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How to write a joke

This is not funny

This is not funny

*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” – George Carlin

Comedy, at its purest form, is about taking away as much as possible from an idea so that all that’s left is the joke. The highest praise a person who writes comedy can pay towards a joke or a piece of comedy is to say that there’s “no fat on it.” This honing of an idea down to its funniest and simplest form is where the artistry and craftsmanship of comedy meet. I believe that comedy in all of it’s forms; sketch, improv, stand-up, storytelling, physical, and some as-of-yet undiscovered mind-blowing form are all art as worthy of reverence and praise as any style of painting or school or architecture.

“I would have been a lot better off if I’d studied more when I was growing up, y’know. But you know where it all went wrong was the day they started the spelling bee. Because up until that day I was an idiot, but nobody else knew.” – Brian Regan

I see this idea of taking away everything but the joke present in how all art is made. There’s the certainly overused example of Michelangelo explaining how he know what to cut away in order to create the statue of David by saying, “It’s simple. I just remove everything that doesn’t look like David.” I have no idea if Michelangelo ever actually said those words. But I do like to imagine him saying this quote in a broad stereotypical Italian restaurant like Super Mario in an Olive Garden commercial.

Still not funny

Still not funny

“I like rice. Rice is great when you’re hungry and you want 2,000 of something.” – Mitch Hedberg

True or not, the reason this Michelangelo quote has been sited so often is because it gets at how the creative process really works. To make something good, you have to start with a lot of things that in the long run will reveal themselves to be not that good thing. Whether it be a block of marble, tubes full of acrylic paints, or a vague thought about how much rice constitutes a serving. Here’s how comedian Cameron Esposito describes the joke writing process: “All jokes start as crap. Some stay crappy. Some can be P90Xed into a set ready for TV.”

“I don’t care if you think I’m racist. I just want you to think I’m thin.” – Sarah Silverman

Because I make comedy and because I’m so interested in the process of making comedy, I can’t look at a painting or watch a film without quickly turning my thoughts to the process of making that thing. This focus on process can at times mean I don’t get to just purely enjoy a thing, I don’t get to always live inside the experience of something. But it also means my appreciation for art that can move and affect people is deep and filled with appreciation. And for me, that’s worth missing some of the pure joy of experiencing art.



You Must Get Back Up

banana fall

banana fall

*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

Every second and fourth Tuesday of the month the Walker presents “Arty Pants,” activities and programs aimed at people aged 3 to 5 and their adults. On Tuesday, November 25th, I had the great privilege of working with a group of tiny artists, sharing an art form I love, falling down. I worked with an excited and hilarious group of children to help them make their own banana peels and then we went over how to do a proper physical comedy fall. And then all these 3, 4, and 5 years olds fell down and clapped for each other. It was one of the best things I’ve ever seen in a museum.

There was a moment early into the falling down part of my art activity with these youngsters when one of them fell down on my blue padded mat and everyone clapped and then he just laid there. He wasn’t hurt or anything, I think he was just enjoying laying down after having just gotten a round of applause. I’m a little embarrassed how well I can relate to that desire to bask in the applause. So, I helped him to his feet and then said to all the participants that I had left out one key part of doing physical comedy. I had forgotten to tell them what is needed in every comedy fall or physical comedy injury, you have to get back up.

It’s is a very grounding, human thing to laugh when someone trips and falls. One of my favorite things about physical comedy is that it doesn’t require everyone speak the same language or even share the same cultural touchstones. But, the laugh at a fall is quickly cut short if the “audience” thinks the person who fell is actually badly hurt. The biggest laughs, when it comes to physical comedy, require the at least assumed knowledge that no one is tragically hurt. Trust me, it’s not funny unless you get back up.

You want to know an amazing secret, though? This same principle applies to every fall or failure in life. If you get back up, you can always make something great out of what appears to be a fall.

History is littered with entrepreneurs who have had businesses collapse, scientists who have had experiments blow up in their faces, and artists who had work rejected time and again only to have them regain their footing and do things that change the way people think, create or do business. The successes and breakthroughs of a company like Apple with Steve Jobs at the helm after he had been forced out of the company makes everyone look back on his past work and reassess what appeared to be failures and view them as setups to an amazing punchline. I think you can see the same reassessment of one’s artistic past in the ups and downs of Robert Downey Jr’s acting career or the way Georgia O’Keefe’s early work as a commercial artist, although it was work she hated doing, is now viewed as informing what would become her unique views and approach to painting.

