copies of the publication were alike - with the contents varying, and the rubber stamped titles uniquely applied in different configurations. It was housed in a stencilled wooden crate that doubled as it's shipping container.

The follow-up Yearbox, from 1967, dispensed with any form of binding - it was issued as a wooden box, containing as many objects as printed materials.

By this point Maciunas had produced several artists' multiples in plastic boxes he purchased from surplus stores on Canal Street. After offering to publish "the complete works" of many artists, he realized the benefit of loose leaf publications, which could be regularly updated. The editions were to be "perpetually renewable and expandable as long as the author is living and constantly producing new works,” Maciunas explained in a letter to Thomas Schmidt, in late 1962.

He had ambitious plans to produce unbound “Complete works of…” many of the artists that he considered central to Fluxus, with titles by Eric Anderson, Robert Filliou, Albert Fine, Henry Flynt, Milan Knizak, and Nam June Paik advertised in newsletters but never produced. Chieko Shiomi’s Events and Games, Robert Watts’ Events, and George Brecht’s Water Yam are Fluxus editions that could be viewed as part of this "complete works" program. The latter is arguably one of the most important and influential solo Fluxus publications. Published in an unlimited, unsigned, or numbered edition in 1962, the boxed work consisted of approximately seventy white cards of varying sizes, each containing an “event score.” Five different versions of the work appear in FLUXBOOKS.

The text-based compendia presumably led to the realization that the plastic boxes could also house objects. FLUXBOOKS includes examples of Maciunas-published boxes that included beans (Alison Knowles), beads (George Brecht), dust (Robert Filliou), seeds (Ken Friedman's Flux Corsage, one of my favourites), and shit (Maciunas himself). These suggest that Fluxus multiples grew out of the history of publishing, rather than the history of sculpture, and helped to cement the connection between artists' books and multiples that continues today.

FLUXBOOKS also expands beyond the Maciunas-centred idea of Fluxus, to include artists who were affiliated with the group.  Dieter Roth, an artist for whom the production of books is central to his practice, possibly more so than any other artist, was skeptical of Fluxus, and disliked Maciunas, but his work shared much in common with Fluxus artists, and he was close friends with many of them. At one point he reportedly proposed his Literaturwurst book (a book as sausage) to Maciunas, who declined to publish it. 

The Something Else Press famously had it's origins in Maciunas' inability to publish Dick Higgins' "complete works" fast enough for the artist. Higgins arrived home one day, frustrated by the delays, and announced to his partner Alison Knowles that they were starting a publishing house. This led to one of the most significant publishers of artists' books ever. The Something Else Press published important works by John Cage, Ray Johnson, Brion Gysin, Bern Porter, Emmett Williams, Merce Cunningham, Wolf Vostell and many others. Higgins' interest in what he dubbed 'intermedia' is evident in many of his publishing choices: works that overlapped or fell in between the cracks of existing media, such as dance, music notation, theatre, even memoir. Poetry, particularly concrete poetry, is well represented in the numerous titles that the SEP produced in the decade that they were operational (1964-74).

While Maciunas radically rethought the format of the book, Higgins took the opposite approach. He produced artists' books that bookstores could stock and libraries could collect. The content was wildly innovative, but the formats were typically very classical: strong bindings, fine papers, colourful covers and excellent typography.

FLUXBOOKS is divided into five main categories: Book as Book, Book as Memento, Book as Plot, Book as Box, Book as Object. It also includes introductions from both editors, the text "Deconstructing Knowledge" by Angela Vettese, and a top ten list from Harry Ruhé, which includes brief descriptions of the following titles:

Per Kirkeby Blå, tid
Ben Vautier BEN DIEU
Fluxus I (Fluxyearbox1)
Paul Sharits Open the door: an incision
Dieter Roth Daily Mirror, Gesammelte Werke Bd.10 -  (deluxe edition),
Jonas Mekas and George Maciunas Reminiscensijos
Wolf Vostell Betonierungen
Jeff Berner Fluxbook,
Al Hansen Flux Flak Pak
La Monte Young An Anthology 

Ruhé's list intermingles his own personal history with the group, typifying the editor's approach to FLUXBOOKS, eschewing critical discourse in favour of firsthand accounts.

"There was no need for comments by critics," reads the press release, "which are not relevant to this study." While not lacking in bibliographic information, the title opted to focus on "the images of the books themselves, [which] are sufficient to present their nature and development.” This is a logical approach, given the origin of the book, in Luigi Bonotto's personal collection. Bonatto's undertaking (a collection of Fluxus and Concrete Poetry materials) is made with considerable resources and research, but it reads as a labour of love, rather than the scholarly approach a museum might take compiling a comprehensive collection.

Like Ruhé, Bonatto developed friendships with the artists and many of the works in the collection reflect this. They are housed in envelopes sent directly from the artist, or are lovingly inscribed to him.

Interspersed throughout the book are glossy pages featuring new contributions from over a dozen artists. Larry Miller's is blank but for a single line at the bottom of the page, instructing the reader to "Chew this page of the catalogue as much as you like, without detaching it from the book". Yoko Ono's contribution is also blank, except for the phrase Space Transformer, in the centre of the page.
Milan Knizak contributed four rough drawings of "Killed Books" (Shot Dead, Drowned, Burned and Cut to Pieces) that seemingly refer to his Broken Music series, in which the Czech artist would destroy vinyl records as sound works. Eric Andersen's Box For Expectations is a three-dimensional cut out.

Additional responses include Philip Corner, Alison Knowles, Carolee Schneemann, Mieko Shiomi, Ann Tardos , Ken Friedman and others. This approach helps emphasize the title's interest in primary artists' material, rather than academia.

FLUXBOOKS is availble from the publisher, here, for € 28.00.


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