Performance art is a complex concept, especially in that it is, in part, a
A useful starting point with respect to performance art is ancient Greece and Attic tragedy: this cultural practice blended the arts as we have come to know them (e.g., poetry, music, drama). Richard Wagner referred to this communion of the arts in his promotion of the
On January 12, 1910, at the Teatro Rosetti in Trieste, the first futurist performance (or Serata Futurista) took place. These events grew in size and complexity, but they did maintain an aesthetic core: confrontation (direct engagement with the audience) and simultaneity (more than one thing happening at the same time). Poetry and manifestos would be declaimed at the same time, paintings hung around the stage, music blaring. For Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the founder of the movement, the closest parallel was to be found in variety theater, with its mix of films, acrobats, singers, dancers, clowns—the whole gamut of stupidity, imbecility, doltishness, and absurdity, insensibly pushing the intelligence to the very borders of madness. This storm of simultaneous activity was a true reflection of the conditions of modern urban life, the futurists claimed. Few areas of life were left untouched by them, whether food, film, architecture, painting, theater, literature, or music.
This approach later was most effectively developed by Luigi Russolo, a painter, who set out his agenda in the manifesto The Art of Noises, published in 1913. The promotion of noise as a central element of modern life and modern music required the invention of new instrumental resources, the intonarumori, noise-intoning machines that Russolo built to play his
The direct inheritors of the futurist aesthetic of performance were the dadaists. The cabaret performances that were organized by Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings in neutral Zurich during the height of World War I used simultaneity as both a critique of the confusion of war and a model of the many independent, but coexistent, voices of the different nations drawn into the conflict. Ball developed Marinetti’s sound poetry and added outrageous costumes. His sound poem was sung to a sacerdotal lamentation, in words that turned their back on a language devastated and made impossible by journalism and political propaganda: gadji beri bimba / glandridi lauli lonni cadori / gadjama bim beri glassala / gladridi glassala tuffim i zimbrabim …
When Dada spread to Berlin it became overtly political. Here performers like Gerhard Preiss (also known as Music-dada) performed the Dada trott, George Grosz dressed as Dada death, and the amazing and fascinating figure Yefim Golyshev performed an Antisymphony with kitchen utensils, a grand piano, and a young girl. His work Cough Manoeuvre followed, described aptly with the subtitle CHAOPLASMA for two kettledrums, ten rattles and with the assistance of ten women and a postman. In France, another figure, more well known than Golyshev, is sometimes evoked in relation to music and Dada: Eric Satie. Although never central to the activities of the Paris dadaists, Satie did collaborate with its members (notably with Picabia, in the ballet Relâche in 1924), and was regarded by them as already essentially esprit dada.
Futurism and Dada, in whatever guise, maintain these essential aesthetic characteristics: simultaneity, noise, humor, provocation, and an aspiration to join art and life. These elements become central to the main focus of this article, the art movement known as Fluxus.
The artists who have been associated with Fluxus—including, but not limited to, Dick Higgins, Yoko Ono, George Maciunas, Jackson MacLow, La Monte Young, Alison Knowles, Nam June Paik, Joseph Beuys, Emmett Williams, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Ben Vautier, Wolf Vostell, and Walter de Maria—form a loose coalition, not a movement like that of the futurists. To understand this characterization we should consider the concept that serves as their umbrella,
The concept flux is to be understood not just as a noun but also as a verb and an adjective, meaning, as the standard dictionary definition has it, a continuing succession of changes. The group’s work raises fundamental issues about the nature of the art object and the boundaries of academic study, ranging broadly from temporal to spatial arts. However, as Kristine Stiles has argued, the ontology of Fluxus is essentially performative. Through the inheritance of the work and ideas of John Cage and the Fluxus aesthetic, the performance, or concert occasion, is to be viewed as a complex field of activities—visual, textual, and sonorous—one that, among other things, understands the concept of music as a discourse. That is, the performance exists as a conceptual constellation, orbiting sound but including the scaffolding that is necessary for the sound to exist (instruments, institutions, traditions, conventions, and so on). This view, which stands diametrically opposed to modernist references to music as a paradigm of autonomy, introduces the concept of music to evaluation on a number of levels, both performatively and textually, not the least of which is the visual. Music is to be understood as an umbrella under which Fluxus presented many of its ideas.
