Lithuanian Culture Institute

 100 Years in One Month: Mekas, Maciunas, Fluxus

Lithuanian Culture Institute
Kęstutis Grigaliūnas, "George Maciunas, Ay-O and Jonas Mekas in Vilnius", 2005, canvas, digital print, photocollage,
75 x 105 cm. MO museum.

Kęstutis Grigaliūnas, "George Maciunas, Ay-O and Jonas Mekas in Vilnius", 2005, canvas, digital print, photocollage. MO museum.

Lithuanians who had fled from the war and the Soviet occupation to Germany, and after that to the USA were homesick: they made national costumes, sang Lithuanian folk songs, published Lithuanian newspapers, and baked Lithuanian bread. That kind of culture was of no interest to two young Lithuanians – Jonas Mekas (1922, Semeniškiai village, Lithuania – 2019, New York, USA) and George Maciunas (1931, Kaunas, Lithuania – 1978, Boston, USA).

Mekas found out early on that in a foreign world film helps people communicate. In 1949 he acquired a Bolex 16 mm camera and began filming everything, he sucked up, so to speak, every pigeon or hair streaming in the wind in a flying car. He allowed his camera to sway, to smell the roots of plants, to chase birds, to twist and turn, to dispense with reality in a frenzy of desire. Soon, new friends showed up before his lens – Andy Warhol, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and others.

After a couple of decades his film diaries made up of this material spoke about his nostalgia for the home he had lost, the poetry he weaved from the droppings of a hare, and dissolved his autobiography in birthday celebrations. Films like that were of no use to the commercial culture of film and so Mekas himself organized avant-garde film screenings, which eventually grew into the Anthology Film Archives.

Amongst Mekas’s group of friends there was also George Maciunas – an architect, engineer and mad visionary. He despised self-important art and looked for an alternative in the interwar Dada absurdist happenings. But it was the Dadaist Raoul Haussmann who suggested the term Fluxus, which stuck – the future of art to Maciunas was a flood that would sweep away seriousness and art itself so that only life would remain. Breaking the law, he bought lofts in New York’s industrial district and installed living spaces for artists in them which became the avant-garde SoHo laboratory. From his ideal political system – the Soviet Union – he borrowed the idea of cheap building and designed modular constructions, which could be adapted to individual needs. Adhering to the principles of a revolutionary movement, he would instruct his friends La Monte Young, Allan Kaprow, John Cage, Dick Higgins, Ay-O, George Brecht and others to take part in Fluxus happenings and concerts.

He would ritually expel sceptics. Out of his friends’ works he would make the Fluxus boxes and Fluxus chess pieces, published the Fluxus magazine cc V TRE, made films and packs of Fluxus objects. Art was all of his everyday routine – he would give the friends he invited egg shells filled with plaster, glue and the corpses of insects or he would offer them tea made from hemp. He even made his illness, his wedding to Billie Hutching and his own death into a performance.

The Fluxus acts filmed by Mekas have survived and together with Fluxus objects became museum treasures – the Fluxus Cabinet in the Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre is made up of them. Young Lithuanian artists learned creative freedom from Fluxus. What Maciunas had not been able to sell even for cents – the collection of Fluxus objects saved by Jonas Mekas, Lithuania bought for $5,000,000 in 2007 and… hid away somewhere.

Agnė Narušytė