Larry Miller Homage to Nam June Paikby Warren Fry
James Cohan Gallery April 14, 2007
The night started out with Flux Radio + TV. Five small televisions and one radio were wheeled out on a cart and turned on; images and sounds of the day’s news blared for ten minutes. Then came Variations on a Theme by Saint-Saëns for cello and keyboard. The two musicians paused mid-measure in Saint-Saëns’ Le Cygne (1886), the cellist got up from her chair and immersed herself in a water-filled oil drum. She emerged a moment later and returned to her cello, continuing as if nothing had happened.
These moments were part of Larry Miller’s Homage to Nam June Paik, held at James Cohen gallery on April 14th, which treaded a tenuous line between museological nostalgia and unabashed Fluxus banner waving. The second of two performance evenings hosted by Miller, the event coincided with the gallery’s exhibition of five large-scale Paik sculptures from 1993-2001. Miller’s troupe performed early Paik performance works between two of these towering, TV-encrusted constructs, cleverly utilizing them for live video feeds of the action, which benefited visitors whose view was obstructed in the overcrowded gallery space. This decision also poetically tied Paik’s early Fluxus era (1960’s) performances to the new media work for which he is more widely known, a kind of techno-substantiation acting as a corrective to art history’s neglect of a major chapter in Paik’s career.
Paik, a consummate collaborator, based Variations on a Theme by Saint-Saëns on performances by the legendary avant-cellist Charlotte Moorman. Miller, in his homage, doesn’t succumb to historical reconstruction, but recognizes the changes that necessarily take place over time and circumstance. His yin-yang version of Zen for Head was slower paced than Paik’s 1962 enactment of La Monte Young’s event score, Composition 1960 #10 (to Bob Morris). In keeping with the anti-authorial strategy of the event score, which depends on a multiplicity of interpretations that exist outside of authorship, to be experienced by and for many, the piece was altered by its latter day performers, Miller, Michael Maxwell and Jessica Higgins. Young’s original instruction for the piece was to draw a straight line and follow it. Two ten-foot strips of canvas were laid on the floor parallel to the audience; Maxwell, repeatedly dipping his hair in white ink, crouched and dragged his head along the canvas while Higgins did the same with black ink. The performers’ pace, however, suggested a sense of hallowedness that seemed uncomfortably calculated. After the performers made their marks, the canvases were ceremoniously carted off to some inner sanctum of the gallery, a conclusion that felt contrary to the pieces original anti-object conception.
Humor, thankfully, was not entirely AWOL. During Miller’s own composition, Piano for Head, he stood atop a small stool, masked in a black cloth, and impishly rattled a miniature child’s piano, intermittently clonking it against his skull, which keenly evoked Ay-O’s credo: “Funniest is best that’s Fluxus.”
Adaptations from Random Access followed, in which Miller smashed vinyl LPs on the floor after trying to “play them” with toothpicks, chewing gum and a hand drill. Bibbe Hansen warped music on a seven-stack turntable while two other performers scraped sound picks over sine tone tape, dis-harmonizing away for 20 minutes.
Paik’s Fluxus Champion Contest, the night’s finale, showcased seven artists from seven countries (France, England, Scotland, Korea, Poland, Lithuania, and the U.S.) urinating into buckets while belting out their national anthems, an event gleefully deployed in the pioneering tradition of Fluxus games. This event in particular felt bittersweet in its homage to the Fluxus of old, which was born out of international performance festivals, those forums of open creativity where jumbled ideas of musicality, event scores, chance, and intermedia foamed into a rich heterogeneous cream. Miller has helped to illuminate Paik’s contributions to the creative inter-fluidity of the movement, brushing aside the notion that an artist’s Fluxus years are simply wonder years.