Music is performative in the sense identified by Michael Kirby: music is not a theatrical performance in the common sense, for in performance a musician is not playing someone else as an actor might; rather, musicians
As early as 1913 (and included in the Green Box, 1934), Marcel Duchamp had for the first time employed aleatoric procedures as a principle aesthetic technique in a work of music, his Erratum Musical. Here each note of the piano keyboard is to be played only once. The notes should be evenly spaced, but at a speed determined by the performer. Aleatoric procedures (chance) and the performer’s contribution were to become more aesthetically dominant in the work of Duchamp’s friend John Cage. Cage’s seminal work 4′33″ was first performed on August 29, 1952, at the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, New York, by David Tudor. It is a work in which no sound is intentionally made by the performer for the duration of the three-movement work, the timeframe being arrived at aleatorically by the composer. This work is central to an understanding of Cage’s aesthetic, and was always regarded by him as his most important work: I always think of it before I write the next piece.
Music, for Cage, becomes the model for all performance art.
To understand this aesthetic effectively, we need to explore the concept of intermedia, in particular by taking up a methodological framework first suggested by Dick Higgins, who was a member of, and theorist for, Fluxus. Intermedia can be defined as the conceptual ground between media or traditional art disciplines; as the gaps between, rather than the centers of, fields of practice; as an examination of the conditions under which epistemological distinctions function. Andreas Huyssen has suggested that Theodor Adorno’s concept of Verfransung is close to this notion of intermedia but carries with it a greater sense of dissolution and aesthetic entropy; it suggests not a unity of the arts but differentiation. This distinction is significant because, whereas the nineteenth-century aim of the Gesamtkunstwerk was an integration or merging of the arts under the banner of music, Cage allowed Fluxus to address themselves to the ground between media, that which media already have in common. It is, therefore, a less totalizing impulse; a micro-, not a macroview.
Fluxus had a microview of artistic practice. The group was concerned not with epic projects but with a rigorous reconsideration of music’s sonic materials. They were not so much sonic pluralists, as Cage was, as sonic purists—though not in an essentialist sense. George Brecht used the term
One starting point in exploring the sonic nature of music was what George Brecht, a prime mover in Fluxus circles, called
Three dried peas or beans are dropped, one after another, onto the keyboard. Each such seed remaining on the keyboard is attached to the keys nearest it with a single piece of pressure-sensitive tape. 
A typical feature of Fluxus notations is the prosaic textual description in the role of a score. Such a description needs to be seen both in contrast to traditional notation and against the sometimes hermetic experimental systems devised by other musicians of the avant-garde. Standing to the side of these conventions, it draws attention to the concept of notation itself, reminding us that notation is not simply a transparent vehicle of description or direction but an acquired and culturally mediated system. Fluxus notation aims at accessibility through simplicity of description; no command of technical language or jargon is required. However, such a score describes a series of actions; it does not describe or stand for the music in a conventional sense. The
An especially poetic version of a text score can be found in the work of another Fluxus artist, La Monte Young. His infamous
Turn a butterfly (or any number of butterflies) loose in the performance area.
When the composition is over, be sure to allow the butterfly to fly away outside.
The composition may be any length, but if an unlimited amount of time is available, the doors and windows may be opened before the butterfly is turned loose and the composition may be considered finished when the butterfly flies away.
In writing this piece, Young raised the issue of audibility as a prerequisite for music: I felt certain the butterfly made sounds, not only with the motion of its wings but also with the functioning of its body […] and unless one was going to dictate how loud or soft the sounds had to be before they could be allowed into the realm of music […] the butterfly piece was music. This work raises problems of boundaries not just between sound and music, or sight and sound, but also between culture and nature. Is music to be defined by the human ear—or, perhaps more important, the limits of amplification technology?