Almost any fall can be made a comedic success if you you aren’t so damaged from the landing that you aren’t able to get back up. And almost any metaphorical fall can be turned into a success if you can figure how to get back up and keep on moving. The only way we can turn our personal tragedies into triumphs is by letting everyone know the falls didn’t kills us. Heck, sometimes they’ll even applaud.

Talismanic Song: Gillian Conoley & Brian Laidlaw in Conversation

This Thursday, Rain Taxi will co-present Bay Area poet Gillian Conoley and local troubadour wunderkind Brian Laidlaw in a multimedia showcase, involving projected drawings of Henri Michaux, original and translated poetry and other texts, and composed and improvised music (let it here be known that Laidlaw on vox and guitar will be flanked by California’s […]

Brian Laidlaw. Photo: Ali Rogers

Brian Laidlaw. Photo: Ali Rogers

This Thursday, Rain Taxi will co-present Bay Area poet Gillian Conoley and local troubadour wunderkind Brian Laidlaw in a multimedia showcase, involving projected drawings of Henri Michaux, original and translated poetry and other texts, and composed and improvised music (let it here be known that Laidlaw on vox and guitar will be flanked by California’s Danny Vitali and Minnesota’s Bex Gaunt on multi-instrumental madness). The event celebrates the release of Conoley’s poetry collection Peace, as well as her translations of Michaux, Thousand Times Broken, and Laidlaw’s Amoratorium, a song-cycle about Bonnie and Clyde on vinyl with accompanying poetry chapbook.

Confused?  You won’t be as all these artists make magic together on stage. To whet our appetites, we asked the poets to riff a little on how the various disciplines they engage both dovetail and diverge.

Brian Laidlaw: Gillian, let’s get right down to it: What can poetry do that visual art and music can’t? And what can visual art and music do that poetry can’t?

Gillian Conoley: If we think of poetry or “the poetic” as being the ineffable, as something that can’t be said in any other way than in art, then poetry is in music and visual art. Music is certainly in poetry as in “if it ain’t got that swing, it don’t mean a thing” (thank you, Duke Ellington). Visual art has the gesture and movement of music, no? All I know is I couldn’t live without any of these arts and have a hard time separating them. Can you?

Laidlaw: Woof, who really can? I think of all these art forms as delivery systems for the same substance, and “the ineffable” is a great term for that substance. The delivery systems have their own logic and limitations: a song is fixed in time (its 3:38 duration), a drawing is fixed in space (its 12.5 x 9.5 inch area). Poems are special to me because, fundamentally, their content is timeless and spaceless; a poem reconstitutes itself in a reader’s mind.

When I first started writing, my songs and poems closely resembled one another: all metered and rhymed. That formalism is great for songwriting, but it severely limits the terrain in which a poem can roam. Encountering your work—Profane Halo and The Plot Genie were the first books of yours I read—was an absolute watershed moment for me. Your use of poetic form is virtuosic; it induces hallucinations, vertigo and enlightenment. How has your relationship to form changed over time? And (how) do music and visual art insinuate themselves into your poetic forms?

Conoley:  Always glad to induce a hallucination. Form: formal form, as in English form, metered and rhymed, I never could do it—I would write horrible things and it seemed like a math I couldn’t do, it almost made me want to cry. But I very much admire people who can do it and who make me forget it’s even there: I love Marianne Moore, for example. Even though I can’t do it I have studied prosody and still like to do so.

My relationship to form has changed a lot over time. When I first started to write, everything was justified left-hand margin, and I learned to break a line and make a stanza, and then I started to think about the page as a material in and of itself and how that might enter the poem—the page more as canvas or field or soundscape came into the writing. I’ve always written in black sketchbooks with no lines on them, where I make a big mess of words and images and phrases; I try to let everything in and not think about it or even think that I am writing a poem. I do this for pages and pages and then I wait for something to coalesce. I’ve learned (or I am still learning) how to wait, to work/trust in the materials. I also write lines I get just walking around into my cell phone–so much more trustworthy than scraps of paper I would lose!

