Hannah B. Higgins: An Interview of Primariness
Hannah B. Higgins is an Associate Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago.
She is also the daughter of the Fluxus artists Alison
and noted author of Fluxus
, and will be lecturing in tandem with Gestures of Resistance
this Thursday at 6:30 pm at PNCA.
> Is there a right or better way to experience "primary phenomena or
The point of a primary information orientation is not that there is one way
or a better way to access it. Walter
's writing on sense ratios and hierarchies demonstrates that the ranking
of sensations is cultural (the primacy and isolation of vision, the low rank
of smell, for instance, reflecting western values). So sensation is always filtered
through values and value systems. The acculturated nature of the systems, however,
is best explored when we attempt to access information in a primary way. Usually
we fail. However, in the attempt things become strange, exposed as social mandates.
In this negotiation, information becomes ecological in the connecting sense.
In a multicultural society, this means there isn't one way or a better way to
approach ecological experiences of information, though there may be ways that
tend to obstruct the attempt instead of aid it. Overly fixed interpretation
and systems-based analysis of aesthetic experiences tend are to my mind less
useful than, say, thick description or kinds of writing or understanding that
trigger an empathic/involved response.
> Can writing/language be a form of primary information?
Of course. See above. Primariness is attitudinal.
> Would you say that a primary focus on secondary information is hurting
Yes. It is harder and harder to think for ourselves. The point being that it
is harder and harder to have the grounding sensation of thinking for ourselves.
> Why is it important to you to have built such strong lines between other
arts and Fluxus?
Art making doesn't happen in isolation. Rather, artists solve sensory, intellectual
and formal problems relationally. There is always an imagined audience even
if it's the artist him/herself. As a result, the primariness of Fluxus, for
example, offers something more generally to our understanding of the arts at
the time. The art sensibilities of the 1960s were myriad and happening on top
of each other. We understand them all better when we approach them both as unique
but also as related tendencies.
> Do values of deconstruction aid primary experience?
Yes and no. Deconstruction at its best makes things strange in ways that are
useful as access points for primary experience. But the unnecessarily complicated
writing systems of deconstruction sometimes create a deterministic, endlessly
self referential, meta object (which gets in the way of primariness). Also,
in the 1980s and 1990s people became evangelized with deconstructive practices
so much so that we collectively went down the rabbit hole, but never landed
anywhere. No wonderland. No red queen. No caterpillar. Just a lot of falling.
But I may be referring to the cartoon version of deconstruction as an endlessly
shifting semiotic lens. I was rereading Derrida's Truth in Pointing recently
and it was better than I remembered.
Alison Knowles, The Identical Lunch [2nd Edition], 1973/93 silk-screens in cadmium
> Is paradox an essential element for fluxus?
That depends on the artist and the audience. Some artists are very effective
with paradox (George Maciunas, Bob Watts and Eric Anderson come to mind), while
others don't seem very interested in paradox at all (Phillip Corner, Jackson
MacLow, Alison Knowles). So one couldn't say essential, but repeating maybe
and perhaps essential if we take Fluxus as a single, complex object.
> Is "failure of imagination" a phenomenon of modern/contemporary
societies or something all peoples have to work at or deal with?
Creativity is how people move from the known to the unknown. We see it both
in the basic problem solving that leads to new technologies and also in the
ways people create the narratives that explain their worlds or help them to
imagine new ones. Cultures wither when creativity becomes obsolescent. This
happens either by overt oppression (as in repressive political regimes) or when
a sense develops that 'it's all been done before,' that social or material problems
have already been (successfully or unsuccessfully) addressed. Our information
overload society is at risk for the kind of acquiescent attitude. But of course
the world is ever changing, so in fact nothing's been truly tried before. Ever.
> Did you ever get to meet John Dewy or John Cage?
Cage was part of the NY Micological Society that my parents were involved with,
so I have early memories of mushroom hunting with him and he came regularly
to dinner and sometimes holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.
> How do/did your parent's influences affect your thinking about fluxus?
My parents were very close to Cage, so his presence in our house and my knowledge
that he'd been Dick's teacher at the new school meant that I tended to see things
through the lens of the social scene framed by experimental music. Jim Tenney,
who did electronic and computer music, Malcolm Goldstein (the violinist) and
Pauline Oliveros were also close family friends and there were noise music and
electronic music events at Phil Niblock's loft, where we'd see people we knew.
I didn't particularly like the music and couldn't understand it, but I loved
its people. As a result, I saw the music scene as primarily social and experienced
Fluxus as a piece of that greater, experimental world. It wasn't until I got
to graduate school and started reading about neo-avant-gardes and Dada and angry
anti-art that I understood what the world believed about these artists. There
was no resemblance.
> How did researching Fluxus affect your nostalgic memories of childhood
Not much. My memories were not nostalgic except that I enjoyed the other flux
kids a lot. We'd hang out backstage or in the wings somewhere and have our own
experiences. We were not very interested in what was going on in front of the
audience. That came later.
> How was your fathers relationship to George
In the end they resolved differences that cropped up when Dick decided to publish his and his friends' work that was in The Something Else Press
. There was initially
some rivalry, since Maciunas wanted to control what could be published, performed
and exhibited as Fluxus. Since no one ever elected him to the position and people
pretty much went on with their own stuff, it got pretty silly pretty fast. In
the end there was a solid community of active people making art and I remember
visiting George as he was dying of pancreatic cancer and the feeling between
Dick and George was very warm.
> Do you have any fluxus work?
Less than you'd think. Dick went bankrupt in 1975 and we lost everything (house
included). As a result, any Fluxus objects he had, and most of The Something
books were sold off to pay bills. He died penniless. There was German
collector, Hermann Brown, though, who began giving me duplicates from his collection
in the middle 1990s, so I have a few of the old kits and two of George Brecht's
thanks to Hermann.
> Thank you Hannah for sharing these memories with us.