The piece Arabic Numeral (Any Integer), to H. F. also places emphasis on processes of listening as it requires a performer to play an unspecified sound in regular pulses for as long as he or she wishes. Another of Young’s 1960s compositions, No. 4, has the auditorium darkened, but when the lights are turned on again the audience may (or may not) be told that their actions have been the performance. As in 4′33″, the ambient sound is the music, and attention is drawn to the context and site of performance. The theatrical act of lowering the lights prepares the audience for a visual spectacle, but it does not provide one (there is nothing to see). In addition, it focuses listening, even though nothing follows but the audience’s actions and sounds. The music slips out from the gap between expectation (lights go out) and realization (lights come up). The work dramatizes the implicit dialogue between sight and sound. No. 6 of this series reverses the performer-audience relationship, again in relation to sight, by having the performer observe the audience:
The performers (any number) sit on the stage watching and listening to the audience in the same way the audience usually looks at and listens to the performers. If in the auditorium, the performers should be seated in rows on chairs or benches; but if in a bar, for instance, the performers might have tables on stage and be drinking as is the audience.
Optional: A poster in the vicinity of the stage reading:
composition 1960 no.6
by La Monte Young
and tickets, sold at stairways leading to stage from audience, admitting members of the audience who wish to join the performers on stage and watch the remainder of the audience.
A performance may be of any duration. 
Such an approach reverses the idea of the audience as passive spectators in the most direct way. It makes sight (gaze) the sole communicative act. Thus, the visual element of musical performance is made conspicuous, for it is all there is. It also underlines the socialized nature of witnessing a musical performance.
Nam June Paik’s collaboration with the cellist Charlotte Moorman provides the most vivid example of this exploration of musical objects. As Michael Nyman has written, Moorman’s cello has surpassed any other instrument, in any era, in the number of uses it has been put to. For example, it was frozen in a block of ice and then brought back to life by Moorman’s bowing the ice, wearing the ice away through friction, until she finally reached the strings. The physical action eventually achieved sound. Together they also explored the issue of sex and music. As Paik has said, sex is underdeveloped as an element of musical discourse, in contrast to literature or the visual arts. This interest manifested itself most notably in his Opera Sextronique (1967), which Moorman performed topless. This critique of clothing as a style of visual presentation in relation to performance (why dress in black?) resulted in Paik’s and Moorman’s arrest and their detention for a night, on the grounds that the piece was an act which openly outrage[d] public decency.
Such approaches to musical instruments also question the romantic notion of the virtuoso and become even more obvious in Paik’s destructive pieces for violin. Violin with String (Violin to be dragged on the street) (1961–1975) can be seen as a poetic, if violent, representation of Paul Klee’s famous reference to drawing as
A more explicit connection with the cultic environment of rock music may be found in Robin Page’s 1962 Fluxus work Block Guitar Piece, which required the performer to use the feet rather than the hands to produce sound. The performer is to kick the instrument offstage, out of the concert hall, around the block (hence the title), back into the hall, and back onto the stage, having taken it for a
What separates more contemporary trends in multimedia and performance art from Cage and Fluxus is pluralism and an engagement with the vernacular that is more characteristic of what we can call postmodernism. In part this difference stems from a greater suspicion of the future than that held by the futurists, and is closer in some ways to Dada nihilism; it is an approach that shares certain aspects with pop art sensibilities while also drawing on the vocabulary developed in avant-garde art in the first half of the twentieth century.