Music has always been in my DNA because my dad and mom ran a small-town rural radio station thirty miles outside of Austin from the late 1940s to the 1980s: country western, soul, Mexican polka, Czech polka, rock ‘n’ roll. Johnny Cash, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Elvis, they all came to the station and played live in a little one-room studio lined with egg cartons for acoustics. I was really young, and not even born when Elvis came, so I only remember Joe Tex, but my older sister remembers James Brown. Painting I didn’t get a sense or love for until college, but it is life-long. If there were more time in the day and I didn’t have to work I would maybe try to learn to paint. I see things and write them down. I hear things, too, but my imagination runs more toward the visual than the auditory. I have a poet friend who says she doesn’t see ever, she only hears, so that’s interesting. Everyone has their own path.

I think artists have to be the most patient beings on earth. If you rush or strain, it shows. When do you know a line you get in your head is going to go in a poem or in a song? Or does it matter?

Laidlaw: There’s a Johnny Cash–encounter poem in Peace, and I wondered if it was a little autobiographical . . . what a wild time and place to have been running a radio station. I also love that you describe the pre-poem page as a canvas or field. It makes me think of Annie Dillard’s passages in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that describe how cataract patients, immediately after sight-restoring surgeries, first see the world as a patchwork of undifferentiated colors and shapes. Poems – particularly ones that treat the whole page as a visual field – have the capacity to depict the world in the same, frighteningly fresh, almost newborn way. It’s also in the presence of that fresh/frightening imagery that the most fresh/frightening insights happen; both as a writer and as a reader, those are the moments I live for.

When I’m writing, I’ve learned to dwell in a somewhat trance-like state where lines spontaneously form in my mind’s ear (it’s entirely aural, like your friend – not visual at all for me.) The process allows me to be surprised, even shocked, by the lines I’m writing.

I wanted to ask you one last question, to wrap things up: When audiences (students in particular) encounter unfamiliar music or visual art, they often seem comfortable letting the pieces wash over them, simply enjoying the new aesthetic experience, but when they’re encountering unfamiliar poetry, they seem likelier to resort to an “I don’t get it.” In your own work, how much do you worry about the reader “getting it”? Is there a specific “it” to get?

Conoley: The Johnny Cash encounter is autobiographical! When I was in my twenties I worked as a journalist both at Dallas Morning News and freelance and went on a B-movie film set where Cash was acting—really bad movie, I don’t even know if it ended up getting released. I didn’t, after all, write an article, so that part’s true, too.

The “I don’t get it,” the “it” there is to get: I think that has to do with a kind of default mode humans can go to when it comes to language. We have expectations of language that we don’t necessarily have when it comes to paint or sounds in music. Language, when we encounter it, we often think it is going to tell us something or give us information.  So the first step in reading poetry is to let go of that expectation, and to welcome in the other aspects of language: the sonic, the aural, its ability to trigger the visual in the mind.

This takes us back to the ineffable, where we began our conversation. Sometimes poetry is taught early on, say in elementary school, as though it is symbolic and there are symbols one must figure out: that’s the “get it” part. When really, if there is a symbol in a poem — and so many poems don’t even contain one — if there is a symbol, if the symbol is truly acting in its full-force, it is huge and associative and reaches us at an almost subliminal, subconscious level that one couldn’t even begin to paraphrase.

Having said that, though, it doesn’t mean that poetry is just this open art that is whatever the reader wishes to make of it. Of course there is intent, but what’s key for readers first coming to poetry is to open themselves up to what language can do when it isn’t busy just giving information. It’s a song, it’s talismanic; it reaches the intellect, the heart, and the body.

How Do You See the World?



*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

Nearly 75 years ago, the Walker Art Center became a public art center. The Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections exhibition is part of the looking back through the years. If you visit the Walker you can also pick up a Walker Sketchbook. The sketchbook is built upon questions while also creating space for drawing, writing, and general on the page creativity.

