Fluxus and Free Culture Society: A Tale of Two Art Movements

Thursday had been a beautiful day, yet I had spent most of it sitting in rooms with no windows, but there was nothing I could do about that. At five o’clock, I was in the basement of Swem for my Study Abroad in St. Petersburg Preparation class. Suddenly, I was struck by the fact that we were going to be in St. Petersburg, in Russia, in just about two months. Suddenly, the end of the semester seemed simultaneously very close and very far. There was so much left to do, yet all I wanted to do was to begin my summer research project.

The St. Petersburg program is built upon classes that the participants will attend at St. Petersburg State University. Additionally, all program participants are assigned a research project that delves into the sites of memory that Russia has for the Russian people and for the world. This year, the organizers of the program (Sasha Prokhorov and Jes Therkelsen) decided to take the project to a new level by approaching these sites through the lens of a video camera, and making short video documentaries using personal accounts and visual elements to bring these sites of memory to life, as a part of history and modern St. Petersburg.

When choosing my site, I tried to keep in mind the things that I was most passionate about in my studies. I began studying Russian language my freshman year at The College because of my deep roots in my Lithuanian heritage. Studying Lithuanian language abroad sophomore year in Vilnius, Lithuania, opened my eyes to the opportunities I have to make a true academic identity out of the cultural one I already had. With those experiences in mind, I wanted to approach my St. Petersburg site of memory with a juxtaposition to a Lithuanian site of memory. The Pushkinskaya-10 art center called out to me because of the indistinct connection it had to the Fluxus Ministerija in Vilnius. Digging just a little bit deeper, the project seemed to come to life before me with great potential. Then, when I bought my ticket, I made sure that Vilnius made it onto my itinerary, en route to St. Petersburg.

In April of 2010, an old Soviet hospital on the main avenue of Vilnius, Lithuania, opened to the public as the “Fluxus Ministerija” or the “Ministry of Fluxus.” The aim of the project was to bring art and artists together in one place so that the creative process could be shared and observed in the artistic community of Vilnius. The name “Fluxus” derives from the artistic movement spearheaded by Lithuanian Jurgis Maciunas in the United States in the 1960s and 70s. The movement stands for the idea of art as life and was popular among celebrated artists of the time, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Especially after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the Lithuanian people have grasped the movement as a part of their artistic history and identity.

A movement similar to Fluxus, called the Free Culture Society, emerged in St. Petersburg in the late 1980s. In 1989, the artists of the society moved into an abandoned building at the address Pushkinskaya-10 to create a community similar to that of the Fluxus Ministerija. In a volatile political environment, the Free Culture artists sought to create nonconformist art that defied the rules of the Soviet Union, and, with some irony, created a collective space for the purpose of defying the system that reinforced collectivism. Since 1989 the movement has reached beyond the borders of Russia, and the Art Center at Pushkinskaya-10 has advanced to include art studios, galleries, exhibition spaces, and even a night club.

The Fluxus movement and the Free Culture Society seem to share some roots in their defiance of cultural artistic norms, and the opening of collective spaces in their respective “Second World” cities. However, as far as I’ve read, the movements do not declare any of these shared roots. Thus, the goal of my research this summer is to see how and if these two movements are related, especially in their embrace of nonconformist art and their resistance of the Soviet Union. I will be traveling in both Lithuanian and Russia to explore the topic, and the final product of my research will be a video documentary, of course, expanded from the assigned project for the study abroad program. I’ve already established several contacts in both Vilnius and St. Petersburg, with whom I will be speaking and recording interviews with.The visual elements of both the spaces will provide a fantastic setting for such a project, and I can’t wait to get started.

Although my departure for Eastern Europe is two months away, I have plenty to do. What with wrapping up my semester and doing as much preparatory research as possible, I barely know if two months is too much or not enough time. I must say, though, that this summer is shaping up to be one of the best ever.

In addition to this blog portal, I will be continuing the blog that I kept while studying in Lithuania. Visit that here.