drucken Bookmark and Share

by Peter van der Meijden

Banking with Fluxus, Then and Now

What status do Fluxus objects and documents have in the present? What is the relevance of Fluxus for current art? One of the answers is that Fluxus had a way of acting in and upon daily life, and especially the rules and conventions that govern it, that is still a vital ingredient of the artistic toolkit today. An account of several projects involving banking and the Danish entrepreneur, art mediator, and artist Knud Pedersen and a comparison to the Mexican poet, entrepreneur, and activist Fran Ilich show that appropriation of existing practices in order to create different results, a shift from object to project and from author to constellation, is still very much in use today.

This issue of OnCurating asks the question of Fluxus, its history, and its status in the present; of Fluxus and its continued relevance. In focus are the material it left behind in archives and collections, the works themselves, and their relevance then and now. Ambiguous from the start, Fluxus has now reached an ambiguous age as well. On the one hand, it will soon be sixty years since the first Fluxus festivals took place, in a pre-Internet age when cameras were a rare commodity and the selfie was unheard of. On the other hand, many of those involved, artists and eyewitnesses, are still with us, and the works are still the property of the artists, their families, or their heirs. They have not yet entered the abstract “public realm,” but have reached an age where it becomes necessary to decide what, if anything, they mean to “posterity” and, ultimately, “humanity.”

How to assess Fluxus’s relevance for the present? How to judge its role? Many would say that this demands a solid definition of Fluxus, but even that is a difficult issue. What is Fluxus, or what was it? Some would say that Fluxus is the sum of George Maciunas’s efforts as a publisher and impresario,[1] others that it can be defined by means of a number—nine,[2] or twelve,[3] or any number in between—of characteristics. Some say that it only lasted until Maciunas’s death, others that it existed before Maciunas gave it a name and will continue forever.[4]

Historically speaking, Fluxus was a child of its time. When the title of Harry Ruhé’s 1979 book on Fluxus, “the most radical and experimental art movement of the sixties,” is quoted,[5] it is often with a stress on the first part, “the most radical and experimental art movement” but the second part, “of the sixties,” is by no means irrelevant. In 1961, in New York, George Brecht took part in “Neo-Dada” exhibitions such as The Art of Assemblage at the Museum of Modern Art and Environments Situations Spaces at Martha Jackson Gallery, while in Copenhagen, German/Danish artist Arthur Køpcke showed New Realists Daniel Spoerri and Niki de Saint-Phalle at his Galerie Køpcke and helped Jean Tinguely to collect scrap metal for the latter’s sculptural event “Sketch for the End of the World” at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk. In 1963, in New York, Robert Watts participated in The American Supermarket, a Pop Art show organized by Bianchini Gallery, while in Amsterdam, Willem de Ridder edited a program on Zero, New Realism and Pop Art for Dutch national television. Lucy Lippard’s Six Years: the Dematerialization of the Art Object, published in 1973,[6] not only mentions Brecht, but also Henry Flynt’s essay on Concept Art from 1961 and Ken Friedman’s “Notes on Concept Art” from 1972. Of course, each of these connections can be criticized; each story of continuity can be countered with one of difference; but the least one can say is that people saw a connection at the time. In their eyes, at least, Fluxus could be seen as part of a chronological, linear narrative connecting Brecht and Watts with Pop Art and Flynt and Friedman with Conceptual Art.

These, however, are art world connections. Artworks can always be construed to be compatible with other artworks. However, there is another side to Fluxus. Mari Dumett describes it in her 2017 book Corporate Imaginations[7] as the “confusing” dialectic of anti-art gestures and appropriations of corporate culture that define the face Fluxus presented to the world. The “other” side of Fluxus does not—or not only—link it to art, but to Western culture, especially to its socio-economic climate. I would like to suggest that it is this side of Fluxus that offers one key to its continued relevance.

It is useful, in this connection, to remember the difference that Hal Foster makes between “fast and furious” and “critical” returns of the avant-garde in 1950s and 1960s. Not only did Brecht appear in Neo-Dada shows, but George Maciunas also chose to call his only proto-Fluxus manifesto of any length “Neo-Dada in Music, Theater, Poetry, Art,” and even after he dropped the reference to Dada, he continued to refer to that historical avant-garde movement in both his appearance and his design style, while at the same time adopting the Russian constructivist LEF-movement as a reference. The historical avant-garde definitely played a role, at least to Maciunas, so the question of the continued relevance of avant-garde practice in the 1960s is important. The question is, how to distinguish between Foster’s two types of neo-avant-garde, one that “tends to reduce past practice to a style or a theme that can be assimilated,” and another that strives for a “critical consciousness of both artistic conventions and historical conditions.”[8] One depends on formal characteristics, and the other on attitudes, so they may well be simply different in kind, rather than opposed. However, I will here assume that, if one wants to identify the critical side of Fluxus, and in extension of that, its continued relevance, it is attitudes one has to turn to.

I will explore this angle by means of the activities of a figure that has long seemed marginal to the history of Fluxus; someone whose activities are almost impossible to pin down and whose output is equally protean. This person is Knud Pedersen. Born in 1925 in the Danish town of Grenaa, he first came to the nation’s attention during World War II, when, as a sixteen-year old, he co-founded the country’s first resistance movement, the Churchill Club, in 1942. Pedersen spent the last two years of the war in jail and published his first book about his wartime experiences in 1946, which gave him a measure of public fame. He moved to Copenhagen, considered becoming an artist for a while, but decided that he was more interested in what art could be used for (his formulation).[9] What especially occupied him was how to give as many people as possible access to art. After all, hot dogs were offered from stalls on every street corner to those who might fancy one, but art was kept in places to which only the privileged few had access.[10] His first solution was the “Picture of the City” (Byens Billede, 1952), a scheme by which municipalities could erect an easel in a public place where a rotating selection of contemporary art would be shown. During the early years, the scheme was run by a board of artists, but in 1955, Pedersen became the owner, and he diversified into lending out art to individuals. However, it was easier to satisfy a customer when they could choose for themselves, so when the public library left Nikolaj Church in the center of Copenhagen in 1957, he requested and received permission to set up an Art Library there, creating what was probably the first full-scale art rental in Europe.