I have an 8 year old daughter named Irene. She’s amazing and she’s the reason I went from writing and performing adult theater and comedy to making all-ages live theater and creating projects that connect with young people and families. Children have countless measurable and immeasurable impacts on the lives of their parents. I’m sure there are things in my life now that I’m not even aware are the result of my having and raising a child. So, it’s really exiting for me that so much of my creative work has been directly influenced by my parenthood.

I love questions. For me, questions are the best way to learn about other people and about ourselves. The Walker is a place built upon questions and, as the common wisdom goes, all good art raises more questions than it answers. So I was quite happy to my daughter light up when given a Walker Sketchbook last time she joined me at the Center. One of my favorite things about young people, although it can also be horribly frustrating, is their ability to think in wildly unpredictable ways. This week my daughter presented me with her completed Sketchbook. So I thought I would share some of the results here.

Q: What makes you Curious?

Worms? [coupled with a pencil drawing of a worm]

Q: What is a Dream?

A Sleeping imagination.

Q: Where does art take you?

It takes me to a whole nother world.

Q: How do we make art together?


Q: What is the story (of art)?


Q: What if there was no art?

My brain will melt.


I love these answers and can’t imagine I could give better answers. But I encourage you to get your own Walker Sketchbook and see where it takes you.


Fame Adjacent



*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

As I was wandering through the Walker library this week, pretending I knew anything about most of the artists written about in the numerous shelves full of books, I started thinking about how important “fame” is to our understanding of art.

While it makes me feel a bit like a cliche, I’ll admit this thought hit me when I noticed that Andy Warhol had hundreds of books on him and his work. One of the first things a young person learns when exploring modern art is that Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

What struck me, though, was that there were so many more books on Warhol than all the other artists covered on the Walker shelves. Warhol’s work was and continues to be important and influential to art, artists, and popular culture. But, I think he has so many more books because he’s an art celebrity who transcended the art world and became and pop culture celebrity.

Much like how the people who win the wars are the ones who get to tell the stories of those wars, the people who become celebrities in their fields are ultimately the ones who make up the stories of those fields.  With the ease of finding a voice provided by online tools, there seems to be an increase in people seeking celebrity for celebrity sake without any real concern about making something worthwhile or being know for a skill or ability. This is troubling but perhaps inevitable as the people we hold up as important, even if they’re viewed as important because of what they accomplished, are celebrated as people. We almost always put the people first and then get into the actual accomplishments.

I don’t know that I have any conclusion for this post but I do have a question. Are you able to think about the art that you find compelling or that moves you without it impacting how you think about the artist who made that work? Should you be able to?

Strong, but not too strong, opening.


Untitled (Andromeda) spin-painting. Alfons Schilling.

*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

The Walker Art Center was built on an ancient burial ground. Alright, as far as I know, that’s not true. But I bet that opening sentence would make you want to keep reading that story.

First sentences to stories can be perilous. Whether it’s meant to be read or being written for a live performance, the first sentence has the job of being interesting enough to pull the audience in but not so exciting as to over-promise or set-up the rest of the story for disappointment. As a writer and performer of comedy I know that if the first thing I say on stage is the funniest thing said in the entire performance the audience will walk away disappointed or at the very least underwhelmed by the overall experience. And if you see a popular band you’ll notice they will never play their biggest hit to open the show.

The same challenge exists for curators when staging a museum exhibition.

On October 16th, the Walker’s new “Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections” opened. In celebration of the Walker’s 75 years of public institution-hood, the new exhibit covers the past 75 years of acquisitions and exhibitions. This exhibition is laid out over three galleries with multiple entry points. There’s very little control over where a visitor first engages with the exhibition or how they consume the work.

At one of the entry points to “Art at the Center,” visitors are confronted by Alfons Schilling’s Untitled (Andromeda) spin-painting. Schilling’s piece spins at a rate of 3 revolutions per second which not only impacts how a visitor connects with the work but also sets a tone for experiencing the exhibit overall. The work actually moves, which immediately disrupts expectations of art hanging on a wall in a gallery. But it’s neutral in black and white colors and it manages to be fairly non-aggressive for a large spinning piece of art. The piece works to pull a visitor into the exhibition without being so overwhelming or even so compelling as to as stop visitors from wanting to move on or draining their energy.

