Framing movement within visual art spaces invites new ways of looking at dance performance. It opens opportunities to shift visual priorities and structure performance events in which visitors may follow their attention, free to leave and return as they wish. Unscripted audience movement effaces the divisions between audience and performer taken for granted in proscenium theater. These spaces liberate the gaze, allowing it to give equal weight and meaning to dance and non dance actions, which in turn introduces a palette of physicality ranging from formal athletic movement to casual, “relaxed” bodies. Working in a gallery or museum context allows choreographers to play with the distinction between pedestrian and performer, observer and observed. Dance in visual arts spaces is not new, as the authors of this blog note; in this entry I will contextualize it in the interdisciplinary explorations of Fluxus artists from the 1960s-’70s and consider how this movement can inform contemporary work.
The Fluxus movement originated out of John Cage’s famous classes at the New School, and encouraged artists to use normal materials to create novel experiences of the world. Fluxus artists emphasized uncertainty and play by drawing from the Dada and Surrealist movements and developments in experimental music. The work coming out of the movement varied from minimal performances called Events, to operas, films, boxes of materials called Fluxkits, and canvas paintings. In the United States, Happenings were closely connected with Fluxus Events. These vastly different art forms were connected by an overarching aim to stage experience as performance and engage the senses viscerally. In the groundbreaking book Fluxus Experience, author Hannah Higgins uses “experience” to refer to “a transactional, interpenetrative framework and its capacity to create a sense of continuity with the world.” 1 In short, the Fluxus ethos creates interactive performance that exists on a continuum of lived experience.
Many of the early Fluxus Events took place at George Maciunas’ AG Gallery in New York and were later curated into museums and public places worldwide. Despite its fame, Fluxus maintained a “do-it-yourself” and anti-art attitude. Fluxus artists also bridged traditional arts spaces with public spaces by intentionally scoring Events outside of traditional arts structures.
“Events,” one of various incarnations of Fluxus activity, correlate most closely with the discussion of dance in visual arts spaces and with scored improvisational performance in particular. Performer and site were frequently left unspecified, and these open-ended directives, handwritten or mimeographed on index cards, could be performed in almost any circumstance. As such, each Event could unfold any number of experiences, ranging from caring, to exploratory, to destructive, ultimately serving to generate primary experience.
Examples of Fluxus Events & scores 2:
George Brecht’s Word Event (Exit) (1961)
Emmett Williams’ Duet for Performer and Audience (1961)
Performer waits silently on stage for audible reaction from audience which he imitates.