Fluxus Survival Fundamental
George Maciunas Seeking Shelter
Alison Knowles provides this drawing (2011) of George Maciunas. The background image
traces part of The Berlin Wall, in yellow, the satelite image is provided by NASA.
August 13th, 2011
by Alison Knowles
Before we arrived in Germany that first winter, to live in the Ehlhalten house that George had built with the potato farmer, we learned that George had worked the previous winter living as a draftsman, by day, and in the back of his car, by night. This was verboten, of course, and took daily ingenuity, courage and presence of mind to carry it off. Each night became a performance. First George bought the food at the PX, either eating there or adding to his stash of small stock items for the car. No need to eat in a restaurant – ever!
One imagines the interior of the car as the ultimate in space organization, full of boxes, the glove compartment becoming a desk, the piles of clothing that had to be worn each night in neat piles in the back seat on the floor. The driver’s seat provided storage for food. George would exit right along with the others from the main entrance to the parking lot, then detour and double around back to enter the service entrance before the gate closed for the night. Once secured in a far corner of the lot, the arduous task of dressing against the brutal cold must begin. With coats, sweaters and hats the disguise was complete.
Thus buffered, he could sink into the back of the car until dawn. Rising demanded precision and attention to detail. He could exit from the car to the basement of the building where the maintenance people shower and shave. Then, back to the car to dress (in the front seat) grab a bite from the food stash, probably bread and milk. He was then ready to exit unobserved when the first deliveries came in. Once out the gate, he retraced to the front entrance and drove in with the others to be at his desk by eight.
This was truly a Fluxus vehicle: one ready for a quick getaway, with all the stuff in one place. Everything in it was of the utmost daily necessity and miniaturized. The gate keepers, no doubt, observed what George was doing and enjoyed the game as much as he did. The question is, did George suspect that they knew? What was verboten, of course, was to end the game by speaking to the “authorities.”
George Maciunas: was a Lithuanian-born Manhattan based artist operating in Europe and the USA between the 1950’s and 1970’s. He was the defining founder of Fluxus, a small group of experimental artists who grew into a large international community of artists, architects, composers, and designers. Other leading members who forged this movement included Dick Higgins, Emmett Williams, Alison Knowles, George Brecht, John Cage, Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman and Yoko Ono. Maciunas is most famous for organising and performing early Fluxus Concerts and for assembling a series of highly influential artists’ multiples and selling them through his own Fluxus store on Canal Street in NYC. He is also credited with having pioneered SOHO as an artist’s enclave in lower Manhattan.
Alison Knowles: American visual artist known for her soundworks, installation, performances and publications, and as a founding member of Fluxus. In 1967, Knowles produced what is considered to be the first computerized poem The House of Dust in collaboration with composer James Tenney. In the 1960s, Knowles composed the Notations book of experimental composition with John Cage, and Coeurs Volants, a print with Marcel Duchamp. Her acclaimed exhibits and performances include two walk-in book installations “The Big Book” and “The Book of Bean.” In 2008, she performed three Event Scores at the Tate Modern in London, and in 2009 she exhibited and performed in “The 3rd Mind” American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989 at the Guggenheim Museum. She was appointed guest professor at Documenta X in Kassel, Germany, and in 2009 was an artist-in-residence at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. An edition of The House Of Dust is due to publish this Fall. She recently performed at the White House.
Ehlhalten is approximately 12 km north east of the state capital Wiesbaden, Germany, at the edge of the Taunus mountains. As a boro of Eppstein it is joined by Bremthal, Ehlhalten, Eppstein, Niederjosbach and Vockenhausen. Ehlhalten is the boro with the fewest number of inhabitants (about 1350) but the largest area due to its rather big forests. According to legend, Ehlhalten once provided a cutter that tailors used at the water of the brook in Ehlhalten. As the water rose and fell, affecting the measurement of the inch, people cried: “Elle halten!” (“hold the inch!”), leading to the name Ehlhalten.
The Berlin Wall was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) starting on 13 August 1961, that completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin. The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, which circumscribed a wide area (later known as the “death strip”) that contained anti-vehicle trenches and other defenses.