Up until this point, it is clear what he was: an entrepreneur, even if an especially inventive one. It is also easy to determine when he first manifested himself as an artist: in 1967, during the annual Autumn Exhibition at Den Frie Udstillingsbygning in Copenhagen. The work he showed was 570 Telephone Directories and a Telephone, which tells you exactly what it is. As an object, it can be read within the tradition of the ready-made. However, that was never the intention. The telephone should have been connected and the telephone directories used to contact the rest of the world. Just like the Picture of the City and the Art Library, it was a statement about use. In fact, most, if not all, of Pedersen’s activities up until this time seem to have had to do with use. Previously, he had experimented with the use of jukeboxes (1963-6) and beer lorries (1965) to disseminate art, and telephone conferencing also caught his attention.

The latter is especially interesting for the purpose of this article, because it sheds new light on the work at the Autumn Exhibition. In 1966, Pedersen facilitated performances by Fluxus artists Arthur Køpcke and Eric Andersen by means of telephone conferencing. Facilitating can be many things, but in this case, his involvement was of a practical nature, such as paying the bill. It was by no means a modest one, 1,168.07 DKK (€1,450/US$1,550 in today’s money), a clear sign that he thought the project important. Especially Eric Andersen’s performance was notorious: his work consisted of an instruction to read a poem, but to start from the beginning every time the reading was interrupted—which it inevitably was, because the artist had added the possibility of asking questions via the telephone conferencing system. It ended only because a participant ignored the instructions and read the poem to the end. However, as far as Pedersen was concerned, the project did not stop there. At around the same time, the Danish government made art appreciation part of the curriculum at the country’s colleges, and Pedersen developed a scheme to record and sell interviews with artists on tape and to give groups of students the possibility to ask further questions by means of telephone conferences. Like his idea with art in jukeboxes—to which, by the way, we owe a fine recording of Robert Filliou’s Whispered Art History—it never became a profitable business venture, but that is not really the point. The point is that the venture marks a point—the point at which he stops being an entrepreneur but stops short of being an artist as well. Instead, he practiced two principles that became regular features of his activities from this period onwards, “idea escalation” and “the art of failure.”

The term “idea escalation” features for the first time in the title of his book Sketch of an Idea Escalation by Project Maker Pedersen from 1970,[11] which describes a number of projects at the intersection of art and entrepreneurship. As he writes in the introduction to a chapter called “Examples of Collaboration/Identification Between Art and Business”:

Collaboration between art and business is more than party games for limited companies. If the artist who sets it up, remains an alien element, and if his idea is not treated seriously, it will become a party game, pure and simple. But if the artist is one of the company’s employees, or if he is engaged to do his job as part of the company’s activities, the party game can become art.[12]

It is important to get the terms right. Neither art nor business are party games: the type of activity he tries to describe resembles play when it is not taken seriously, but does not become art until it is placed in a serious business context. This means that art is not equated to play as opposed to business. Instead, playful activity becomes art when put into a business context. The type of art Pedersen tries to describe is not oppositional, but transformative. Allowing an idea to “escalate,” then, means introducing a playful idea into a serious context to realize some its implications, transforming the context in the process. The choice of the term “to escalate” also indicates that there will always be further implications.

The other term, “the art of failure,” is also a book title, this one coined in 1981.[13] The book describes a number of projects that failed to materialize in the way they were intended, but in a manner that nevertheless led to further ideas or insights. A good example is Pedersen’s work on a so-called “car guide,” a kind of primitive, mechanical global positioning system (GPS), the prototype of which is now part of the collection of the Danish Technology Museum in Elsinore.[14] Instead of having to consult large, unwieldy maps while driving, he reasoned, it would be much easier if one could encode one’s itinerary on punch cards before starting on a trip and had a computer in one’s car to tell one where to turn. He presented the idea to the Danish Inventions Board, which provided him with funding to develop the idea. It was patented as well, and a way of navigating was developed, but the system was never produced. Does that mean that it was a failure? Not to Pedersen, because he could see lots of ways in which to develop it even further. Quite apart from various navigation games, it could be used for petrol rationing, car sharing, traffic speed control, and much more. He concludes:

There do not seem to be limits to the possibilities that are hidden in even a small thing, to turn it this way and that, so it can be inspected from all sides and in all the contexts one can think of. [...] [I]t has been sufficiently exciting to be given the possibility to work with problems of one’s own choosing in a time when keeping oneself busy is more important than driving places. No guide could have foretold the itinerary I would follow with my guide to get me to my destination.[15]

The term “the art of failure,” then, refers, just like the term “idea escalation,” to an ever-broadening horizon of possibilities. It indicates Pedersen’s interest in the project, rather than the result. There is an art to failure if it grants the project continued life.

