Olivetti adding machine, a source of inspiration for George Maciunas's work In memoriam to Adriano Olivetti (1962).

Olivetti adding machine, a source of inspiration for George Maciunas’s work In memoriam to Adriano Olivetti (1962).

Project (2018-)

George Maciunas, Fluxus, and Media Technologies of Empire

This project rethinks the history of 1960s leftwing art globalism from the perspective of traumatic histories of media and empire. George Maciunas (1931–1978) is best known as the founder and impresario of Fluxus, an international sponsoring organization for artists, musicians, and writers dedicated to questioning boundaries between art and life in avant-garde event-based performances. A Lithuanian-American, Maciunas founded Fluxus in 1962 while working as a graphic designer for the United States Air Force in Wiesbaden. In this context, art historians have written descriptively about Maciunas’s heterodox engagement with media technologies—from tape recorders to digital adding machines to document reproduction technologies—and his outspoken anti–US- imperialist politics. Yet little scholarship has untangled the connection between Maciunas’s politics and technologies of practice. In contrast, my project argues that Maciunas’s politics found conscious expression in a critical engagement with media technologies of empire—those technologies old and new, from filing systems to sound recording technologies, essential to the administration of subjugated populations. Drawing on archival research and interviews, I show that Maciunas’s creative engagement with these technologies responded to a childhood history in Lithuania of Soviet and Nazi occupations, refugee experience in Germany in the 1940s, and contemporary dilemmas of US citizenship during the Cold War.