Category Archives: Fluxus

Word and Image

The following are some notes for guest lecture for UOW subject “Word and Image”, September 16 2015.

Well-known works of experimental film and sound art:

  • Michael Snow, So is This – film consisting entirely of words on screen, one word at a time. Temporal spacing of words creates drama and “characterisation”.
  • Hollis Frampton, Zorn’s Lemma – “found typography” alphabet progressively replaced by moving image substitutions. Duration more than an hour! A form of brain training?
  • Paul Sharits, Word Movie – simultaneous heard-words, and seen-words. How do we process this information?
  • Alvin Lucier, I am sitting in a room – words begin as information, progressively decay to reveal the resonant frequency of the room (music?).
  • John Smith, The Girl Chewing Gum – “In The Girl Chewing Gum a commanding voice over appears to direct the action in a busy London street. As the instructions become more absurd and fantasised, we realise that the supposed director (not the shot) is fictional; he only describes – not prescribes – the events that take place before him. (quote from A.L. Rees, A Directory of British Film & Video Artists, 1995)

Text-dependent artworks:

Book on text and art:

Some of my own projects which use words:

  • Bilateral Petersham – blog which embodies the experiences of 2 months of being “artist in residence in my own suburb” – approx 80,000 words. Presented in gallery exhibition as long bench with pages printed out, visitors assemble own book.
  • Yeomans Project – project investigating agriculture in Australia. Blog stories from experiences 2011-13 edited and published as a newspaper. Prints in gallery contain text as mneumonic/didactic devices.
  • SHELVE – made out of wood, hand cut with jigsaw.
  • Environmental Audit – words in conversations with museum staff and visitors become content for blog storytelling. Complex relationships mapped out in diagrammatic form, as prints and on blackboards.
  • Event for Touristic Sites – national stereotypes stencilled onto white t-shirts. Interactions with tourists in touristic sites. Tourists choose a shirt and pose for a photo. Discussions with participants about ‘veracity’ of the various stereotypes.
  • Various one-off prints using text:
    Bundanon Print (The Feral Amongst Us); The Underground; Adelaide Garbage Map.

also – Gysin and Burroughs’ cut ups; Lauren Brown’s listening lists; Adrien Piper’s text-cards for social events; Carolee Schneeman’s Interior Scroll; FLUXUS artists’ use of the “event-score”…

My work with re-enactment…


I’ve been working on re-enactments in one way or another since about 1996, when I did a performance work called Cornflakes in Perth. It was, in some way, about the daily re-enactment of getting out of bed and eating breakfast.

Another early work, The Peg#24 Pieces (1996), in collaboration with Mick Hender, explored the relationship between performative action and score.

Fluxus and Happenings:

In 2002, I conducted (sort of in the way a conductor conducts an orchestra) a re-enactment of Albert M Fine’s Fluxorchestra for 24 Performers. It was part of a project called Bilateral, where I lived in the gallery of the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide for the duration of the exhibition.

The Fluxorchestra was a classic Fluxus event which had a wonderful series of scores (one for each participant) that could be followed, and drew in many members of the local arts community for a celebration of the absurd. I’d very much like to do it again sometime.

In 2009, I worked with Nick Keys and Astrid L’Orange to re-enact Allan Kaprow’s Push and Pull – a Furniture Comedy for Hans Hoffman – a happening/environment from 1963. This was part of There Goes the Neighbourhood, at Performance Space.

Our version of Push and Pull was documented heavily as a blog.
The great thing about this was that the documentation from our re-enactment goes back to the Allan Kaprow estate, where it becomes part of the ongoing narrative about this work.

Expanded Cinema:

Via Fluxus, I became fascinated with Expanded Cinema, which is a performative branch of experimental film culture from the 1960s. There are significant crossovers between Fluxus, performance art and Expanded Cinema – VALIE EXPORT and Carolee Scheeman being two examples.

Working collaboratively with SMIC (Sydney Moving Image Coalition), and in particular with Louise Curham, I embarked on a series of experiments with re-enacting key works of Expanded Cinema from the past. These early attempts (2003-5) were pretty rough but they set us on our path. Our later works were very research intensive.

