A Mixed Media Bag of Communication

Society of the 1960s was shifting. Caught between the mainstream and rising counterculture movements, society was introduced to technological advancements while young adults debated embracing the new mediums and consumerism or standing firmly against them. Fluxus — a named derived from a latin word meaning flowing or fluid — arose as an anti group. The network of artists, composers and the like blended media to create different artistic conceptions. Much of Fluxus’ work responds to a cultural shift toward consumerism, materialism and the idea that art had to be mass produced. So the movement, in many ways, was largely anti-art and avant-garde.

Fluxus chose to express its art through Flux Boxes — cheap, cardboard boxes with various materials inside. A simple box different greatly from the world of wires that was shaping outside of their doorsteps. They used everyday items to share art and to communicate on a level that made most sense to them. They fought the growing shift toward new mediums in an attempt to create true art for an every day audience. The boxes allowed for people to directly engage in art and broke down the digital barrier that we so often see with people who engage with technology. The consumer was no longer a mere user of the mass produced, but an active participant in the art. Fluxus has been described as intermedia as they have used different media to redefine what art can be.

In the ’60s Dick Higgins gave a speech on intermedia where he outlined the ways in which artists must create work with different media that conveys its meaning to audiences. Today, media scholars have argued that society is currently experiencing a shift in the understanding of art toward the more digital medium. Craig Mod may be a modern version of Higgins. When Mod wrote of the “digital thinness” he was touching on ideas similar to those discussed by Higgins and by Fluxus. Higgins spoke about working to create something concrete from something that is very not so — digital applications. Tangibility is something that Mod was searching for when he created the book to go along with his app prototype. Without something tangible, people are often only left with ideas and sentiments when they long for something more concrete.

But Mod is not naive, and he and his team have realized that, in today’s world, it is not pragmatic to wholly denounce technology as true Fluxus members aimed to do. After all, technology had to be embraced to create Flipboard and to mass release it through the Apple app store. But the digital often leaves a personal wanting in the creator because it is hard to pin down the digital. But, to the consumer, the app is very much tangible. Unfortunately, consumers tend to overlook the coding processes behind the digital products that they readily consume, but that does not mean that there isn’t an art and poetry inside the coding language. Many just don’t know how to speak it.

As Dick Higgins wrote:

“The old adage was never so true as now, that saying a thing is so don´t make it so. … We must find the ways to say what has to be said in the light of our new means of communicating. For this we will need new rostrums, organizations, criteria, sources of information. There is a great deal for us to do, perhaps more than ever. But we must now take the first steps.”

This is no less true in 2014 as it was in 1966. We need to learn to express ourselves correctly using new media, and do it in a way that is both meaningful to the creator as it is to the receiver. We must all learn to speak the digital language and appreciate its place in art and in society.

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