What is the fluxus?

What is the fluxus? How fluxperiments can help revitalize writing + Writers Tips to Encourage a Creative Mindset

FLUXUS was an important international and interdisciplinary community of artists, composers, designers and poets who participated in experimental artistic performances during the 1960s and 1970s. The key was to emphasize the artistic process over any finished product.

Fluxus artists tended to engage in interdisciplinary artistic activities (they used the term “intermedia” to explain these activities — for instance, a combination of drawing and poetry, or a combination of painting and theater). A great example of an interdisciplinary artistic activity could be the Japanese poems known as Haiga which are typically lines of poetry painted alongside images, with the same brush and ink.

Maybe it needs a caption

Simple “comic book” stories combine works of art with lines of dialogue in much the same way. If you were (are) a fan of the Illuminae Archives (by authors Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman) — the 2015 space opera that used photocopied documents, emails, and interview transcripts (as well as diagrams and other non-textual material) — to tell an otherwise fairly straightforward retro space-adventure in a bold and graphic way for novel, then you’ll understand the remarkable oomph that an interdisciplinary approach can bring to fiction. I don’t expect you to be able to produce a graphic novel or illustrate your next story book, but you might be able to add a piece of contextual art to your next poem or a doodle to your short story, huh?

Illuminae

Fluxus is all about interpretation, explication and visualization:

So, if you can:

  • Express your thoughts using some ‘other’ (non text-based) artistic language that helps make sense of ideas (or helps clarify ideas for your audience)… you’ll be using the fluxus!
  • Elaborate your thoughts, making them simple to understand to your audience, with diagrams, maps, spoken word, songs, crafts, or some other non-text-based art form… you’ll be using the fluxus!
  • Summarize your thoughts in an interpretive way that provides a mental picture to your audience of something that is otherwise invisible or abstract to them … you’ll be using the fluxus!

There are (loose) rules for fluxus:

  • Fluxus is an attitude (not a style)
  • Fluxus is about intermedia (seeing how common or everyday objects might intersect with each other to illustrate our work)
  • Fluxus is simple (the work ought to be short, brief, and just a small digression)
  • Fluxus is fun — it’s meant to get your imagination bubbling — it should be a lighthearted pursuit and can be as silly as you like
  • Fluxus works best when it is childlike, so be guileless, be unselfconscious and be playful when you fluxperiment

But how inventive can you be with your fluxperiments?

You don’t have to be totally bonkers or totally avante-garde, or revolutionary or countercultural-transgressive to take on the fluxus. You don’t have to be pretentious or “uppity” to be in this group of free-thinkers either! This isn’t about making arty-farty creations that nobody wants to see or hear (ha ha!). Instead, it’s about blurring boundaries between art forms. And, let’s be clear, we do it every day, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to most of us! This is the key to understanding the fluxus: remembering that all you’re doing is blurring boundaries between art forms.

Have you ever used an emoji at the end of a sentence? Yes? That’s the fluxus. Have you ever scribbled a doodle on a napkin and pinned it to your cork board? Yes? That’s the fluxus. Have you ever chosen a picture postcard for a mood-board that, in a way, “says” everything you want to say about your protagonist? Yes? That’s the fluxus. Have you ever chosen a pop song that encourages the progress of your main character through the quest? Yes? That’s the fluxus. Have you ever admired the thoughts behind a funny meme and thought it summed-up your opinions?   Yes? that’s the fluxus. These are all examples of using everyday fluxus because they all blur the boundaries between art forms

calligram

concrete poetry / calligram

Tip 1: Try creating concrete poetry. For example, if you are writing a poem about an egg, the words you use will form an oval shape on the page. If you are writing a poem about your heroine, the words could form a set of angel wings on the page. A poem about a villain could form a set of terrifying bat wings! Try experimenting too… perhaps (when you set out) you don’t know what shape your words will create… so just put your words into a “form” (shape) and turn the paper upside-down once you’re done, to alter your perspective! What does the shape remind you of?

Tip 2: Try creating a coloring calligram. Use a phrase that you’ve written before and that you’re quite proud of, or a piece of text (a paragraph you’ve written, perhaps) and then present those words inside a related thematic image. It will be like “coloring in” but instead of crayons or paints, you’ll be using words. For example, if your antagonist is described as a demonic being with horns and hooves, try presenting those words within the image of a fanged werewolf. You can “make” the outline image yourself by sketching it out before you try “filling it in” with words. But please limit yourself to old words (be strict with yourself, you can only use the words from your excerpt … not any new words… this isn’t about writing something new, it’s about blurring boundaries between sketching & writing.) if you can’t sketch, you can find an outline of the image you want to use (search online or get an adult coloring book) and then “fill in” the chosen image with your carefully chosen words.

Found Poem

Tip 3: Create free-form sound art. Grab your smartphone or gadget for this one. Recall a moment (a scene) from the fiction you’re currently writing and press record. Say (out loud) a batch of single words (not sentences, it’s important that these words don’t ‘join up’ to form sentences… or you’ll not get a “free flow” of ideas.) This is not about cohesiveness, grammar or punctuation, but about sounds. If your words have a connectedness and an interdependence, that’s fine… but if they don’t… that’s fine too! This is also about encouraging free thought. What you’re aiming for here is vitality, aliveness and richness of sounds. Don’t record more than twenty seconds though. In fact, keep it shorter if you possibly can. Have a few goes. Allow your subconscious creativity to do all the work! If you feel like it, you can share your sound-art on your socials and explain to your readers that you’ve been doing a bit of fluxus! I’m sure they’ll be very impressed! Ha ha! 

Tip 4: Try finding some publication poetry. I have been doing this once-a-week, every week, since Christmas. I like to use glossy magazines for this fluxus (the brighter and the glossier the better, and I am especially fond of the food & cooking pages.) First, I find a word (or sometimes a phrase) that says something about the work that I am currently doing. You would think it would be impossible to find a word or phrase related to fantasy fiction in a magazine article written about cooking, wouldn’t you? But it’s not… it’s surprisingly easy. Once I have found what I call the “hook” word, maybe the word “angel” from an angel-cake recipe… I pick up a thick pen (a sharpie) or a highlighter (there are two approaches to this) but the general idea is to find the rest of the words that have been “hidden” within the text by the original author (unknown to him or her, of course!) and link them all up to create your own work. So, with your marker-pen you reveal a poem. And it’s a “found poem.” You will either: a) highlight the “correct” words or b) disguise the “incorrect” words or c) a bit of both. But, whichever technique you choose, you will recover a lost poem that has been hidden on the page. (see the illustration below) It is a bit like the archaeology of words. When you do this, I am sure you will discover rewarding and quite extraordinary passages that will magically unfold in front of your very eyes. You will be presented with new thoughts that will help you hone, enable and even facilitate meanings that you had not considered before. Give it a go!

Found Poem

Let me know about your fluxperiments and fluxperiences by tweeting me @neilmach

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

Neil Mach is the author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.