Megalomania and the status quo, or a new paradigm in art and identity, a response to two Fluxus artists: George Maciunas and Robert Filliou

In reading about George Maciunas and Robert Filliou, my mind is not drawn towards art, or culture or even politics, but more psychology and my own personal encounters with megalomania mixed with utopia.  The obsession of control, the need for power, the naive utopia schemes.  I first think of my grandmother, who immigrated to the USA from Greece in 1929, suffered through the Great Depression, and with my grandfather (a quiet stoic man who shard little of his thoughts with others) worked hard and late in life became a wealthy land and business owner.   After my grandfather died, my grandmother did everything she could to be heard, take up space and show her power.  She purposefully made bad business decisions that lots great sums of money just to prove to the family that she was truly in control of the businesses she owned.  She also was arrested several times for provoking, harassing and blocking the neighboring business over petty disputes such as discrepancies of mere centimeters in adjacent property boundaries.

Later in life, while I was living in Boston, USA, I became part of an artists collective that had strikingly similar utopia based and communal ideas with Maciunas.  The collective was the brainchild of artist Lydia Eccles, whom at one point had a vision of a self sustainable artists community in the midst of an urban landscape.  She raised tens of thousands of dollars to renovate an old industrial building to build an art gallery, performance space, industrial kitchen and live-in/ work-in studio-lofts for artists.  Here, the « grandeur » was expressed in the elevated role of the artist in society and the separatist monastery like getaway in the middle of the city.  Sadly this utopic projected failed due to external circumstances rooted with the property owner and the safety inspection department of the city government.

After leaving Boston, I lived in a squat in Berlin, Germany where again I was part of a utopic project.  Here I became very disillusioned with the excess of authoritarian attitudes that were contradictory with the anarchist/ autonomous left political identities of the people I lived with.  Again an elevated sense of purpose vis-a-vis the public and surrounding neighborhood.  Certain people in the squat were very good at speaking and expressing their ideas, and so these people often dominated meetings and the public image of the squat.  Filliou is considered to have been a « natural orator » and well skilled in the art of conversation.  Yet, he also tended to go into monologues and speaking for him was a sort of performance.  Although he had a precise and transparent vocabulary, I still suspect that he was a great manipulator of words in the bad sense of the term.

In examining the lives of Maciunas and Filliou I am perplexed by their relation to the status quo and their backgrounds of both coming from very privileged and powerful social positions (Maciunas and his bourgeois family and Filliou and his high paying job working for the US government and the United Nations).  I am tempted to label them both the « deviant child of the bourgeoisie » but Filliou comes from a less socially advantaged family.  Eventually  Filliou rejected his newly achieved social status and became a penniless writer, whereas Maciunas continued to work professionally while also building his vision of Fluxus.  Influenced by his very dysfunctional relationship with his mother, Maciunas seemed unable to detach himself socially from his bourgeois status despite his political dogmas as expressed through Fluxus.

Recently, I saw a theatrical project at the « 40 ans de Paris8 festival » that attempted to explain the functioning of economics, and according to their research, just the idea of « economics » is a relatively new idea less than 250 years old.   Prior to our modern understanding of economics, people were born into a certain class and profession.  For example, if your father was a butcher or a farmer or a tailor then you would grow up to be a butcher or a farmer or a tailor.  There was no possibility of upward mobility vis-a vis class and social status.  But with modern economics a child can dream of a new profession foreign to his family and can become rich even if their family is poor.  Both Maciunas and Filliou are the « exotic products » economics.  Filliou studied economics and briefly had a successful career but after working in Japan and South Korea, he left his field of expertise and turned to the penniless life of a writer.  Maciunas worked in design and architecture and used his own money and his families’ money to fund various Fluxus projects.

Also, despite what Maciunas proclaimed in the Fluxus manifesto of « anti European art, » Fluxus remained a European/ Western group, with the exception of Japan.  And even Japan, I wonder what was the connection?  Was it linked to Filliou’s residency there in the early 1950′s?  Also Wiesbaden, Germany often comes up as city with lots of Fluxus activity.  Is this because of Maciunas having been positioned there via his job for the US military?  The fluxus network of the 1960′s and 70′s, was it formed through exclusive connections, or was it more democratic and accessible to anyone?  Additionally I find perplexing that Fluxus, while rejecting the « normal » artistic landscape very much needed to be accepted by it.    I feel this rejection was ironically a thinly masked desire.  The vast amount of production and the acts of « art terrorism » as described by Maciunas suggest a desperate need to be acknowledged by the art world.

« Once the task of the artist was to make good art; now it is to avoid making art of any kind. » -Allan Kaprow

Clavez, Bertrand.  George Maciunas, une révolution furtive.  les presses du réel, 2009
Tilman, Pierre.  Robert Filliou, nationalité poète.  les presses du réel, 2006.

Nicolas Vargelis