Curating Words for Designers is a labour of love and I love researching and reading for new posts. This sometimes becomes a guilty pleasure when targeted research shades into jumping from one subject to another like stepping stones, but with no other side to reach. Sort of procrastiworking.
On such a detour I came across the book “I used to be a design student – 50 graphic designers then + now” (i’ll post about that later). What caught my eye was a fictional portrait of a student designer, based on the responses given by the 50 designers mentioned in the book:
“S/he was influenced by design gurus Neville Brody and Wolfgang Weingart, the Fluxus art movement, artists Marcel Duchamp and Sol LeWitt and read Marshall McLuhan. In the evenings s/he enjoyed a good film by David Lynch”.
Spot on! At least, these were formative for a certain generation.
These influencers all ring bells with me, but Fluxus not so much, so it triggered my curiosity. Before, Fluxus for me was the sum of a puzzling performance of a naked man biting himself, a giant pickaxe in a park, or a procession of sledges unloaded from a Volkswagen. I never made a link between Fluxus and graphic design.
Being a graphic design student in the ’60s and ’70s (what some of the designers from the book were) might easily have led to being immersed in the Swiss design tradition or drawn towards the advertising side of things. Both powerful traditions constraining less talented adepts within dull minimalism or even duller fear of risk taking. Fluxus had the appeal of being the opposite of that.
Fluxus was an international network of artists, composers and designers noted for blending different artistic media and disciplines in the ’60s, but they lacked a consistent identity as an artistic community. This vague self-identification allowed the group to include a variety of artists, including a large number of women. The possibility that Fluxus had more female members than any Western art group up to that point in history is particularly significant because Fluxus came on the heels of the white male-dominated abstract expressionism movement.
Fluxus is fluid, not rigid. Fluxus is wild, fun, random, absurd, childlike. It is anti-establishment, anti-commercial, and (paradoxically) anti-art. Fluxus is simple in its appearance: the art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief. The artists were just as utopian as Futurists before them, but without a trace of their violent energy. Fluxus is like a cloud.
Now, doesn’t that sound like a designers dream? It would have to me back then, and it still does so now. It meant freedom, experimentation and exploration without boundaries, anything goes. It also meant letting go of this ‘bourgeois sickness’, the professional demeanor from which ghastly things like elevator pitches were able to emerge. Be a friend to your client, not a robot.
Fluxus was conceived as a publishing enterprise specializing in pamphlets, flyers, games, and various unpredictable objets d’art. The spirit of publishing remained central to its nature even though Fluxus artists eventually tried their hands at every other medium under the sun.
The potential of blurring
Fluxus is ‘intermedia’, blurring the boundaries of visual art, music, publishing, graphic design, and performance art. Fluxus creators like to see what happens when different media intersect. They use found and everyday objects, sounds, images, and texts to create new combinations of objects, sounds, images, and texts.
Purging the world of professional and commercialized culture, together with intersecting media are for me the two still most relevant aspects of Fluxus. Their ‘intermedia’ concept has in our age gotten a new and unexpected canvas: the internet.
It’s the prefix ‘inter’ here that sets us on the right track to the real present meaning of Fluxus to the design community today. We can progress with intersecting media in a way Fluxus couldn’t have imagined. They would have loved the internet, the inter webs’ potential of blurring the lines, of having fun and exploiting the unpredictable. The arrival of the internet, and the possibilities it seems to offer, has brought a revolution to our cultural, social and political landscapes. Guess who are at the epicenter? Designers. Forget CSS and grids, bring more upheaval! George Maciunas would have known what to do.