This understanding of the implications of the project as a form closely resembles French anthropologist and sociologist Bruno Latour’s take on the issue. In Aramis, or, The Love of Technology from 1996, Latour makes a sharp distinction between pro-jects and ob-jects. The former, he writes, have no existence in the world when they start, and end when they turn into objects.[16] Without a tangible referent, every participant in a project is free to imagine it in their own way, on the basis of their own expectations, and these expectations will be adjusted again and again during the course of its development. Latour speaks of “translation”: not only the project itself, but the positions of those implied, change all the time.[17] The same goes for objects, mechanisms, and so on needed to develop the project. As vital parts of the process of translation, or as material enablers, they make some courses of action more likely and others less likely or even impossible. The only form of solidity in this fluid landscape is created by means of legally binding agreements. Otherwise, what characterizes a project is that it is not known beforehand which people, things, and procedures are necessary to realize it.

It is my contention that Pedersen, when he called himself a “project maker,” engaged in projects in exactly this manner. With “idea escalation” and “the art of failure” as his tools, Project Maker Pedersen set out to create new constellations of objects, people, and procedures to explore how reality could be made to work in new ways. In the following sections, I will take a closer look at some projects concerning banking to explore how he went about this. After that, I will return to Fluxus to explore whether and how this particular way of “working the world” is present there and can account for its continued relevance.

One example of “idea escalation” that Pedersen mentions in his book from 1970 is the so-called “Building Project” from 1968. It evolved from a proposal to ask artists to design summer cottages, to be put on display at the Hareskov Centre, a showroom for summer cottages in the village of Lille Værløse, some 25km outside Copenhagen. According to a draft agreement, the Centre would provide the grounds, help to contact suppliers, and give technical aid, while Pedersen would apply for funds at the Ministry of Culture.[18] Unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately, as the following will show—the three proposals the project ended up consisting of, by Eric Andersen, George Brecht, and Arthur Køpcke,[19] cost much more than the 30,000 DKK Pedersen asked for (but did not get). In fact, the costs were estimated at a staggering 6,059,000,000 DKK—not surprising, as Køpcke wanted to build an “invisible” cottage in an artificial forest that was entirely covered in one-way mirrors, Brecht a “Love Room” with all the amenities, and Andersen a structure consisting of ten billion units, a cubic centimeter each, which had to be capable of receiving, processing, and sending information, of adopting every possible form, whether gaseous, liquid, or solid, and a number of other specifications. It is the latter that accounts for most of the cost of the project. In any case, Pedersen was now faced with a funding problem, which he ended up solving by negotiating a special interest rate (6.5%) with Bikuben Bank, so that the funds needed would be generated in a mere 284 years and 201 days. As he wrote in an accompanying note:

The projects shown here are examples of artistic work based on advanced techniques. Considering the present economic and political situation and state of technical development today, these projects will in due course, all things being constant, become reality.
For the benefit of other artists working with this complex of media, we enclose tables of rates of interest based on deposits of 1 D.kr., 50 D.kr. or 100 D.kr. so that each artist is able to calculate the time that shall elapse before his project shall be accomplished Subsequently, in this way, can any artist and any project be financially independent.[20]

Apart from Pedersen’s obvious belief in progress, three aspects of the project and the above formulation of its implications are worthy of note. First of all, there is the fact that Pedersen bothers to talk about the implications at all; this is him practicing “idea escalation” two years before he chose the term as the title of his book on the subject. Secondly, there is the importance of a projected future. The scheme depends on the ability of the banking system to honor its obligations nearly 300 years in the future. The bank book was entrusted to the Danish Royal Library, but without the obligation to present it every year for the interest to be added. Thus, the responsibility for the scheme did not lie with Pedersen and his family, but with an organization that was created to keep things for all eternity. Thirdly, the idea was offered as an option to any artist who wants to work with advanced technology, but does not want to make him-/herself dependent upon a funding body. Banking, then, is in this case not a concession to the establishment, but a bid for freedom. The funding scheme is perfectly ordinary according to all parameters bar one: time. The artist can remain true to him-/herself, but has to wait a bit longer. The choice is between integrity and speed.

Moving four and a half years ahead in time, one of Pedersen’s contributions to the Fluxshoe exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford (February 10-25, 1973) was Bank Service for Fluxshoes Joint-Account Forms. The idea does not seem particularly spectacular at first glance. After all, many people—married couples, for example—have joint accounts. What makes Pedersen’s work special is the fact that the joint ownership of the account is not the initiative of a bank, but comes from the outside. The forms can be handed in at any bank, and how it chooses to respond is up to the bank itself to decide. The work consists of five copies of the same form, announcing to two individuals’ banking institutions that they want to merge their accounts to “the greater advantage of all concerned.” It is up to the banks themselves to decide where the joint account is opened. Two of the copies are for the account holders, two for their bank(s), and the last one is to be filed at the Art Library. The project, then, is more than a scheme for the benefit of the account holders and their banks. The Art Library has a stake in it as well, and its role is that of archivist. Documentation is an essential element of the project. It remains uncertain whether any forms were ever filled out and processed; certainly none have survived, but the project is still fully accessible as a concept.

Two final banking projects need to be discussed here, the Bank of 7th October 1971 and Culture Accounts. Both were initiated on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of a bank, Landsmandsbanken and Svendborg Bank, respectively. The difference between the two projects is essential to position Pedersen’s projects—and it is imperative here to underline that “Pedersen’s projects” should be read as shorthand for “projects Pedersen was involved in”—vis-à-vis art and society.

The Bank of 7th October 1971 is easily described. It was a collaborative project with Landmandsbanken, Eric Andersen, and Pedersen as equal partners. Its purpose was to issue checkbooks and engage in other banking activities at the intersection between banking and art. Pedersen’s archive contains examples of checkbooks in percent, degrees, cubic meters, kilometers, and kilometers per hour. The work consists of the viewer’s efforts to compare monetary value to other ways of measuring the world. As such, the checkbooks display a behavior similar to other works that mimic money, such as Robert Watts’ Dollar Bills, which were issued by Fluxus in 1962, or Andy Warhol’s silkscreened dollar bills from the same year.

