Flying with Fluxus

by Birgit Brunsted

The pinnacle of my artistic career was during the Fluxus Festival of Fantastics in Roskilde in May 1985.

Quite literally: I was at the very top of the tallest ladder of a Roskilde fire department vehicle, connected to 29 dancers from the body theatre group “Berzerk” by a bright blue 45 meter-long costume. From the top of the very tall, swaying ladder I looked out over Roskilde and it felt as though not only my body, but also my mind was about to take off – only the blue costume held me back, and I professed myself totally to Fluxus.

The ladder happening was part of Berzerk’s performance. Before we reached the ladder, we had filed through a city bus – the first in line were leaving the bus as the last ones were entering it. Then the group made its way to a supermarket, where the blue serpent of people moved through the store, giving each other rides in the shopping carts and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Surprisingly, the customers and staff found this most amusing.

Characteristic and unique to this festival was the fact that the Fluxus artists, through playfulness and good humour, engaged the city and its citizens in the festival and managed to change people’s general perception of art considerably. 

For example, at the rather chaotic preliminary press conference, the Fluxus artists had lined up and were all speaking at once. Geoffrey Hendricks bit Ben Vautier’s hand and later burned a paper dart. Alison Knowles urged Ben Vautier to do something classic Fluxus. Ben didn’t need much encouragement. He dashed out of the press conference with a roll of paper in his hand, stretched it across Algade, bringing traffic to a halt to the sound of tooting horns.

Eventually a neat-looking lady stepped on to the street and tore the paper. The epitome of Fluxus spirit. The festival included a Citizen Powered Sculpture, i.e. in the beginning it was just a pile of tiles that had been unloaded at Stænder Square. However, after a while people realized its potential and creative souls started moving the tiles, causing the sculpture to move down Algade. At one point, the Roskilde city authorities feared the sculpture would be a danger to passers-by and a compromise was negotiated, keeping it within specific boundaries. You can’t win them all…
Then there were the stewards of the cathedral, who demonstrated a rather narrow-minded attitude when the Fluxus artists asked for permission to put on a concert in the cathedral. Because the Fluxus artists had no other description to offer of the programme than ‘avant-garde music’ (one sensed that the mere mention of the word sent a collective shiver down the stewards’ spines), their request was turned down. The regulations apparently stated that cathedral council had to be sure of every single tone that would be played. In a way it was a happening in itself.

And the artists simply came up with something else.

The festival had an air of effortless ease, an inclusive humour and almost a sort of innocence. And many challenges for those who initially asked “Is that supposed to be art?” This question ceased to be asked within a few days, being replaced by curiosity and active participation.

A vibrant energy flowed through Roskilde during those bright days and nights of May 1985, people were grasping the moment and joining the shenanigans taking place in practically all official and semi-official buildings in Roskilde: the law courts and detention cells, St. Ib’s Church (where Eric Andersen gave the audience absolution), the city’s galleries, The Viking Ship Museum, The Culture Centre, a ship on the fjord, a bed on the square and not least on the streets and down alleys where there were brass bands, choirs singing, clowns and acrobatics in the air.

Somehow I never made it all the way back down that ladder.