It’s fun to think of how curators pace out an exhibition the same way I would think about putting together a comedy show or how a choreographer would put together a dance. You have to consider how the audience will feel from moment to moment and how each of the various parts can impact one another. And when a curator gets it right, just like in comedy, no one really notices the intentionality behind the staging.

Joke Telling and Fill In The Blanks

Walker fill in the blanks

Walker fill in the blanks

*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

For the October First Free Saturday we put together a fun Fill-in-the-Blanks activity that lets folks create their own unique description of Art Expanded, 1958-1978. You can print your own Fill-in-the-Blank with this pdfWalker Fill In The Blanks – Art Expanded exhibition edition

Here’s how 8 year old Benjamin put together his description of the exhibit.

Walker fill in Benjamin

We also helped visitors write jokes and invited them to share some of their favorite jokes with us. Below is a video compiling some of those awesome jokes.

how to be more like Ben Patterson when I grow up

“I was not ready for Patterson.” The first time writer, vocalist, and sound artist LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs witnessed legendary Fluxus artist Benjamin Patterson’s work, she left with a puzzle: “How would I approach my own scores, and how might I play with instruction to express my curiosities/concerns by employing mundane objects?” In anticipation of  […]

“I was not ready for Patterson.” The first time writer, vocalist, and sound artist LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs witnessed legendary Fluxus artist Benjamin Patterson’s work, she left with a puzzle: “How would I approach my own scores, and how might I play with instruction to express my curiosities/concerns by employing mundane objects?” In anticipation of  Patterson’s arrival at the Walker this week, we invited Diggs to reflect upon these first instructive encounters with Patterson’s work and to compose a few original scores of her own. Diggs appeared at the Walker last March to present poems, songs, and myths from her acclaimed debut book TwERK  as part of the ongoing Free Verse literary series (copresented with Rain Taxi Review of Books). She’ll be making a return to the Twin Cities next month when her piece muscle memory (a work in progress) will be performed at Pillsbury House Theatre.

Benjamin Patterson, A Penny for Your Thoughts, 2012 Performance at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, January 5, 2013 Courtesy the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo: Max Fields.

Benjamin Patterson, A Penny for Your Thoughts, 2012 Performance at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, January 5, 2013
Courtesy the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo: Max Fields

“The explicitness of the black body, the explicit body’s blackness, is not only about the way a certain lived experience can be said to bear the traces of bareness; nor is it encompassed in what is it to bear the only black body on-site or onstage or in the room or in the frame.”

                                                                        —Liner Notes for Lick Piece, Fred Moten

To have your own style is to crystallize.”

                                                                       —Bruce Lee


Admission: I heard a brief mention of his name years ago but was slow on my homework. So on March 31, 2011, when Ben Patterson did an evening of chance operations, scores, and a talk at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the first embarrassed, muffled utter from my mouth was “He’s black?” Sitting there sandwiched between artists Mendi + Keith Obadike and composer/pianist Courtney Bryan, it was difficult to not hide my personal joy in his playing and toying with how art, poetry and performance are defined. And despite my personal exploits in innovative poetics and deconstructing “the reading,” I was not ready for Patterson.

I sit. Watch Patterson do Patterson. He orchestrates with our bodies. Our feet. We shift forward, backward, right and forward again. He scores our bodies. Then there is a fish bowl and a small fishing pole. He’s smiling. As he instructs and addresses, a whole new vocabulary is being gifted to me. The poet/performance artist Edwin Torres wrote that “poets are creatures of awareness; receptive beings that embody transition.” Before experiencing Patterson in action, a handful of artists I’ve encountered embodied Torres’s words. And now,  Mr. Patterson has sent me home with a puzzle of sorts. How would I approach my own scores, and how might I play with instruction to express my curiosities/concerns by employing mundane objects?

Water Score Front Back Cover

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Water Score #1

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Water Score #1, 2011

In 2013, at the Roulette in Brooklyn, I, along with the Obadikes, are now participants during his retrospective concert. I am one of several people wearing Victorian paper masks, offering him a rose to be blended and drank, shooting confetti into the air and playing a multicolored party horn as I would my first clarinet in grade school.  And thinking in the car ride back to Manhattan, how I composed before was now pleasantly warped. Patterson altered my appreciation of Br’er Rabbit, of Coyote, of Raven, of Èṣù, of shape-shifters. And then there is his linear timeline. His proficiency at shape-shifting within the creative realm (as well thrive as an arts administrator) was a template to move me forward in my ventures as a novice of the avant-garde, the experimental, the curatorial.