The story of the Culture Accounts project takes longer to tell. It started in 1969-70, when Pedersen tried to interest various banks in a scheme by which account holders would be able to determine what a bank would invest their savings in. In the process, he also sought backing from the Social Democratic government. In November 1969, he contacted the Ministry of Culture with a special proposal for “culture checkbooks,” earmarking people’s savings for cultural purposes. The Minister, Kristen Helveg Petersen, answered that he could not support the scheme because most people would find it a shame if investments in the arts increased at the expense of investments of other sectors of the economy. Also, he was worried that the amount invested in art via the culture account scheme would be deducted from the budget of the Ministry of Culture, thus making it difficult for the Ministry to allocate money to specific artists and projects. Pedersen then contacted the Prime Minister, Hans Otto Krag, asking for “moral support” in his negotiations with the banks. To Krag, Pedersen presented it as a bid for increased democracy in the banking sector, with the Culture Account scheme as a “limited realization.” Krag passed the letter on to the chairman of the parliamentary committee for business policy, the Social Democrat Jens Kampmann, who judged that Pedersen’s proposal was in tune with the Social Democratic Party’s policy on this point, which included more influence for private account holders on the banks’ way of investing their money. This ended the discussion for the time being.[21]

The idea of making it possible for account holders to decide what their savings would be used for was also discussed as a possibility in connection with Landmandsbanken’s 100th anniversary in 1971, where the idea involved the creation of a special account of one million Danish Crowns, to be supplied by private customers, who could then borrow a sum and decide for themselves which “welfare purposes” (the word used is the Danish trivsel, which means “well-being”) it would be used for. The proposal was rejected, but it resurfaced in 1975 in discussions with Svendborg Bank in a more narrowly defined incarnation in which private customers would be given the possibility of opening an account that functioned like any other account, but that could be used to support art projects as well. A folder printed in connection with the project specifically mentions “risky artistic projects.” Artists could apply for a Culture Loan, at an interest rate of 12%, and in exchange, account holders would be informed about the nature of the project the loan was used to finance. They could also choose to buy the work in question. The scheme, then, allows private individuals to finance and buy art that would otherwise be impossible to realize and/or that they would otherwise never have acquainted themselves with—an idea that is much in line with the original idea behind the Art Library.

One cannot claim that these two projects are utopian in the avant-garde sense of the word. They are simply too embroiled in commerce. Both celebrated a commercial bank’s 100th anniversary, and the latter was actively used for PR purposes as well. As it says in the folder:

For the past 100 years, Svendborg Bank has been the main bank for the South Funen area, where artists are inspired by the beautiful landscape and the friendly surroundings. When the bank came to the capital city in 1973, it was lucky to find itself in the cultural centre of Nikolaj Plads [where the Art Library was situated, PvdM], and the bank’s Copenhagen branch has therefore used its location to give good artists from Funen the possibility to show their work to the Copenhagen audience. With the culture account system, we hope to be able to support the arts, which do not have particularly favourable conditions in today’s Denmark.[22]

This association of a commercial enterprise with the values attached to art is common in early cases of corporate sponsorship.[23] However, there are clear differences between the two as well. As pointed out earlier, the checkbooks published by the Bank of 7th October 1971 function as ordinary, if critical, art objects, inviting the viewer to speculate about conventions such as the way in which contemporary society measures reality. The Culture Account scheme is different, as it does not only invite reflection, but also action. Both projects are intermedial,[24] situating themselves on a scale between art and the “life medium” of banking, but the Culture Account scheme is much closer to banking, needing the actual act of banking in order to exist at all. It is a feature it shares with the first two projects discussed here, the Building Project and the Joint-Account Forms.

What does the difference matter when all that is left of these projects are documents in archives and stories in books? In the context of an article that wants to link Fluxus to its and our present, it is an essential question to ask. If Fluxus has any relevance today (if, indeed, the projects discussed here have any relevance today), its products will necessarily have to be more than just witnesses of the past.

Material witnesses of all the projects that have been discussed so far are kept in archives. The documents still exist, but the question is whether they have any other function than to testify to the fact that something has been thought, done, et cetera, in the past. It is the question of the museum: after all, it is often claimed that objects have to be stripped of their function, decontextualized, before they can acquire a new life as a museum object. So, how much life is left in these projects?

There is no evidence that the Joint-Account Forms, the Bank of 7th October 1971, and the Culture Accounts have had a life—understood in the Latourian sense—beyond the time when they physically manifested themselves. The Building Project has had the longest existence. Bikuben Bank, the bank that agreed to accept Pedersen’s 100 DKK and to put it into an account for 284 years and 201 days, fused with GiroBank in 1995 and became BG Bank, and BG Bank in turn fused with Danske Bank in 2001. Just before the fusion, BG Bank confirmed the existence of the account, including the special interest rate of 6.5%. However, the bank also signaled that the account was registered in Pedersen’s own name, and not, as one would have expected, to a foundation or to the Art Library, and this turned out to be an issue. In 2009, Pedersen reported to his lawyer that Danske Bank had been unable to find the account, and that the money had been transferred to one of the bank’s own internal accounts. When it resurfaced, the bank’s legal department judged that Bikuben had never formally agreed to pay 6.5% interest for 287 years and 201 days. In the absence of such an agreement, Pedersen’s lawyer agreed, the bank was free to propose altering the interest rate or any other part of the arrangement. The original interest table, which BG Bank had produced, could after all merely be seen as a way of showing what would happen if a bank was to pay a fixed percentage of interest over such a long period; it could in no case be seen as a binding agreement. Pedersen replied by describing the project as a collaboration between equals. This was not him as a person, opening a bank account with Bikuben Bank, he argued, but a special agreement between two equal partners who both had obligations—and he had fulfilled his. The bank, however, held on to its version of the facts, and the project was no more. Only the bank book and the correspondence remain.