Here’s some info about our re-enactment work with SMIC (which we later renamed Teaching and Learning Cinema).

Our two most significant Expanded Cinema re-enactments to date are:

Anthony McCall’s Long Film for Ambient Light (1975) (re-enacted in 2007)(about which I wrote a chapter for Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield’s book Perform Repeat Record.


Guy Sherwin’s Man with Mirror (1976) (re-enacted in 2009-onwards).

In May 2013, Louise Curham and I went to London to begin work with Malcolm Le Grice on re-enacting a work of his from 1971, Horror Film 1. This re-enactment will continue to be developed during 2014.

This is a fairly clear description of our general work with re-enacting Expanded Cinema.

Daily life in a Cagean frame:

My 2005-6 twin projects, Bilateral Kellerberrin and Bilateral Petersham, were for me an “evolved re-enactment” of John Cage’s 4’33”. In the methodology underlying these projects, I took Cage’s 4’33” as a format or template, and shifted it to my own time and place. While Cage’s piece tends to be performed in a concert hall, and lasts only four minutes and thirty three seconds, my projects took his template into a neighbourhood social sphere, extended the duration to 2 months of my own daily life, and registered the chance occurrences through blogging. (To be clear: at the time, this Cagean connection was not foregrounded publically as the reason for the work’s existence, but was rather an unspoken skeleton shaping my daily practice).

Intergenerational Revisitations:

In 2011, I began working with Ian Milliss, a veteran Aussie conceptual artist, on a re-enactment of his Yeomans Project from 1975-6. It is in some ways more of an enactment, in that the original work never came to pass back in the 1970s. This intergenerational contact (Milliss, as well as Guy Sherwin, Anthony McCall, etc) is an ongoing part of my practice.

Discussions around re-enactment and performance:

In 2012, I convened a panel discussion with Christopher Hewitt and Andrea Saemann, on re-enacting performance art at University of Wollongong. It was part of a symposium called Expanded Documentary.



This tiny image is all I could dredge up on the web for this wonderful Fluxus performance. It looks like the score used to be available at Printed Matter, but not anymore.

I conducted an enactment of this piece in 2002 at the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide (precisely, at the Mercury Cinema) – a few notes on the larger project within which the event was conducted are here. For this enactment, I re-typed all of Fine’s scores and customised them a bit for the local context, and I also added in a few extra performers.

Here’s how the piece works:

There’s an individual score, typed up on an individual card for each performer, and each performer is in the dark about what the others are going to do. From memory, there are 24 performers.

Each score has a series of numbers running down the page, 1 to 15. These represent minutes. Thus the piece goes for 15 minutes. Each performer has to watch the clock and carry out the relevant instruction as each minute ticks around. If a number has nothing written next to it, the performer does nothing.

When I conducted the work, I inserted it as a ‘secret’ piece in the middle of an evening of film screenings called “Film” films? Fine! at the Mercury Cinema in Adelaide. The films shown were Buster Keaton’s Film and Gustav Deutsch’s Film Ist.

There were more than 24 people in the audience. Those who were not performers in the Fluxorchestra had no idea about what was going to happen.

The event was the aggregate of all the things that took place within that fifteen minutes.

It was pretty impossible to document. A video was shot – it’s mainly useful for the audio recording however, as the cinema was quite dark.

Here’s a re-typing of the score for the first performer:


2. Clap loudly at indeterminate intervals for short lengths of time
3. Yell: “Damn this boredom”, get up and walk out.
7. Re-enter and sit somewhere else, eating a bag of potatochips loudly, sharing them with your neighbors. When the bag is empty, inflate and
8. explode it with a bang if possible.
9. Chat with your neighbors, interrup it suddenly without warning and yell: “What do you think this is – Ben Vautier and Total Art?” then
10. resume your conversation
11. Continue conversation or remain quiet. Burp.
12. Get up and walk out. Come right back in and announce: “I’m as much
13. it as anything.” Sit in original seat.
14. Take a balloon from pocket and inflate it until it bursts.
15. Walk out.