Back to 2011. A slide comes up. There is a photo of a performance where Patterson digs a hole. His audience: a handful of white onlookers.  I am perplexed by this footage and action. A black male body digging into the earth for hours. The action conjures up sharecropping. It even invokes death. For whom is not explicit. Enter the coyote god again. To play upon hard labor as something of ease. To present accessibility when historical action is far more complicated and unnerving.

Program leaflet from the Studio Museum Harlem, which includes an image of Patterson's Methods and Processes (detail), 1962.

Program leaflet from the Studio Museum Harlem, which includes an image of Patterson’s Methods and Processes (detail), 1962

I read:

and think garbarge man, boogy man, Eichmann, etc.”

                                                 Methods and Processes (details) 1962, Ben Patterson

I see:

James Earl Jones in Claudine, The Spook That Sat By the Door, COINTELPRO.


When someone rings a bell, we conjure and call upon spirits. When we light a candle, we keep our ashé strong.  These are actions I’ve come to understand as ritual. Should I see Patterson’s work as a bell? As a candle?



(Performed to “America the Beautiful” as performed by Ray Charles.)

  • Paint ten Darth Vadar masks in various shades of brown from brownish black to beige.
  • Place in 10 manila envelopes one sheet of blank paper.
  • With 10 volunteers, have each place the mask on their face.
  • Give each of them an envelope.
  • Instruct the volunteers to stand in a semi circle behind a chair center stage.
  • Sit in the chair.
  • Have each volunteer walk toward you, reveal the paper and announce one of two statements:
  1. I am your father.
  2. I am not your father.
  • After they have announced the results, volunteers will hand over the sheet of paper to you.
  • Volunteers rejoin the semi-circle.
  • Tape the sheets of paper together and swaddle yourself.


82 Combo 28 Straight (in 2 parts)

Materials for action

  • 1 Box of TNT Bang Its
  • Roll of Brown Paper
  • Jar of Molasses
  • Brita/Pur water filter pitcher (32-64 oz.)
  • Sharpie Marker

Part 1

  • Make a doll in the shape of a boy out of brown paper.
  • Leave it faceless.
  • Place the paper doll on the pavement.
  • Smash and trample the doll.
  • Proceed with throwing meticulously 1 bag of bang-its at the doll.
  • Leave paper doll on pavement, near a gas station for 7 days.
  • On the 7th day, carry the doll to the ocean.
  • Pour molasses on the doll and place it in the ocean.
  • If it sinks bid it farewell.
  • Take a picture.
  • Press [enter] to continue.

Part 2

  • Fill up a water filter pitcher with water.
  • Allow the water to go through the filter.
  • Carry the pitcher with water to the ocean.
  • Once you arrived at the ocean, empty the pitcher into the ocean.
  • Refill the pitcher this time with the ocean.
  • Wait for the ocean water to go through the filter.
  • Pour the ocean water back into the ocean.
  • Repeat this process until you’ve cleansed the ocean of all impurities.

Artists Respond to Fluxus

What do Walker Open Field, the avant-garde art movement Fluxus and socially-engaged art practice have in common? That is what the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department explored through this summer’s program, FluxField.  This project took advantage of the concurrent timing of Open Field and the opening of Walker exhibitions Art Expanded: 1958-1978  and Radical […]

What do Walker Open Field, the avant-garde art movement Fluxus and socially-engaged art practice have in common? That is what the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department explored through this summer’s program, FluxField.  This project took advantage of the concurrent timing of Open Field and the opening of Walker exhibitions Art Expanded: 1958-1978  and Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, both containing a strong Fluxus presence.

We invited a range of artists to create projects or events for Open Field inspired by or in some cases in reaction to the works, philosophy, and cosmology of Fluxus.  FluxField artists included Beatrix Jar (Bianca Pettis and Jacob Aaron Roske), BodyCartography Project (Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad), Andy Ducett, Mike Haeg, Rachel Jendrzejewski, Chris Kallmyer, Maria Mortati, and Margaret Pezalla-Granlund. The indomitable Laurie Van Wieren also jumped into the flux fray with her Open Field piece, 4×4 = 100 Choreographers Dancing Outside.  Key Fluxus figures Alison Knowles and Benjamin Patterson were invited to perform their work during the summer and fall.

