Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 12 - The Pink and Blue Number
Log 12 - The Pink and Blue Number

Forum Report: Fluxus and its Ongoing Influence on contemporary art
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, 15 October 2000.
Lissa Mitchell



Paul Bushnell: "Jon; rave culture..."

Daniel Malone: "influence context"

Jon Bywater: "not really but possibly through organisation"

Tina Barton: "trajectory"

Tobias Berger: "the question is not what is Fluxus but what is art?"

Benjamin Patterson: "I’m a relic you can touch me"

From the floor:

Terrance Handscomb: "but YOU want to be part of history"

unidentified woman: "innovation" [??!!]

Danny Butt: "space context"

Hanna Scott: "genealogy"

Phillip Dadson: "Flux I, Flux You, Flux Us!"


The forum started off with Daniel Malone questioning the extent of the term ‘influence’ within the context of a possible impact of Fluxus on his own art practice. This was a reasonable stance, yet people were upset. One woman assumed that the cheeky young artist must have been arrogantly striding for ‘innovation’. While a chap became concerned that the younger artist had no respect for what had been before him. Not to mention the young provincial curator frustrated with an artist, whose ideas she clearly felt she knew about, but who wouldn't allow her easy management of an ideological ‘genealogy’ of his work.

An anxious provincialism rode through the room. There was little teasing and wrestling; the scrap was over finding a comfortable interpretation of a foreign art movement’s influence on New Zealand art. To question the notion that Fluxus had an ongoing influence on a specific aspect of contemporary art practice in New Zealand was simply interpreted as arrogance. Meanwhile interesting avenues for discussion were missed while a dense focus was maintained on simplistic and mis-interpretations of what was being said.

The question of what ‘influence’ might mean, particularly for art practice in this country, is important. However, to merely assume and promote the dominance of a circumscribed understanding of ‘influence’ is limited. Malone identified the complexities of the notion of ‘influence’ rather than complying with the accepted notion of what it has, thus far, been perceived to mean.

Each on the panel had varying degrees of need for the notion of the Fluxus Movement and its influence. It is striking that the questioning of the influence of an institutionalised Fluxus on one aspect of New Zealand art should cause a defensive reaction. For example, compare Malone and Tobias Berger. Berger, as curator and agent of Museum Fridericianum in Kassel, regards the preservation and management of the notion of the Fluxus Movement as of prime importance to the ongoing relevance and value of the Museum’s collection. Meanwhile, Malone might find ‘influence’ across a myriad of histories, with revelation understated and potentially retrospective. Reasonable? So why get defensive?

The term ‘influence’ has a problematic relationship in respect to contemporary New Zealand art. To be understated, mediative, to engage a specificity is to risk being overlooked (not that Malone has a problem with this). The success, prevalence and infectious nature of what I term the ‘After McCahon Movement’ is the best example. Whereby successful inclusion in a centralised discourse and exhibition program could be achieved through the insertion of an overt the more overstated the better reference to McCahon and/or McCahonism. For artists, success in New Zealand art has been bound up with providing work that fuels the scrap between the so titled ‘essentialists’ and academics obsessed with the limits of binary equations. Discourse has strongly pushed the notion that the overt nature of ‘influence’ is an integral part of contemporary art practice in this country. Of course it turns around; with artists with no intention of referencing McCahon being ‘read’ as referring to the artist, his themes, ideas...

Overt overstatement allows for a dehumanising professionalism the kind that must distinguish itself from the common crowd at such a forum. Being ‘engaged’ becomes a war of perceived terms of engagement between artists, curators, art historians and other institutional figures. To exhibit signs of subtlety, self-consciousness, understatement on any level is to be perceived as arrogant, abject, diseased a nuisance to the important business of ‘institution building’.

The meaning and placement of a term like influence should not be taken for granted. While other terms Fluxus, New Zealand art placed later in the statement may strike the eye as more interesting, more specific even (although how, I don't know perhaps by representing material forms). It is only impatience that rushes over the promiscuously placed ‘influence’. It is simplistic to go to the other extreme and assume that the notion of influence is being rejected. Sometimes it seems that the theorising of the late 1980s has only succeeded in reinforcing dependence on binary models of thinking.

Pegging meaning to a term like influence requires the distinguishing of context. As such ‘New Zealand art’ is just too broad. Meanwhile Malone’s specific practice does not encompass ‘NZ art’; it represents a myriad of negotiations of ‘influence’. I guess it comes down to paying attention; to taking the time to look and think to finding generalisations and polemic modes of thinking limiting and the source of unresolved conflict. But nor is it merely about being agreeable.


Lissa Mitchell works at the New Zealand Film Archive in Wellington and lives in Porirua.



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room