A major revisiting, and perhaps revisioning, of recent art history is taking place in Berlin throughout October with the exhibition „Fluxus East – Fluxus Networks in Central Eastern Europe“. The core component of this historical reassessment of the Fluxus movement is an exhibition in Künstlerhaus Bethanien. The show looks at this (anti-)artistic artists’ network as a truly international phenomenon which, apart from its known figures and centers in Western Europe, Japan and the usa, experienced its parallel developments in the Eastern part of Europe, beyond the “Iron Curtain.” A network of other programs (concerts of “classic” Fluxus scores and a conference) as well as further exhibitions supplement this main exhibition. Although part of the show on view in Bethanien promised to focus on the East-West contacts between the Fluxus groups in various countries and continents, it only highlights the connections and activities of a narrow circle of New York based Fluxists. In addition, the same circle was invited to perform amusing events on the opening night as well as to participate in the conference. The satellite exhibitions hone in on the contemporaneous art production in some of the countries considered. These include the most important action and body artists of the Czech scene in the 1960s (Tschechisches Zentrum), an unfortunately very poorly presented “portable museum” containing works from the unofficial and semi-official Hungarian art production of the same period (Collegium Hungaricum) and a reconstruction of the activities of a Polish gallery that once hosted exhibitions by international Fluxus artists (Polnisches Institut).
This kind of historical revision is justified for several reasons. While the Cold War period was characterized by a mutual ignorance about the cultural production that took place on both sides, there is now an imbalance of knowledge. Today, it is the West that generally remains unaware of the output of its counterpart. Incorporating the events and artists of the Eastern European side of the Fluxus story may successfully reconfigure what is generally an unreflected, homogenous and monolithic account of late 20th century art. On the lighter side of the discourse, as Imre Bak, a Hungarian artist of the period once said, Conceptual Art should have been invented by artists of the East Block; its underpinnings are well fitted to the material capacities and political conditions of art making in the region at the time. The same applies considering that Fluxus can be viewed as a playful form of conceptual art – at times immaterial and at other times relentlessly object-oriented. These aspects of the movement resulted in a more politically charged version of Fluxus and Conceptual Art in East Central Europe than in Western countries – a noteworthy difference which the Fluxus East project fails to comment on.
The show does not provide any genuine revision of recent art history. Perhaps the curator Petra Stegman got lost in accumulated archival material. The documents on display are of diverse types and sources (including secret police files, preserved invitations to Flux events and their programs as well as uncommented photo documentations of Flux events). This archival approach and the vastness of the documentary material set the tone and establish the limitations of the show. On view is a diligently assembled but largely unprocessed collection of material. As a result, the visitor only learns that Fluxus existed in the East Block but does not really learn more in depth, because very little contextualized insight is offered to complement the material evidence. Given the above-mentioned asymmetry in mutual understanding, even this is a precious offering. Since thematic exhibitions of this sort are expected to contextualize their material and elaborate on selected aspects of the material, the visitor may have the impression that something is lacking. More precisely, the impression feels more like a sense of déjà-vue: when exotic objects, landscapes and people are put on display for their sheer foreignness.
„Fluxus East – Fluxus Networks In Central Eastern Europe“
Nach Berlin wir die Ausstellung noch in folgenden Orten Osteuropas zu sehen sein:
Contemporary Art Center, Vilnius (30.11.2007–13.1.2008)
Bunkier Sztuki, Krakau (7.2.–30.3.2008)
Ludwig Múzeum, Budapest (17.4.–1.6.2008).
Fluxus East, Landschaft nach der Eröffnung (© the artists)