Christian Marclay is an artist who takes up the Fluxus concern with instruments. He seeks out the visual echoes of music in the fabric of society and the fetishized musical object. These are intimately entwined with notions of technology as objects; from vinyl records, album covers, magnetic tape, photography, and video to instruments of his own making that are impossible to play, such as Accordion (1999), an accordion with a surrealistically extended bellows, and Lip Lock (2000), a witty conjoining of a tuba and a pocket trumpet at their mouth pieces, resembling a hydra budding its offspring, but with no space for breath. He also performs in groups and
The opposite of Marclay’s concern with the instruments of music is the British artist Sam Taylor-Wood’s concern with the performer of music. In her work Prelude in Air (2006), she presents a film of a casually dressed cellist who is totally engaged with the Bach prelude he is playing but is performing the work without his instrument. The music and the man are palpably present; the instrument that links the two is absent. This absence and the sense of loss thus engendered have been amplified in her most recent work, Sigh (2008), which marries a recording of the BBC Concert Orchestra playing a specially commissioned piece by Anne Dudley, with film of the musicians acting out everything it takes to play, minus their actual instruments. In most contemporary work the modernist idea of media exclusivity has been replaced by mixed media. Sound, vision, the performer, and audience are often blurred together.
 Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, “The Variety Theatre” (1913), reprinted in Twentieth Century Theatre: A Sourcebook, ed. Richard Drain, (Routledge, London, 1995), 171–174, quote on 172.
 Many languages were spoken and sung in the nightclub Cabaret Voltaire, including French, Danish, German, Rumanian, English, and Russian.
 See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8i13r0HzlE.
 Oxford English Dictionary (various editions).
 See Kristine Stiles, “Between Water and Stone; Fluxus Performance: A Metaphysics of Acts,” in In the Spirit of Fluxus, ed. Janet Jenkins, (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1993), 62–99.
 Michael Kirby, “The New Theatre,” Tulane Drama Review 10 (Winter 1965), 25–26.
 Dick Higgins, “Some Thoughts on the Context of Fluxus,” in Horizons: The Poetics and Theory of Intermedia (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984), 93.
 John Cage, cited in Conversing with Cage, compiled by Richard Kostelanetz (London: Omnibus, 1989), 66.
 George Brecht “Incidental Music,” in ed. Ken Friedman, Owen Smith and Lauren Sawchyn, The Fluxus Performance Workbook. A Performance Research E-Publication, 2002, 22, http://www.thing.net/~grist/ld/fluxusworkbook.pdf.
 Stiles, “Between Water and Stone,” 66.
 Cited in Edward Strickland, Minimalism: Origins, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 140.
 Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, “The Variety Theatre” (1913), reprinted in Twentieth Century Theatre: A Sourcebook, ed. Richard Drain, (Routledge, London, 1995), 171–174, quote on 172. Cited in Douglas Kahn, “The Latest: Fluxus and Music,” in Jenkins, In the Spirit of Fluxus, 100–121.
 For Compositions 1960 scores, see La Monte Young, ed., An Anthology of Chance Operations (New York: L. Young & J. Mac Low, 1963).
 Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (London: Studio Vista, 1974), 74.
 Judge Milton Shalleck quoted in Russel Baker, “From Jail to Jungle: The Work of Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik,” in The Art of Performance: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock and Robert Nickas (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1984), 278–288. An interesting variation on this theme was their performance of Cage’s work 26.1.1499 for a String Player in the Cafe Au Go-Go in New York in 1965. This performance involved Paik, naked from the waist up, being played between Moorman’s legs as a human cello (holding the string taut over his back). This work neatly inverts the art-historical tradition of stringed instruments’ iconic reference to women’s bodies—the classic modern example being Man Ray’s Le violon d’Ingres (1924)—and brings home the corporeal nature of all tactile engagement in musical performance and of its grounding in the body; the musical object becomes a subject.
 Tristan Tzara, Seven Dada Manifestos and Lampisteries, trans. Barbara Wright (London: Calder, 1977), 16.
 But as Douglas Kahn has pointed out, the recuperative power of high capitalism in an age of postmodernist ideology restored one of Hendrix’s smashed guitars, from 1967, from broken junk back to the status of prized possession; the guitar was sold in 1991 at Sotheby’s in New York for an amazing $45,600. See Kahn, “The Latest: Fluxus and Music.”
 Marclay founded the group The Bachelors, Even with Kurt Henry on guitar; the group’s name indicates not only his debt to Duchamp, but also his interest in popular music of all kinds (in this case, the 1960s group The Bachelors).
1910 until today