Once upon a time, George Maciunas wanted to start a Fluxus artist colony in Ginger Island in the Caribbean

November 7th, 2013 – February 22nd, 2014
Fluxus Foundation Space

By Randy Gener

NEW YORK CITY |  Located in the Caribbean, Ginger Island is one of the last privately held and uninhabited islands in the British Virgin Islands. It is the location of two of the better dive sites in the British Virgin Islands: “Alice in Wonderland” and “Ginger Steppes.” The island was for sale for $20 million. I don’t know if anyone purchased it.

George Maciunas wanted to start a Fluxus artist colony and build a unique city on Ginger Island. His plan was to buy the island and give pieces of land to Fluxus artists for development. Together with friends such as artists Milan Knížák, Yoshi Wada, and actor Robert De Niro, Maciunas traveled to Ginger Island in 1969 to explore it before making the final decision about acquisition.

This trip is surrounded by various legends and urban myths, involving encounters with the police and with poisonous trees growing on the island. The experience was rather traumatic; the visitors suffered from temporary blindness and swollen limbs. In the end, for a variety of reasons Maciunas never acquired the island, and a Fluxus artist colony was never established there.

Starting November 7, the Fluxus Foundation will put on view “FLUXUS AS ARCHITECTURE, Universal Structure™” in the foundation’s exhibition space at 454 W 19th St. The exhibition wants us to reconsider the Maciunas Prefabricated Building System. It argues that this system might be “an alternative of human habitat” for our present circumstances.

In what sense is this structure “universal”? The construction system uses a rational architectural design, modern electrical engineering, manufacturing processes, and an urban perspective that puts into play social, political and economic factors.  Its basic ideas are rooted in a system of standardization, modularization, mass-production, urban efficiency and social welfare.

It’s a prefab vision, but the exhibition seems to be arguing for a specifically Fluxcity angle that allows a single module to form into clusters, communities and hives. The concept leans on Maciunas’s prefab design for Fluxhouse, which was completed in 1965. An architect, George Maciunas, educated in architecture at Cooper Union and Carnegie Institute of Technology, held several prestigious professional positions in firms including Skidmore, Owing and Merrill, Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation and Knoll Associates.

For sure, Fluxcity is not a fancy idea. As Maciunas said in a September 30, 2023 letter now at the Tate Gallery Archive, “I wrote on this subject in the past (. . .) architecture (. . .) becomes sculpture if it’s fantastic & if it’s architecture it’s not fantastic but realistic – my prefab system is very realistic (. . .) it was conceived not by fancy but a rational approach – like a mathematical problem.”

Dick Higgins once wrote that “Fluxus is not a moment in history, or an art movement. Fluxus is a way of doing things, a tradition, and a way of life and death.” Fluxus’s concept of itself as architecture is perhaps more valuable as an idea and a potential for social change than as a structure itself. After all, the research program of the Fluxus laboratory was characterized by 12 ideas:

All good design is necessarily adaptive. It is possible that self-organization is a property of Fluxcity’s universal system. Whether it is also adaptive depends on whether feedback from the outside would re-shape the patterns of its city plan. Internal forces are used to influence its own structure or growth. Ginger Island as an artists’ community, of course, never became real. Here at least in Fluxcity and its desire for a unversal structure is a proposition that visibly crosses the line between creative concept and an algorithmic (re) construction of the material world. — rg

Thank you to the George Maciunas Foundation Inc. recently re-posted this “Design Matters” review on its website. Click here to visit the foundation’s official website.

Invitation to “Fluxus as Architecture” exhibition
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