We asked several of these FluxField artists to share their thoughts on working with Fluxus, and what follows is a compilation of their responses.

 Part One: What is Fluxus?


Alison Knowles walks down Nicollet Mall with Jacob Aaron Roske, photo by Lacey Criswell

Fluxus is People

I think of Fluxus first and foremost as the loose network of artists in the late 1950s into ’60s who first carried the name – who understood art as inseparable from everyday life, and vice versa, and performed lots of public experiments accordingly. And who also constantly disagreed with each other about what “Fluxus” was about. I think of names like John Cage, George Maciunas, Alison Knowles, George Brecht, Nam June Paik. So in that sense, I think Fluxus is people.

Rachel Jendrzejewski

Fluxus began as a network of ad-hoc, often disputed, orchestrated acts that turned noticing into craft. These orchestrations were performed around the world, and have infected all fields of art.

Maria Mortati

Maria Mortati's FluxField Interpretive Trail

Maria Mortati’s FluxField Interpretive Trail

Fluxus is the Score

If you were to say one true thing about Fluxus, you could say that Fluxus is about the primary experience itself. The vehicle for exploring the now moment in Fluxus is through the Event Score or the Fluxkit. To create a score, we have to envision ourselves as someone uninitiated with our ideas. We put ourselves in the shoes of another person—an act of empathy—and we offer an experience to anybody who would invest time to decode the document and act it out in real time and space. A score is a set of rules for engagement. It is the same for a recipe, a manual, or a blueprint.

Chris Kallmyer

Event Scores involve simple actions, ideas, and objects from everyday life re-contextualized as performance. Event Scores are texts that can be seen as proposal pieces or instructions for actions. The idea of the score suggests musicality. Like a musical score, Event Scores can be realized by artists other than the original creator and are open to variation and interpretation.

Alison Knowles (via Chris Kallmyer)

Through the Fluxus score, I find a great closeness in the contract between the artist and participant.

Mike Haeg


Rachel Jendrzejewski’s Walker Yam: 100 Scores for Open Field, photo by Steve Cohen

Fluxus is Contradiction

I think of Fluxus as a kind of fluid philosophy and practice, which is still very much alive today— a view that art is indeed inseparable from everyday life, and vice versa, and an embrace of constant contradiction. You can’t actually pin Fluxus down because it’s always moving:  Fluxus says that all of life is art, and yet it’s deliberate in its framing and rigor; Fluxus says that art is for everyone, but it’s not necessarily people-pleasing or meaningful;  Fluxus simultaneously disowns and embraces institutions, not to mention the very concept of “art.” And I believe all those contradictions are exactly what makes it true to everyday life- it’s a way of seeing that embraces the complexities of the world, that doesn’t pretend anyone or anything is static.

–Rachel Jendrzejewski

Fluxus is an insular form speaking to the art world’s nuanced concepts of the object, vision, and experience. Simultaneously, Fluxus is an open initiation to life and living, enabling the public to take the scores into their own everyday.

–Chris Kallmyer

In the words of founding Fluxus member Ben Vautier, “Fluxus was a pain in art’s ass.”

–Maria Mortati


Chris Kallmyer’s Play Catch, All Together, photo by Gene Pittman

Fluxus is Experience and Togetherness

Fluxus is changing together.

—Mike Haeg

Wandering in a field is experiential, and fit the notion that I needed– for people to be, do, and have the opportunity to ‘participate’ as well as reflect; to take in and try it on for size, in a low stakes way.  The public wandered along, beer in hand, taking a picture or two. Near the “Play Ball” score, a giant poodle took off with all the balls. In the end, the question of “What Is Fluxus?” came down to experiences.

—Maria Mortati

[Fluxus Drawing Club] didn’t just point at the art history and try to teach someone something, but facilitated doing — and that doing was the Fluxus part. The doing — everyone doing — is the art part and the experience part; the understanding part, and the “it” of it.