archive sohm – stuttgart

In November 2003, Jane and I went to Stuttgart and look at the Archive Sohm (which was bloody amazing)…
Dr Sohm was a dentist who tended to the teeth of many of the Fluxus/Happenings/Vienna Aktionists artists. There are letters to him from George Maciunas, for example, begging him to accept a bunch of flux objects in exchange for 1000 US dollars so he can look after the health of his mother (I hope i have that story right). Or maybe it was so that George himself could pay his medical costs after he was beaten by thugs who broke into his house (he was having problems with the city authorities). Anyway, Sohm always accepted these objects and sent the money. He now has the largest collection of Fluxus stuff in the world. He died a few years ago.
[If anyone intends to visit the archive in Stuttgart, I recommend calling to arrange an appointment a few weeks in advance. We emailed but got no reply, and just showed up. Luckily they accomodated us, but we were told to book ahead next time.]
My interest in fluxus was ignited when I went to Adelaide’s Experimental Art Foundation in 2002, looking through their fab fab artist book archive. I think that the old Irish fella Noel Sheridon who helped to set up the EAF must have collected it, either him or Donald Brook.
In the EAF I found a beautiful flux-event-score by Albert M Fine called Piece for Fluxorchestra, and I conducted its “re-enactment” in the small cinema attatched to the Mercury, the Iris Cinema. I became fascinated with the legacy they had left, which was – very little tangible documentation of actual events, but indeed the recipes for the events themselves, which you, I, anyone, could recreate – thus experiencing DIRECTLY the “original” work for ourselves! This is why I was so interested to embark on the expanded cinema stuff.
…and also why i was excited to find out about the Carolee Schneeman
re-performance, and indeed all the Whitechapel Gallery
pieces I looked at and wrote about on my blog.

Biennales of a Fluxy Kind and Creative Citizenship

In Newcastle (NSW), October 2003, there is a proposed project, The Empty Show Biennale (ESB)… It will be the 4th Empty Show, the first 2 taking place in Melbourne, the 3rd Canberra, and the 4th in Sydney. It is a growing phenomenon, with artists taking over an empty building, “interior decorating it”, and then launching a clandestine opening party, some of which have been shut down by police. The ESB in Newcastle is designed to be “self organising” – anyone can be involved, groups of artists are encouraged to find their own venues and make their show happen, without worrying about where and what others are up to. The autonomous shows are connected by a publicity website. Nobody`s in charge, nobody can be held responsible, right?

Reminds me of when I was in London in 2000. There was a great “spoof” biennale called “The London Biennale” (LB) which sounds very impressive, London being a big city and all.

The LB was initiated by David Medalla, an ole Filipino-English Fluxus artist, so, being Fluxy, of course anyone who wanted to could be involved. This would definitely cause some anxiety in the parallel universe of Important Biennales, which are all about exclusivity and prestige.

We would meet each monday night in a bookstore, sometimes upwards of 60 bodies, all bristling with ideas for projects, exhibitions, and, mainly, performances somewhere in public space. info would be shared as to good locations, labour exchange, “i wanna get involved”.

The biennale ran for 4 months, may june july aug of 2000. A calendar was updated daily on a website and the readymade rent-a-crowd of biennale participants was always on hand for events.

For me, the best LB projects were those which actually used the sociability of those meetings to develop contacts and make work, rather than just advertise an event. in one of these, a german artist, Andreas Uhl, claimed a piece of antarctica which had broken off (due to global warming) as a sovereign nation, called “Fadeland”, which had an open citizenship policy. The project grew as more and more people signed up as citizens and ambassadors of Fadeland, a nation which, as its icebulk drifted north, was gradually melting and “fading”. Its borders were designed to shrink. Somebody wrote a national anthem (“our land is made of water” was my favourite line) and a choir was assembled to sing it in a proud ceremony, in which a huge block of ice was shipped up the london canals, melting all the while. It was a hoot. And in the context of the LB, which included dozens and dozens of non-english artists (who, like me, were hanging out in London because the place, while cold and grey, is so damn interesting), we already HAD our Fadeland – an association of individuals supporting each other, which transcended national borders. (ps, in case anyone needs to know, I am the official Australian ambassador to Fadeland).