In Latourian terms, the project existed right until Danske Bank got its way. As long as it existed in different versions, it had a life, but when only Danske Bank’s version continued to exist, it had become an object instead. If one wanted to argue in favor of its continued existence, one could point to its life as a story. Apart from continuing to elaborate upon his projects— “turning them this way and that, so they can be inspected from all sides and in all the contexts one can think of,” as he wrote in 1981—Pedersen also continued to write about them. He published over thirty books during his lifetime, both fiction and books about the war, art, and his own projects. His musings on art and projects, however, are never straight reports of facts; they offer angles on his projects, often new ones, and discuss possibilities for “escalation.” This, too, is a way of adding life to his projects. In line with Christopher Bedford’s argument about the “viral” ontology of performance art, in which the original performance only serves as the starting point of an ever growing lineage of dissimilar, viral reformulations in word and action,[25] one could argue that they continue to do so, and that his projects live on in storytelling. In that case, this essay would be a way of continuing them.

What, then, does his work mean in the present-day context? For one thing, money and banking still have the keen interest of artists. One can draw a line from Pedersen’s younger contemporary Cildo Meireles’s Zero Cruceiro (1974-8) or Zero Dollar (1978-84) bills to the “Boggs notes” produced by James Boggs from the mid-1980s onwards to modified bills by such contemporary artists as the French duo Atypyk (Ivan Duval and Jean Sébastien Ides) or American James Charles in his American Iconomics series. All of these projects, however, while addressing issues of value, circulation, and exchange, are representational and seem more related to the checkbooks issued by the Bank of 7th October 1971 than to the Building Project or the Culture Accounts scheme. If there is a relationship with works such as Boggs’s, it is via the performance aspect. In the case of the Boggs notes, hand-drawn currency acquires value by means of a performance of exchange.[26] It is important to distinguish between the actual note plus the documentation of the exchange on the one hand, which can be displayed as a work, and the exchange itself, which effectuates a real change, namely, the bill acquiring a value equal to the denomination drawn upon it by the artist. It is the latter side of his projects that can be called the “performance.”

An even better example of such a tangle of symbolic and real action is Fran Ilich’s Spacebank project (2005-2016). Spacebank’s motto is “Don’t hate the banks become the banks.” Admittedly, Ilich, unlike Pedersen, is ideologically motivated. A Mexican author, activist, and media artist currently living in New York, he was—and is—inspired by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Not only did Spacebank support their cause, its set-up is inspired by the Zapatistas’ insistence on direct democracy and their willingness to always renegotiate the terms of the dialogue itself. Founded after the publication of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (June 28, 2005), which calls upon everyone with more respect for humanity than for money to join the Zapatistas in their struggle for social justice, the bank served to support a server called Possibleworlds.org, which functioned as a forum for Zapatista and left-wing activism. What makes Spacebank different, however, is that it functioned as a real investment bank and offered real banking services. It offered bank accounts and issued debit cards to its customers and traded shares in virtual companies. The currency used was a virtual one called the Digital Material Sunflower (DMS), but it was backed by real value, and the bank had working relationship with the World Bank, The Economist, Citibank, Paypal, Bitcoin, Visa/Mastercard, and others. Interested parties could announce an initiative (a magazine, a radio station, etc.) and issue shares worth a certain amount in DMS. If people bought them, it meant that they were willing to take a risk, and that was taken as a sign that there was an interest, and perhaps even a need, for the project. From 2010 on, such shares could be exchanged via the Brooklyn Stock Exchange and since 2014 also via the Bronx Socialist Exchange.

What is especially interesting about Spacebank in the present context is the way in which Ilich negotiates the relationship between art and reality. First of all, he saw his approach as an alternative to the usual relationship that left-wing activists have with money, which is to always put the cause first, often with disastrous effects for the economic side of things. Secondly, he acknowledged the importance contemporary society accords to money, using economics to give real value to politics, even though money is no longer a supposed objective, but a flexible way of measuring worth. The project translates “What is it worth?” into “What are you prepared to pay?”[27] Thirdly, what he was interested in was presenting an experiential model, rather than a representation; according to him, the project had a “pedagogical dimension” that made it possible for people to “experience first-hand the relationship between finance and social organisation.”[28] Finally, and continuing directly from the latter point, he describes it as theatre—a “staging of life”—and as an “alchemical” process in which relations are transformed.[29] The model, in other words, offers a real, rather than a symbolic, experience and has the possibility of affecting real (social and economic) relationships.

