Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Ken Friedman | 92 Events

Ken Friedman 
92 Events
Kalmar, Sweden: Kalmar Art Musem, 2023
176 pp., 18 x 12 x 1.5 cm., cloth
Edition of 1500

If the debate over the lasting legacy of Fluxus is performance vs publication, the Event Score splits the difference. It is integral to both.

Like Fluxus itself, the Event Score was born out of John Cage's Advanced Composition classes at the New School for Social Research, in New York City, in the late fifties. His students included George Brecht, Alison Knowles, Dick Higgins, Allan Kaprow, Jackson Mac Low, Al Hansen, and  La Monte Young, who became central to Fluxus, Happenings and Intermedia Art of the 1960's1

An Event Score is a modest action or idea, re-contextualized as a performance, or object. Fluxus impresario George Maciunas characterized them as "Neo-Haiku theatre". The text notation pieces sometimes consist of only a single word, and rarely much more than a paragraph. They are also known as 'Propositions' or 'Instructional' works, as they were designed to be realized by the artist, other artists, and the readers themselves. Or not realized at all.2 

The two best known (and best) collections are George Brecht's Wateryam and Yoko Ono's Grapefruit; the former a box, the latter a book. Brecht's examples are both opaque and concise, Ono's poetic. 

Fluxus published boxed collections by Brecht, Chieko Shiomi, Takehisa Kosugi, Robert Watts (see post from last week, here), Ben Vautier, and others. Frustrated with Fluxus and the constant production delays, Dick Higgins and Alison Knowles founded the Something Else Press, and published their own Event Scores - and the scores of others - as hardcover books and staple-bound pamphlets. 

Ken Friedman's new 92 Events is available in both formats, a small handsomely designed yellow clothbound book, and a boxed set of loose postcards (see below). 

As an artist, Friedman has dedicated most of his (six decades long) practice to these text pieces, and much of his career as an art historian to understanding and proliferating Event Scores. 

He has written extensively on the subject, helping to define the qualities of the medium. He edited the Fluxus Performance Workbook3, and when it became out-of-print and unavailable, arranged to have it hosted as a free online publication, before this was common. He worked closely with the two largest publishers of Event Scores: Fluxus and the Something Else Press. Friedman was the youngest artist invited by George Maciunas into Fluxus (he was just 16 at the time)4, and he later worked as the general manager of the SEP. 

Prior collections of his scores include The Twelve Days of Christmas: 12 Events from 2018, 12 Structure Scores from 2004, 52 Events, from 2001, and 99 Events from 2009. 

What distinguishes this volume from previous Friedman publications (and in fact, all other collections of Event Scores that I'm aware of) is that these texts are annotated by the artist. Each score is given a single page, and below Friedman footnotes it with anecdotes of its origin, or examples of its execution. Some are brief, and some are several pages long. 

There are are accounts of his Fluxus editions Mandatory Happening and Open and Shut Case, (though not his excellent Flux Corsage edition - which may not have originated as a score). 

Because of its inclusion in Ursula Block's excellent anthology Broken Music, I initially assumed that Friedman's Zen For Record existed as a published vinyl recording. But the blank-record homage to Nam June Paik's Zen For Film was never produced by Fluxus, or in fact at all. Friedman recounts various attempts to publish it, over several decades. 

92 Events is not intended as a definitive collection, which may explain some strange omissions. In One Year and Out the Other, well-traveled as a meme, is not included, for example. The 1975 score reads "On New Year’s Eve, make a telephone call from one time zone to another to conduct a conversation between people located in different years." 

Zen Vaudeville ("The sounds of one shoe tapping") is included, but is not accompanied by supplementary writing, which is a shame. The title has become shorthand to describe the Fluxus approach of merging high and low culture, the Zen Koan and slapstick. Maciunas described Fluxus as a "fusion of Spike Jones, vaudeville, gag, children's games and Duchamp".

92 Events is available for €16, from the publisher, here. The boxed cards can also be purchased there, but note that they omit the additional writings. 

1. When called the "Father of Fluxus", Cage would counter that he preferred to be called its Uncle.
2. Or realized unwittingly. 
3. The Fluxus Performance Workbook was edited by Friedman, with Owen Smith and Lauren Sawchyn.
4. Friedman initiated Fluxus West centres in San Diego and in San Francisco, and traveled throughout California and then the US in a Volkswagen bus dubbed the Fluxmobile,  performing concerts and giving lectures. 

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