W

hat the Fluxus is going on here? Along one wall of the gallery at the Winchester Dondero Cultural Center you’re confronted by a video of a man standing on a TV in the desert, sledgehammer in hand; on another hangs a fabric piece embroidered with a seemingly light political joke; in the middle, a vitrine displays … why, yes, those are green bottle caps. And what to make of this art-supply box cluttered with random paper scraps and items? Even for a group show, this one’s unifying idea seems pretty elusive.

But pranking our received notions of what art is and does is a big part of the game here, as is very pointedly telegraphed by the exhibit title, ¡Intermediary Fluctuations of a Post-Fluxus World! Even before you Google “Fluxus,” you gather from that jaunty phrasing, complete with goofy punctuation, that the curation prized high spirits, irreverence, and a willingness to crack open the usual definitions of art.

All of which is consistent with the original Fluxus movement. It emerged in the late 1950s and early ’60s as an attempt to deconsecrate art from the bourgeois realm of museums and powerful galleries—and the systems of power they represent—and situate it in the everyday. Impudent humor was a main tool of the Fluxus artists, and one that’s certainly on display here. Citing inspirations as diverse as Duchamp—he of the signed urinal—and vaudeville, the movement was especially taken by John Cage’s notion of beginning a work with no idea of what it would become, letting the process of creating it dictate the results. So it’s no wonder ¡Intermediary Fluctuations! feels so all-over-the-place—it is. “There’s not a defining message or intention, necessarily,” says artist Yasmina Chavez, a UNLV art instructor who curated the show. “That’s kind of what I was looking for in these works—where art meets life.”

“Pearl and Delphine” by Thomas Bumblauskas

The messiness of the art-life interplay leaps out at you from Narciso Dela Rosa’s “Starving Artist,” an art-supplies box filled with random-seeming scraps: fliers from other art events, a betting slip, receipts, a plastic knife, pencils, scissors. As you stand there wondering whether this represents the everyday distractions that divert artists from their work, or art supplies for a different kind of work, you realize, of course, that the meaning lies in the miniscule difference between the two.

In Shahab Zargari’s video “The Possessed Tube TV,” a man stands atop a TV in the middle of nowhere; he shatters the TV screen with a sledgehammer, wobbling the TV enough that he falls off. The video’s exquisite slow motion and animated elements imbue this sequence of minor smashings with a grander drama, the manipulative techniques of video amplifying its content. “That’s kinda what I loved,” Chavez says. “It’s sort of exposing video, but it’s one act—everything’s breaking.”

Chavez’ interest in generative wordplay shows up in Diane Bush’s “Sew Woke!,” in which the title phrase is embroidered onto found fabric. It’s a politically pointed pun (a Bush specialty) and, even more, a reminder that language itself is an unstable container for meaning.

“An Area Packed with Green Bottle Caps” by D.K. Sole

The title word “Intermediary” can help orient you toward some of these works. An intermediary is a go-between, shuttling meanings between parties, neither fully here nor there. D.K. Sole’s “An Area Packed with Green Bottle Caps” is exactly what it says, the bottle caps in question—many dirty, scuffed, and damaged by real life—captured midway in their journey from functionality to the landfill, and feel free to take this as a metaphor for that other easily discarded remnant of capitalism, people. I know I did. A funny sense of betweenness animates Heather Lang-Cassera’s ceramic “Fish Out of Water,” which depicts a piscine-human hybrid struggling through an alternate evolutionary path. There but for the grace of Darwin go we.

“Fish Out of Water” by Heather Lang-Cassera

In one corner, Holly Lay’s floor sculpture spells out “ONE DAY AT A TIME” in bright yarn letters. Perfectly effervescent on those terms, it becomes a statement of perseverance if you construe Lay’s use of yarn to represent modes of expression typically considered feminine. But such is the sly power of the Fluxus ideology that a typo in the wall card, listing the piece’s title as “One Dat at a Time,” got me wondering whether that was actually a subtle, intentional typo meant to prick the art world’s aura of competence and control.

“ONE DAY AT A TIME” by Holly Lay

This just in: Chavez confirms it’s just a typo. Funny, it works either way.

Even if not every piece is a home run, I wish the gallery was fuller—in part to better trace the various denominations of Fluxus influence at work locally, and in part because more art would’ve made for a more raucous exhibit, underscoring the vitality of Chavez’ curatorial schema.

If you think about it, the desire to embed art into the everyday is as much about changing the everyday as it is about changing the art—what might it mean for us if our daily life was more humorous, creative, and artistic? Which makes Fluxus a fascinating inspiration for 2023 and beyond, when those ruling systems have only become more ominpresent, invasive, and controlling than they were in the movement’s heyday.

The official movement petered out in the late ’70s, but I wouldn’t take the exhibit title’s winking reference to “Post-Fluxus” literally. Chavez clearly doesn’t. Plenty of artists—she mentions Paul McCarthy—now employ playful means to question the prerogatives of the art world. “I think Fluxus never stopped,” she says. “It’s this little moment in time that’s forgotten when you learn it in art class. But it got forgotten because it’s everywhere now.”

¡Intermediary Fluctuations of a Post-Fluxus World! is on view at the Winchester Dondero Cultural Center through Thursday, Jan. 25, with a closing reception that day from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Photos courtesy Clark County Public Arts Office

This article was funded by a grant from the Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Posted by Scott Dickensheets

Scott Dickensheets writes a daily newsletter for City Cast Las Vegas. In previous lives he was features editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, deputy editor of Nevada Public Radio's Desert Companion magazine, and editor in chief of Las Vegas CityLife and the Las Vegas Weekly; he also held numerous posts at the Las Vegas Sun. He has edited, co-edited, or contributed to eight volumes of the Las Vegas Writes book series, and was an assistant editor of Nevada: 150 Years in the Silver State, the official book of the Nevada sesquicentennial.