Sense Sound/Sound Sense: Fluxus Music, Scores & Records in the Luigi Bonotto Collection @ the Whitechapel Gallery

Fluxus

Fluxus was an international, interdisciplinary community of artists, composers, designers and poets during the 1960s and 1970s who engaged in experimental art performances which emphasized the artistic process over the finished product.

The word Fluxus literally means ‘flow’ and all the artists associated with it were more interested in the process, in interaction rather than a stable polished final product. As such they are associated with performance art – you really had to be there! – or conceptual art which only required thinking about, no finished product necessary.

It was a very loose international association which stretched beyond artists to include musicians, composers, performers, poets, dancers, anyone who was prepared to have a go at experimental performance which, in the later 1960s and through the early 1970s, was a lot of extrovert creative types from John Cage and his Black Mountain College colleagues through to Yoko Ono and friends in Japan.

Display case of records, musical scores, magazine articles and photos at Sense Sound/Sound Sense: Fluxus Music, Scores & Records in the Luigi Bonotto Collection at the Whitechapel Gallery. Photo by the autho

Luigi Bonotto and the Bonotto Foundation

This is a FREE one-room display of Fluxus-related objects from the collection of Luigi Bonotto. Who he?

Luigi Bonotto was an Italian businessman who made his money from a textile factory and business in Molvena. He became involved with contemporary art in the 1960s and hosted a series of events by Fluxus artists at this home. Here, artists met each other, planned and created new works which Bonotto took it upon himself to document and record.

Gradually Bonotto set out to keep the work of the artists of Fluxus and Experimental Poetry alive, and dedicated his life to preserving, cataloguing, and promoting their poetry, music, and work.

Forty years later the collection has grown to house over 15,000 documents, often given by the artists themselves, a unique archive with which to study the creative processes, relations and collaborations between the artists. It is now housed in the Luigi Bonotto Foundation which, of course, has its own website.

Sense Sound/Sound Sense

So, after all that explanation, what about the display? Well, it’s like an interesting old junk shop, with display cases showing magazines and photos, a number of fairly big objects, rows of old, long player vinyl records, and some music stands holding iconic Fluxus-related scores such as John Cage‘s iconic 4’33”.

Cage’s ideas about ‘preparing’ a piano by placing nuts and bolts and other impediments among the strings were taken up by a wide variety of followers.

George Brecht (1926–2008), in one of his iconic works Incidental Music, gave musicians a list of ways to interact with a grand piano such as opening the piano and stacking wooden blocks inside the instrument until one falls and creates a noise, or by dropping dried beans onto the keys. Here’s the complete ‘score’, obviously in fact a set of instructions.

Incidental Music by George Brecht (1961) Courtesy of Fondazione Bonotto © George Brecht

Dick Higgins had the idea of creating a musical score by firing machine guns at it. Here’s the resulting score and the electronic thingy at the side included headphones so you could listen to the result. Note the written text at bottom left. As so often with conceptual art, it takes longer to read about than it takes to look at.

Installation view of Sense Sound/Sound Sense: Fluxus Music, Scores & Records showing Symphony 245 by Dick Higgins (1981) Photo by the author

Takehisa Kusugi‘s score Musical Piece set a new standard of simplicity: simply place the piece of paper these instructions are written on against your ear and rub. That’s it.

Elsewhere there was a piece of music made up of recorded birdsong placed on a loop, quite a funny big cartoon of a man playing  flute and out the end of it dripping spittle which was collected in a jar.

Probably the most striking artifact is this missile titled Bomb Cello by Charlotte Moorman.

Installation view of Sense Sound/Sound Sense: Fluxus Music, Scores & Records in the Luigi Bonotto Collection at the Whitechapel Gallery.

Charlotte was a classically trained cellist who teamed up with Fluxus artist Nam June Paik (who recently had an enormous retrospective show at Tate Modern) to create all manner of happenings and wacky performances. She performed naked or wearing a range of outfits, she played a man i.e. had a man sit in front of her while she went through the motions of playing a cello, and did the same to a TV and to a stack of TVs, in various performances.

The photo above captures Charlotte in the process of ‘playing’ a naked man, a performance titled Human Cello (1965). But it was Charlotte herself who designed the bomb cello standing next to it, which has strings, keys and a bow attached.

On the right in the picture is an artifact titled Composition for a record player and five musicians, with the toy musical instruments usefully attached. You get the idea.

Installation view of Sense Sound/Sound Sense: Fluxus Music, Scores & Records in the Luigi Bonotto Collection at the Whitechapel Gallery.

There are lots of LPs, sheet music, photos and magazine articles and wall labels and headphones so you can listen to the wackier compositions to your heart’s delight and study numerous other ‘scores’ for performances, as well as smashed up, fragmented or otherwise twisted and reinterpreted musical objects, like Claes Oldenburg’s drumkit made out of drooping, sagging sewn fabric. Or a violin case filled with lighted candles and titled A Little Night Music.

A Little Night Music by Marchetti Walter

As mad old Uncle Ian used to say – ‘Why not?’


Related links

Reviews of other Whitechapel Gallery exhibitions

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