International Indeterminacy: George Maciunas and the Mail

The term “network” has often been used to characterize Fluxus’s internationalism and to identify its membership. This has led a number of scholars to argue that Fluxus anticipated forms of artistic exchange now associated with Internet-based art. More recently, it has cast Fluxus as a precedent for applying a network model to other transcontinental avant-gardes, particularly in curatorial practice. Yet in the rush to relate Fluxus to contemporary discourses on global connectivity, insufficient attention has been paid to the specific apparatuses that facilitated its cohesion. This article stages an intervention into Fluxus studies (and by extension Conceptual art, mail art, and other transnational movements associated with communication and the “dematerialization” of the art object) by drawing on the field of German media theory to analyze the “paperwork” that makes up much of the movement’s material production. Specifically, it focuses on how the artist George Maciunas’s engaged the postal system in order to facilitate Fluxus’s collectivity, as well to insinuate Fluxus’s methods of experimental composition into larger power structures. After an opening discussion of Maciunas’s important diagrammatic history of Fluxus’s development (a.k.a. the John Cage chart), the article tracks Maciunas’s deployment of newsletters to organize Fluxus activities, his infamous mail-based sabotage proposals, his collaborations with Mieko Shiomi and Ben Vautier, and his “Flux Combat” with the New York State Attorney General.

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