Margaret Pezalla-Granlund

 Part 2: Why Fluxus?


Chris Kallmyer leads catch with lemons, photo by Gene Pittman

I’ve always been drawn to Fluxus for the way it can both disrupt us from and draw us deeper into everyday life. Those sound like two different actions, but both are wake-up calls. I particularly love the early Fluxus event scores – the text as well as the actual doing of them. They feel simultaneously sacred and disposable, which I think signals a certain kind of wisdom – related to loving fully while not clinging too hard, or honoring all life while accepting nothing lasts forever, or keeping a healthy sense of humor about serious hard things – in short, getting comfortable with letting contradictions co-exist. I think our culture could use way more of all that, hence the ongoing appeal and relevance of Fluxus.

–Rachel Jendrzejewski

I’m inspired by the playfulness of Fluxus and the simplicity. But most of all, I’m moved by Fuxus’ spirit of kindness and revolution: change the world with a box full of smile– hell yes!

–Mike Haeg

I saw the original Walker Art Center Fluxus show years and years ago, and have remembered and thought about it often since. What has stuck with me is the sense of wide-ranging curiosity and creativity, the willingness to cede some seriousness to get at something engaging, and the feeling of wit and humor and shared experience. I also think it’s really smart: as much as Fluxus was about freedom and play, it was also about context and care and a kind of precision. Simple is not easy.

–Margaret Pezalla


Mike Haeg’s Fluxus Running Club, photo by Gabby Coll

This is the thing that surprised me about the Event Scores: the works are a direct invitation to play, as well as an invitation to presence. Serious focus and purposeless play are both intensely human and increasingly rare. Goofing off is another form of presence, or rather a complete lack of presence when we abandon our veneer to embrace a purposeless sense of wonder. We goof off and are human. In this way, Fluxus and their Event Scores point to our human condition in a way that is wildly dynamic. The score is an invitation, a call to action, and first-hand study and performance of these scores would be healthy for any of us.

–Chris Kallmyer

Part Three: Making Something Out of Fluxus


Mike Haeg’s Penny Event, photo by Gabby Coll

Fluxus is all about change right? So, why not shine a spotlight on change? That’s why I made the Penny Event change tray sculpture emblazoned with its inherent and unintentional score “LEAVE-A-PENNY / TAKE-A-PENNY”. I placed the pieces on the counters in gas stations and bodegas to spark an artful exchange in an unexpected moment of the day and to spark a thought of commerce at a point of give and take that has been obscured by the credit process.

–Mike Haeg

I’ll be the first to admit that “living the life of the idea” of Fluxus was not something that came easily. On projects I take the deep dive into the world of the place, space, or community until I can swim around with it. It was a harder start to get my brain around and into Fluxus. I am accustomed to museums wanting to pin things down, so working with the antithesis was both liberating and focusing. It sharpened my thinking around the historical trajectory of social practice art, and around opportunities to bring the public into art and vice versa.

–Maria Mortati


Walker Yam: 100 Scores for Open Field, photo by Steve Cohen

My performance/writing practice is a kind of awareness practice, and Fluxus always has served as an influence in that sense, but I’ve never really written Fluxus-style scores. Talking with Sarah Schultz about why Fluxus matters in 2014, and how Fluxus might live in Minneapolis on the Open Field, made me want to write my own Fluxus-inspired scores to find out. I spent a lot of time reading through the Fluxus Performance Workbook, and I started writing my own scores in response to some of them, and then spinning off some of them, and then writing some completely removed from them. I wrote them quickly (and I don’t usually write quickly) because I really wanted to let them be disposable. I wrote them on the bus and in my apartment and in parks and on an airplane. I thought a lot about the field, and people coming and going from the field to other places. I edited them down to a batch of 100 that felt the most rooted in this time and city. I don’t know why the number 100 felt right — but it feels like just the beginning. Now I want to write 1000.

–Rachel Jendrzejewski

Benjamin Patterson, a key figure in the Fluxus network of artists, visits the Walker on October 9 as part of the exhibit Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art.  Art Expanded, 1958-1978, which explore the expanded arts of the 1960’s and 70’s, is on view through March of 2015, and includes the work of Alison Knowles and George Macunias, among other notable Fluxus figures.