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Man Opens Box: a Palimpsest

ae2A few dozen chairs surrounded the double-wide card table in the middle of the Sesnon Gallery for an event on the afternoon of May 6, when artists Ian Everard and Maria Chomentowski performed the opening of a box. Handling the contents with white cotton gloves, the artists were mindful of the performance score. They encouraged audience members to participate.

The box is a Fluxus box; the score a brief list of actions (“Open the case. Take out the objects…”); the performance, called InFlux, an event in the spirit of Fluxus, an international movement of composers, artists, architects and designers in the 1960s and early ’70s influenced by Dada and springing from the ideas of composer John Cage. Prominent Fluxus artists included George Maciunas, George Brecht, Allan Kaprow (“happenings”), Yoko Ono and Nam Jun Paik. Fluxus influenced Christo and Gilbert and George among others including Ian Everard, an English-born artist now living in Santa Cruz. Everard is a copycat.

“Fluxkit” by George Brecht, was currently on display under plexiglass in Time Lapse: 4 Decades of Art, an exhibition that celebrated the Sesnon’s legacy of exhibitions and programs since its founding in 1971. The irony of displaying a Fluxus box under plexiglass was too much for curator Shelby Graham. The quintessence of Fluxus is the conjunction of art and the everyday, the idea that art was too commercial and should be cheap, include non-artists, allow for randomness and “contingencies.” Now an object of value, “Fluxkit” is rarely seen and carefully protected. The curator invited Ian Everard to perform a Fluxus event by opening the box.

Everard draws extraordinary replicas of flat surfaces, most recently book covers with imagery of charged psychological content. His copies are exact, but often with modifications that alter the meaning. He proposed that he copy the Fluxus box and every item in it so that the final action of the “Fluxkit” score could be fulfilled: attaching the box to balloons and releasing it—no longer possible, due to the value of the artwork.  When Graham agreed, Everard invited performance artist Chomentowski to open his duplicate box, each performing the score, opening and naming the contents.

With noisemakers available throughout the gallery, the audience participated as Everard opened the box and held up each of the contents in turn, naming each—usually the name of the artist but perhaps “Fluxus box containing god,” “Time ladder with clouds from roof slowly.” Chomentowski held up Everard’s corresponding drawing and named it—sometimes the same, or perhaps “Knowles knows beans.” The naming was improvised, accompanied by random whistle blowing and clanger-banging. The culminating balloon-release was abandoned at the last minute for environmental reasons, so the shadow boxes finally danced under the ceiling of the Sesnon. Fluxus lives in the contingencies.


Maureen Davidson writes about the arts as “The Exhibitionist.” This column and her radio spot and blog at KUSP.org/exhibitionist are funded in part by a grant from the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County.

 

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