As pointed out above, Pedersen, unlike Ilich, was never really ideologically motivated. When Pedersen spoke of “the greater advantage of all concerned,” about welfare or well-being, it sounds more like a marketing tactic than an ultimate goal. His projects are first and foremost attempts to see whether existing systems and procedures can produce different results. However, there are similarities as well. To start with, both artist/entrepreneurs are equally difficult to characterize. In a study on digital activism in Latin America, for example, Claire Taylor and Thea Pitman characterize Ilich as “an itinerant Mexican writer, media artist, activist and (conceptual) entrepreneur.”[30] Ilich and Pedersen are both “slashers”; they hold “multi-hyphen” jobs. However, the similarity goes further than this. For Spacebank to function, it is important that Ilich does not act as Ilich-the-artist, but as a representative of a real bank that offers real banking services. The same goes for Pedersen’s projects, where it is essential that relationships are created via the Art Library or a foundation instead of Pedersen himself. Furthermore, it is essential that existing procedures and forms are used instead of devising alternative ones that would then function as representations of a “possible world” or a “different future.” For these projects to function—not to succeed, but to function—existing networks and procedures have to be seen as capable of producing new relationships. It is in this particular way of designing his projects that Pedersen, despite the fact that he was in no way ideologically inspired, can still be seen as relevant.

According to Taylor and Pitman, hacktivism and tactical media, and within this genre, Ilich’s work, “can be considered politically motivated art forms as much as they are social practices with potentially revolutionary goals—they are the Dada movements of their day.”[31] Even today, then, advanced practices are characterized by their reference to the historical avant-garde. In other words, Dada, Fluxus, and hacktivism can be construed as occupying positions on the same family tree, no matter how distantly related they are. The reason to group them there is their engagement in “social practices with potentially revolutionary goals”—social practices, not artistic ones. American author and curator Nato Thompson speaks of “ways of life that emphasize participation, challenge power, and span disciplines ranging from urban planning and community work to theatre and the visual arts.”[32] What is important is what it does, not what it is or what we choose to call it. Both artists and non-artists experiment with alternatives to current practices; where they come from does not matter, but they meet in their way of working, with projects that really function, but also signify that a different way of working is possible.

The word “intermedia” has already been mentioned. One cannot equate “intermedia” with “Fluxus,” although Dick Higgins gives it a central place fully within the circle of intermedia in his Intermedia Chart (1995).[33] Intermedia is work that “falls in between the media”[34]: to describe it as one or the other medium or even as several media at once, is to sell it short. Intermedia inhabits uncharted territory. Especially rare, Higgins write, are intermedia that situate themselves in the no-man’s land between “art” media and “life” media.[35] It is here that we find Pedersen and Ilich. Does this make Pedersen a Fluxus artist? No, because intermedia, as Higgins describes it, is much more than just Fluxus. Pedersen knew Higgins and other Fluxus artists well, both corresponding with them and occasionally facilitating their work. He knew Køpcke before Fluxus and worked on numerous projects together with Eric Andersen. Does this make him a Fluxus artist? No, because his role is often not that of an artist. Not even his participation in the Fluxshoe makes him one, because so many artists participated in it who have never been considered Fluxus artists. If he is neither Fluxus nor an artist, why mention him in the context of an article on Fluxus at all?

Pedersen felt attracted to Fluxus as soon as Køpcke mentioned to him the possibility of organizing a Fluxus festival at the Art Library in Nikolaj Church, the Copenhagen Festum Fluxorum on November 23-28, 1962. It was a risk for Pedersen to host it, because he rented the space from the municipality, which could end the lease if he did not use the premises in the way described in the contract. In fact, he did end up being evicted, first from the nave and finally from the building. Fluxus seemed relevant to him and caused him to experiment with alternative forms of art mediation, such as the abovementioned jukeboxes. However, he also saw his job as fully enmeshed with the other jobs that need to be done to put art in front of an audience. When artists start to explore the world around themselves instead of creating something new, he argued, the art mediator becomes an “agent for the artist, just as the artist becomes an agent for his [the art mediator’s] ideas.” Both work as agents for art, “or rather, the artistic view of reality,” and all “contribute towards the publication of the magazine called art, where the typographer and the editor-in-chief and the buyer act as equals.”[36] As soon as the artist chooses to work with existing (social) forms, formations, procedures, conventions, etc., s/he can no longer claim to create as an individual, but interacts with others who thus become co-creators of a work or constellation that cannot be regarded as belonging to anyone. Thus, Pedersen had willing and unwilling, conscious and unconscious collaborators that made his projects possible, just as Pedersen contributed to the realization of Køpcke’s and Andersen’s works, however menial the tasks that he performed.

Fluxus has this aspect as well, although it is difficult to materialize by means of the material that now fills the Fluxus files in archives and museums worldwide. In the early years of Fluxus, it manifested itself in the creation of a publishing house, a shop and a mail-order business that really worked, while at the same time also materializing a “different” attitude towards art and economics. As Maciunas put it in various manifestos and similar texts around 1965-6, Fluxus, now characterized as “art amusement,” had to be “simple, amusing, concerned with insignificances, have no commodity or institutional value. It has to be unlimited, obtainable by all and eventually produced by all.” [37] There was, in other words, a good reason why Fluxus had to be mass-produced, disseminated by mail, simple, funny, et cetera: the Fluxshop, Fluxus mail-order houses, and Fluxus assembly line served to prove that nobody really needed art. Similarly, when launching the Fluxhouse Cooperative Building Project in 1966, Maciunas made use of financial incentives to initiate projects that proved that a different way of handling real estate was possible.

Pedersen was interested in exactly such projects that sprung from Fluxus but had a real-world dimension, such as George Brecht’s 0-Propeller from 1975, a ship propeller that would leave the ship stationary in the water. This was the Fluxus that fascinated him, and he, in turn, worked to develop this particular side of Fluxus further, creating an intermedium of art and entrepreneurship in which the use of “life media” by far exceeds the use of “art media.” He can by no means be seen as a Fluxus artist, but perhaps the title of (conceptual) Fluxus entrepreneur is within reach.