I guess what I`m sayin is that autonomously “organised” projects (like the proposed Empty Show Biennale) can work. Ya dont need curators. Just energy and somebody who`s clever with websites. Which I see is already taken care of…at [postscript: this website is no longer there].

ps…just noticed another artist who has worked with passports, Tom Muller. His project, World Passport, has a different idea – to issue passports so that you are registered as a “World Citizen”. See It seems his production values are very high, and a passport costs $150 too (Fadeland citizenship registration, from memory, cost five pounds). Strangely, there is a site with a very similar idea (World Passports) which doesn’t seem to have any “art content” whatsoever (i could be wrong!)…

Nicolas Bourriaud

wow have just started reading a conversation with nicholas bourriaud and karen moss… here’s an extract:

NB: Avant gardes were about utopias. How is it possible to transform the world from scratch and rebuild a society which would be totally different. I think that is totally impossible and what artists are trying to do now is to create micro-utopias, neighborhood utopias, like talking to your neighbor, just what’s happening when you shake hands with somebody. This is all super political when you think about it. That’s micro-politics.

Stretcher: It’s very demanding of the artist.

NB: What’s an artwork? Any artwork materializes a relation to the world; if you see a Vermeer or a Mondrian, it’s concretized, materialized, visible in relation to the world that they had. You can decode and interpret for yourself and use it for your own life. Or for your work if you’re an artist. It’s a chain of relations. History of art is about that — a chain of relations to the world. So, any artwork is a relation to the world made visible.

Stretcher: About this new relationship between the artist and their audience, Christine Hill, one of the artists in TOUCH, said the other night. “I really wanted to be there to hear what my audience had to say.” I know so many artists who are working in their studios who feel that after they put their work out there they’re completely removed from it. They never hear anything back. It’s as if you throw it into the void ….

KM: It’s true for curators as well. You do have a certain voyeuristic opportunity when you are in a space and you can watch spectators viewing the work, or you receive response back if there’s a publication. But often you don’t get feedback. That’s why having the artist present [Ed. note: three of the artists in TOUCH spent time in the gallery as part of their work] is so intriguing. It’s not an artist shipping a work, you have people actually here. This was also true with some other exhibitions I’ve personally been involved with like In the Spirit of Fluxus at the Walker. Or the John Cage exhibition at MOCA in LA. The live action becomes really important to the beginning of the exhibition. It is also interesting how few of the artists in this exhibition are involved with technology. While their work may somehow comment on the technological, they are not much involved with technology, which is refreshing.

…so interesting, its amazing to find people who think in the same ways…what he is saying about technology, about Post-Production, is so what i am into at the moment.

Last year at the EAF, among other activities, I dug up an old score for a performance by Albert M Fine called “Piece for Fluxorchestra”. Each participant (there are 24) has a card with his/her score, a set of numbers from 1 to 15 down the left hand side of the card. these numbers refer to the passing of minutes. maybe on your card there is nothing listed until minute 4, when you have to stand up, declare loudly “i cant take it any more!” and storm out of the room. and so on. there is plenty of muttering, balloon popping, theorising and local referencing. nobody in the room knows anything about what anybody else has to do. each just takes care of his/her own role. in sum, the piece is like a big, rambunctious orchestra of chaos. hilarious. he wrote it in 1967.

the next “re-contextualisations” i am thinking of doing are from “expanded cinema”, a “movement” from early 1970s in london (and vienna too), where filmmakers began to think about the ways that their pieces were presented in space, not just experimenting with the content of the film. there were cool things like billows of smoke in the cinema to illuminate the cone of light, physical presence of performers, spaces set up in a particular way. kind of a pre-decessor of video-installation stuff., but hardly anyone knows of it. hopefully later in the year i will get to london to do some reseach, then bring a programme of this stuff out here mid next year, also to perth (peter mudie obviously very supportive). the important thing for me is that the films come with sets of instructions about how to “re-stage” them, specific, but always relying on the local resources and enthusiasts to bring it off…there is stuff in this project to do with technology, sure, and its partly about going back to that obselete tech and checking out how you dont need all this whizz bang digital shit, in fact, much of what is happening today is a kinda techno-fetishism,,,the “relational” part of “relational aesthetics” is fairly impoverished…