Slave Pianos, A Long Tale with Many Notes, Programme Cover

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Slave Pianos, A Long Tale with Many Notes, Programme Text

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David Cross Uncovering a Taxonomy of Australian Fluxus

Uncovering a Taxonomy of Australian Fluxus

Australia has a long history of Fluxus activity. Almost as soon as the madcap neo-Dada antics of Dick Higgins, Joseph Beuys and co. came to the fore in America and Europe in the early 1960’s, there was an Australian Fluxus. This was not, however, just another art fad that gripped this country at the time. It was not a movement lifted from the pages of Art International or Artforum as was the cargo cult convention in the 60’s. Unlike the assorted hybrid movements that had no problem mixing Minimalism with a bit of organicism and covering it all in playground covered paint, Australian Fluxus or

AusFlux, as it was known, was the genuine article. AusFlux was established on May 14, 1962 as a post office box in suburban Carnegie in Melbourne and existed up until 1997. In true Dada spirit, AusFlux began as the result of a chance encounter. George Maciunas, the Lithuanian raconteur and brains behind New York Fluxus, met Ian and Beverley Stock while they were admiring Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’ at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Maciunas was there to stage a Fluxus event and thought Ian’s outfit of knee high socks and sandals was part of his own group’s performance. The three got chatting and Ian mentioned he was an amateur artist from Melbourne. Macianus, always on the lookout for international networking, asked them if they had heard of Fluxus and whether they might be interested in starting up an Australian chapter. As it happened they had not heard about the movement but were keen to find out about it. Macianus invited them to his house the next day and introduced them to Alison Knowles and Yoko Ono, who was working on her first performance piece Cut. Ian and Bev were captivated by the charisma of Macianus and while a little uncertain about the nonsensical nature of Fluxus, agreed to develop a chapter from their home in Carnegie.

Ian was the coordinator of events while Margaret agreed to be the archivist and editor of the quarterly pamphlet known as Quirky and then later on after 1974, Ausquirk. The group was prolific although somewhat isolated from the Melbourne art community. John Reed, director of the newly established Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne, thought them kooks and without the moral rigour of his beloved Angry Penguins. His lack of support coupled with their marginal status in the local scene meant that their work was not picked up at all by either the mainstream art press or the avant garde publishing scene. Staged happenings like Quarter Acre Block performed in suburban Moorabin and Event for Tom Roberts, that took place in the Wombat state forest, have no visual or critical record whatsoever. The only documentation was in the form of transcripts of each event taken from recordings on reel to reel tape that are now lost.

Little has been known about these pieces until recently. While there was talk of staged dressing and undressing in the manner of San Francisco dancer Ann Halprin and even Jackson Pollock inspired free gestural forest improvisation, most of the talk has been anecdotal and based on hearsay. Rumour about the existence of an avant garde fluxus group has existed for years but there has been no documented evidence to back up such claims. However, recent scholarship has uncovered the nature of the group, their activities and most interestingly their membership list. Masters student at the University of Sydney, Allison Carruthers, made a remarkable discovery while viewing the Fluxus archive in New York in April 1999 as part of her thesis on little known Czech Fluxus artist Vac Koval. While she was flicking through a number of unmarked boxes she came across a large container with a postmark from Australia. Although sealed she felt compelled to open it finding inside a letter and eight cardboard storage boxes. The letter, typed on an old typewriter, was from Bev Stock. It stated that AusFlux had ceased operations after 35 years due to her poor health. Rather than donate the archive to the National Gallery of Victoria she felt it best that it be shipped, in its entirety, to the international Fluxus archive where it would be appreciated and understood.

Most controversially she found a membership list of 14 names including three she recognised. One was a well known art critic now deceased, the other a prominent postminimal artist now in the stable of Roslyn Oxley9. And the third was the director of a state gallery. Yet just before she was about to publish this information in her thesis, an injunction was placed on releasing of the names. She has claimed that someone on the academic staff tipped off the now successful director who felt any association with AusFlux would be highly detrimental to his now ‘establishment’ reputation. This is indeed a pity as the information this director could no doubt supply would help establish and bring to light a secret history of avantgardism in this country. The case scheduled to be heard in the New South Wales County Court in August 2000 is being contested by Carruthers yet she has received little support and is not hopeful of succeeding.

While there have been a range of noted practitioners including John Nixon, Gunter Christmann and Phil Edwards to name three who have made distinctly Australian Fluxus art, they have done so intermittently and in tandem with other diverse practices. AusFlux on the other hand was a sustained movement solely dedicated to Fluxus and its unique permutations in this country. Its story long buried in prejudice and indifference is now coming out. Carruthers has spoken to a number of academics and presented excerpts on AusFlux at last years Art Association conference in Wellington. Her thesis should tell the full story and rewrite contemporary art history in this country. AusFlux deserves nothing less.

David Cross, 2000

Note: Owing to legal action pending certain names have been withheld in the publishing of this article.