The issue that Dumett and others address is that of Fluxus’s past and present. Fluxus emerged at a time when new art was connected with Dada and the historical avant-garde in order to make sense of it. Dumett and others point out that Fluxus positioned itself in relation to its own present as well as to art’s past. This article, however, does not inquire into Fluxus’s past and present, but into its present and future, into its continued relevance today. In order to link Fluxus to its own present in the 1960s and 70s, Dumett refers to Fluxus’s “corporate imaginations,” that is to say, its work with “everyday factors of organization, but also systematization, automation, commoditization, mediatization, routinization, and globalization.”[38] When early Fluxus was characterized as “neo-avant-garde,” it was done so in order to make sense of the look of the work. What authors like Dumett add is an awareness of the non-art references that also play a role in the conception and functioning of the work. When asking the question of Fluxus’s continued relevance, however, one has to return to the look or the shape of the work once more. Between the 1960s and 2020s, hybridization and boundary-seeking (not necessarily boundary-crossing) have produced a situation where everything can be art and everything can be used to create art—including, as argued above, procedures such as the administration of assets. Therefore, I want to argue that Fluxus’s continuous relevance does not necessarily lie in such essential aspects as the use of event scores or Maciunas’s outrageous, ironic, and deeply significant play with markers of corporate identity, but in the use and détournement of real world behaviors, procedures, et cetera.

The type of relevance referred to here relates to attitudes, rather than objects. It is connected with the critical return of the avant-garde described by Hal Foster in the sense that it rests on a critical awareness of existing conditions rather than a reworking of methods and forms. The banking projects described here, both Pedersen’s and Ilich’s, function because their originators adopt a different attitude towards existing procedures, using them to produce different results. When establishing a genealogy for them, like Taylor and Pitman do when they link Ilich to Dada, it is important to remember that the connection rests upon a shared attitude towards the world in which they operate, towards its values, norms, rules, and procedures, rather than towards art alone; an attitude that is focused on the appropriation of existing models in order to make them produce different results and experiences, rather than developing new models.

Of course, such projects generate objects and archival material as well. Ilich’s project is too recent to predict how the traces it has left behind will be treated by future generations, but the traces left by Pedersen’s projects have been around for a longer time, so it is easier to spot the expectations they are met with and the uses they are put to. One conclusion one might draw is that projects in the Latourian sense are at a disadvantage when tied to a single author. As early as the mid-1960s, Pedersen argued that artists working with and in the real world cannot claim unique authorship, but have to settle for shared authorship with all those others who consciously or unconsciously contribute(d) towards the realization of the work. When filed and presented under the name of a single author, projects become objects. The insistence on equal partnership in several of the projects described here, as well as the centrality of artists’ involvement in the company’s core business in Pedersen’s definition of “collaboration/identification between art and business,” is essential here. It is not about individuals and individual roles, but about the design, appropriation, and management of relations and contexts. Constellations are more important than individuals.

Another important aspect is the legal perspective. In the absence of objects, what gives projects solidity are legally binding agreements. As long as those involved can freely create their own version of a project, it is virtually intangible, but binding agreements concerning roles, contributions, itineraries, et cetera give it a solidity while retaining its character as a project. It is no coincidence that Pedersen insisted on an archival role for the Art Library in connection with the Joint Accounts project or that he deposited the bank book for the Building Project at the Danish Royal Library. Organizations and institutions not only keep, but also help to give shape and continued existence to projects beyond the individual.

Finally, it is important to point out that the shape that is created in this manner is a processual one. Pedersen’s projects became richer and more elaborate in the retelling, and the same goes for retelling by others. Collecting and showing such projects means adding to their history, while hiding this fact behind the name of the artist and the title of the project means turning them into objects. Storytelling might not be too bad an alternative to the presentation of objects, even if it means a shift of focus from historical fact to observed implication.

An account of Pedersen’s involvement in various banking projects, then, is relevant for the history and status of Fluxus because it illustrates how an art mediator and art library director can be inspired by the Fluxus context to embark on organizational projects that take existing procedures and transform them to produce different results. In the process, it highlights aspects of Fluxus that may otherwise go unnoticed, such as its vital relationship with the world that surrounded it and the way it acquired existence in the world beyond the framework that is common for art, i.e., with an insistence on authorship and object quality. Finally, it makes it possible to highlight connections between Fluxus’s present and our own by way of roles and attitudes rather than forms and methods.

Banking with Fluxus, then, is something else than listing Fluxus projects that involve banking. It is project rather than object, a potentially endless shifting of identities that projects itself forward in time as well as linking sideways to similar, if completely unrelated, projects. It is driven by the conjunction “and,” the juxtaposition of versions of a project, stakeholders, and similarities, rather than the “because” of traditional art history and museum practice.

Peter van der Meijden is a Dutch art historian, writer, and curator currently living in Denmark. He holds a PhD from the University of Copenhagen, where he also works as an associate lecturer, teaching museology, curating, and contemporary art. His research interests include ephemeral art forms from the 1960s to the present, particularly Fluxus, happenings, Mail Art, and Conceptual Art and their legacies, and museology/cultural heritage. Among his most recent publications are “Not Incorrect and Particularly Not Irrelevant: Joseph Beuys and Henning Christiansen, 1966-71” (Tate Papers, 2019), “Message in a Bottle to Systembolaget” (Perspective, 2017), and “Fluxus Art Amusement and the Museum of Gags: Objectification and Bafflement, Encounter and Engagement at the Museum” (Nordic Journal of Museology, 2017).


