RosKIDlischer Rekollektionen

by Hannah Higgins

Roskilde was Fantastic in the summer of 1985. I arrived with my mother, Fluxus artist Alison Knowles, with whom I was traveling as a baggage handler, thing procurer, art installer and favorite drinking partner. We’ve been especially close since I was about fifteen, though there were periodic discussions about a missing sweater of mine that mysteriously wound up shellacked to a book page in an exhibition of hers or my taste at the time of wearing black lipstick, which my father Dick said looked great if you were a sheep!

When we arrived at the Hotel, I remember Emmett Williams and Ann Noel were having a drink on the terrace. I don’t think I’d seen them since living with Dick in Berlin two years earlier. Ben Vautier was there, as were Geoffrey Hendricks, Bob Watts Jackson Mac Low and Anne Tardos from New York. I knew them all well and got ready to help wherever I could. It all felt very familial. At the time I was sure I’d be an artist – or a folk singer. I gave a decade to the latter and a year at most to the former, before finally deciding on an academic career. I think the latter had a lot to do with the Roskilde experience.

As one of number of flux-urchins I had grown up alongside the children of Jackson Mac Low, Geoffrey Hendricks, and (to a lesser extent) Peter and Barbara Moore. What our parents did had virtually no cultural context for us – Events, exhibitions, and European travel in large numbers were just a part of being in this group of people that we’d known forever. But things began to change when I got to college. I failed my first Art History class because it was such a bloody bore. Lights out at nine and what they called an avant-garde gingerly sprinkled with Flux-this and Flux-that had no resemblance to the familial setting I found myself in periodically when traveling with Dick or Alison. At the time, very little seemed at stake in the problem. If it had, I might have written a good paper about it and survived the class. In Roskilde, I had a blast during the day getting ready for the festival and at night we would drink too much and I’d pull out my guitar and sing too long and too loud. But this was a polite group (at least as far as progeny were concerned).

One day Eric Andersen announced that his “Walking Wall” (Borgerdevit), was about to open and we all walked over from the hotel to a large pile of cinder blocks stacked – minimalist fashion – in the main square. People were invited to take one cinder block and move it along. The wall would walk through the city. I was unimpressed and went back to drinking and playing my music. The next morning I walked over to see how far it had moved and — POW!—I fell in love. The homely pile had transformed itself overnight into a phantasmagoric scene – medieval spires, arches and patterned pavement spread across the plaza, while the walking wall streaked aggressively in ‘dominoe’ lines that shot up and down the steps of the medieval buildings. This was a spontaneous creativity that I’d known in the intimate confines of our home and among these artists, but never seen in the public domain before. I was stunned and that work remains in my life as a paradigm for what art can do and be in the public domain. If nothing else, love thrusts from the social experience between two people into a view of the world. This was my first experience of intellectual love – I was excited. The work took grip in my mind and established itself as a feature of the landscape of possibilities that is the springboard of intellectual life.

There were, of course, other high points. Jackson Mac Low gave a wonderful reading with Ann Tardos. Bob Watts made a fortuneteller’s tent using a computer program (with yours truly as the gypsy) and Emmett Williams and Anne Noel gave a delightful performance of their new works. Eric Andersen’s dress for a hundred people stretched over that same plaza, and included in its ‘skirts’ a fire engine and a supermarket. In 1992 I invited Eric to Chicago to show off his designer skills and it was still absolutely outrageous and fun. But these were the small affirmations of what the Walking Wall had already given me.

When I went back to Oberlin College the next year, very much was at stake in the stupid discussions of Fluxus that came to me in the mail, that I read as reviews of shows and that put it close to the hearts of my more iconoclastic friends. It wasn’t anyone’s fault really. With painting as the standard, the Fluxus events, kits and objects that were made with a sense of play, joy, humor or curiosity, looked like anti-art, which much of the world takes to be hateful still.

I didn’t come around to writing about Fluxus professionally for another five or so years, but I’d fallen for it. Falling in love, as any person who’s been through it a few times knows, is hardly an uncritical experience. Fluxus wears its bumps and warts with me just fine, though I’ve burned a bridge or two for talking about it. At Roskilde, I came to experience the world of art through Fluxus experiences and was completely engaged. It grew a context, accreting to itself meanings and values, empirical attributes and specific social dimensions that extend far beyond the group.

It is bittersweet remembering all this, though it brings on a feeling of tremendous gratitude. My father, Dick, is gone and never really had much of a sense that his ties to Fluxus would amount to much in the world of culture. Bob Watts and Jackson are gone too, though the rest of them are alive and active – if much older and not necessarily well. I’m as old now as the younger Fluxus artists were in that Fantastic place and time in Roskilde. I try to bring some of the excitement to my students to varying degrees of success but am not sure that love can really be communicated — but I show them my documentation of the wall as a picture of a long since lost beloved.