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Reviewed by:
  • Fluxus Experience
  • Branislav Jakovljevic (bio)
Fluxus Experience. By Hannah Higgins. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002; 274 pp. $29.95 paper.

Fluxkit, Fluxfilm, Fluxwork, Fluxpost, Fluxus Virus, Fluxclinic, Fluxhall, Fluxeum, Fluxshop, Fluxpop... Even though here limited to the already existing and documented words, a hypothetical Fluxus lexicon is potentially inexhaustible because the phoneme "flux(us)" is not limited only to adjectival function. It does not only label art made by Fluxus artists, but actually enacts it. Much like Deleuze's nonsense word, it performs a donation of sense. Understood in this way, "nonsense does not have any particular sense, but is opposed to the absence of sense rather than to the sense that it produces in [End Page 190] excess" (Deleuze 1990:71). In her book Fluxus Experience Hannah Higgins persuasively demonstrates that Fluxkit and Event, those paradigmatic Fluxus art forms, effectively establish this relation between artwork and its beholder. Fluxkit is nonsensical without being absurd: the randomness of objects in a box does not follow the existing taxonomies of sense, but instead incessantly produces new meanings. Similarly, in her important distinction between the Fluxus Event and much of performance art (including early Happenings) Higgins rightly emphasizes the "aleatory and nonspecific" form of the former (49).

True revisions are rare because their impact has to be tectonic. In its theoretical scope, rigor, and daring, Fluxus Experience is certainly one of those rare works. Hannah Higgins takes upon herself the unenviable task of reconsidering the entire Fluxus project. She takes the notion of experience as the central organizing principle of her book, and in doing so upsets the art historiographic assumption of an unlimited availability and stability of the art object. Higgins is quite open about the sources of her subjective approach to art criticism: first, her lifelong exposure to the art of her parents, Fluxus artists Alison Knowles and Dick Higgins; and second, Owen F. Smith's idea of the "non-hierarchical density of experience" evoked by Fluxus art (Smith 1998:11).

Early on, art critics recognized the importance of the spatial and geographical dimensions of this art movement that spanned from Japan to Czechoslovakia and from Germany to California, but rarely did anyone pay any attention to its temporal dimension. The notions such as "experience" or "attitude" bring out the importance of the undocumented and the undocumentable in art. This ahistoricity is not the "murmur" against which Foucault so vigorously and rightfully argued. It is related to the very nature of the artistic process which, on a certain level, can be understood and transmitted only through experience. The experiential approach to art history and criticism does not abandon its subject at the museum's doorsteps. Following one of Fluxus's central attitudes, it sees art as a part of life. (Bracken Hendricks, an urban planner and son of the Fluxus artist Geoffrey Hendricks: "One thing I got [...] growing up with my father was how to think with my hands" [in Kaplan 2000:16]). Higgins argues that "the meaning of Fluxus experiences lies in their simultaneous engagement with and withdrawal from everyday life, in their substitution of art and anti-art with life (as art)" (103).With the energy and conviction of a manifesto writer rarely seen in academic writing, she proclaims that "it is time for the experiential mode to be reinjected into interpretation of the art of the 1960s" (104). There is no reason it should remain limited to the Fluxus-related art of the '60s. In fact, this methodology clearly has the potential to make significant contributions to other fields, such as performance historiography, or theory of the avantgarde, currently in deep hibernation. One of the main advantages of the "experiential mode" is that it elucidates the affirmative nature of alternative art. Writing about Fluxus, Higgins pierces the iron cloud of negativity that shrouded all avantgarde, alternative, experimental, or subversive art from Renato Poggioli's Theory of the Avant Garde onward.

The freshness of Higgins's thinking about Fluxus comes not only from her personal investment in the movement, but also from her liberal use of a surprising variety of theoretical sources. For instance, her notion of "experience" is not based on the once fashionable...


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