[1] Jon Hendricks, “What’s Fluxus? What’s not! Why.,” in What’s Fluxus? What’s not! Why., ed. Jon Hendricks (Brasilia/Rio de Janeiro: Centro Cultural do Brasil and Detroit: The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Foundation, 2002), 14-15. Alternatively, see Joe Jones, “Fluxus in ten words” in Fluxus Etc., ed. Jon Hendricks (Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Academy of Arts, 1981), 27: “Fluxus was one man named George F. Maciunas.”

[2] Dick Higgins, “Fluxus: Theory and Reception,” in Fluxus Research, ed. Jean Sellem, Lund Art Press 2, no. 2 (special issue, 1991): 25-46.

[3] Ken Friedman, “Fluxus and Company,” in The Fluxus Reader, ed. Ken Friedman (Chichester: Academy Editions, 1998), 237-256.

[4] Hendricks, “What’s Fluxus?”; and Friedman “Fluxus and Company.”

[5] Harry Ruhé, Fluxus, the Most Radical and Experimental Art Movement of the Sixties (Amsterdam: A, 1979).

[6] Lucy Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, (Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997 [1973]). Reference to Flynt on 22, Friedman’s “Notes on Concept Art” reproduced on 258-9.

[7] Mari Dumett, Corporate Imaginations: Fluxus Strategies for Living (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2017).

[8] Hal Foster, The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century (Cambridge, MA; London: MIT Press, 1996), 3 and 1, respectively.

[9] Knud Pedersen, Kampen mod borgermusikken (Copenhagen: Kunstbibliotekets Forlag, 1968), reproduced in Nikolaj Zeuthen, ed., Knud Pedersens festlige hverdage (Copenhagen: Lindhardt og Ringhof, 2005), 11-123. Quote on 25.

[10] Ibid., 28.

[11] Knud Pedersen, Skitse til en idéescalation af projektmager Pedersen, Copenhagen: Kunstnernes Efterårsudstilling, 1970.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Knud Pedersen, Kunsten at mislykkes (Aarhus: Husets Forlag, 1981).

[14] For a more detailed account of the project in English, see Peter van der Meijden, “Message in a Bottle to Systembolaget,” Perspective (August 2017), accessed April 24, 2020, https://perspective.smk.dk/en/message-bottle-systembolaget.

[15] Pedersen, Kunsten at mislykkes, 39-40.

[16] Bruno Latour, Aramis, or, The Love of Technology, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 1996), 23-4.

[17] Ibid., 45.

[18] Untitled draft document, undated, the Art Library’s Archive, Copenhagen.

[19] Alison Knowles’s Big Book, described by Pedersen as “a building conceived as a view, with each view acting as the page of a book in concentrated form,” was also mentioned in the first drafts of the project, but was dropped early in the process. It was shown as a solo project at the Art Library in November 1968.

[20] Knud Pedersen, Eric Andersen, Arthur Køpcke, and George Brecht, Byggeprojektet, Sparekassen Bikuben, 1968. Booklet in the Copenhagen Fluxus Archive, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, cat. no. 1506. n.p., English translation taken directly and unaltered from the original.

[21] Letters in Knud Pedersen’s private archive, Nærum.

[22] Brochure in Knud Pedersen’s private archive, Nærum.

[23] Harald Szeemann’s landmark exhibition Live In Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form: Works-Concepts-Processes-Situations-Information, Kunsthalle Bern, March 22 – April 27, 1969, for example, was sponsored by Philip Morris. John A. Murphy, President of Philip Morris Europe, wrote in his introduction: “We at Philip Morris feel it is appropriate that we participate in bringing these works to the attention of the public, for there is a key element in this ‘new art’ which has its counterpart in the business world. That element is innovation—without which it would be impossible for progress to be made in any segment of society.” (catalogue, p. 3) Advanced art and capital can always be construed to have values in common.

[24] Dick Higgins, “Intermedia,” The Something Else Newsletter 1, no. 1(February 1966): 1-3.

[25] Christopher Bedford, “The Viral Ontology of Performance,” in Perform, Repeat, Record: Live Art in History, eds. Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield (Bristol: Intellect, 2012), 77-87.

[26] A good analysis of Boggs’ performances is to be found in Craig Saper, Networked Art (Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), ix-x.

[27] Alonso Cedillo, interview with Fran Ilich, Mexico City, September 24, 2016, accessed May 14, 2020, https://www.academia.edu/42904705/Fran_Ilich_en_conversaci%C3%B3n_con_Alonso_Cedillo.

[28] Marisa Lerer and Conor McGarrigle, “Insurgent Finances: An Interview with Gabriela Ceja and Fran Ilich,” Visual Resources 34, nos. 1-2(2018): 168-177. Quote on 169.

[29] Cedillo, interview with Fran Ilich.

[30] Claire Taylor and Thea Pitman, Latin American Identity in Online Cultural Production (New York; London: Routledge, 2013), 187.

[31] Ibid., 171.

[32] Nato Thompson, “Living as Form,” in Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011 (New York: Creative Times Books and Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012), 18-33. Quote on 19.

[33] Reproduced in Hannah Higgins, Fluxus Experience (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002) 89.

[34] Ibid., 1.

[35] Ibid., 2.

[36] Knud Pedersen to Eric Andersen, undated [after 5 March 1966], Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Bequest, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

[37] George Maciunas, “Fluxmanifesto on Fluxamusement” flyer (1965), http://georgemaciunas.com/exhibitions/flux-labyrinth-fluxus-gag/fluxmanifesto-fluxamusement-1965/.

[38] Dumett, Corporate Imaginations, 13.

Go back

Issue 51


by Martin Patrick and Dorothee Richter

by Natilee Harren

by Ann Noël

by Ken Friedman

by Peter van der Meijden