Cases in the Special Collections and Archives section of the McHenry Library display Fluxus art projects. Illustration by Darin Connolly.

Fluxkits, posters for happenings and photos of a Thor-inspired production of “Julius Caesar.” You can find all of these at “Education and the Avant Garde: How Fluxus Artists Shaped the Arts at UC Santa  Cruz.” 

Fluxus artists challenge the conventional definition of art. Their work transcends paint and paper, venturing into a combination of performance art, multimedia projects and interactive pieces.

“Fluxus artists redefined what was thought of as art,” said art department chair Elizabeth Stephens. “They were really, really fun, but very serious. They elevated a sense of joy. I think the world needs more of it.” 

On the third floor of the McHenry Library, UCSC Special Collections and Archives is displaying Fluxus art projects from a yearlong experiment in participatory education from 1967-68. Frustrated by conservative art at the time, the UCSC Art Department initiated collaboration between students and artists from around the country to design a new art program for the young university.

Jessica Pigza, outreach and exhibit librarian, created the installation in anticipation of Porter College’s upcoming 50th anniversary. Pigza said she was fascinated by the number of talented artists involved with this experimental year, which influenced Porter College’s concentration on art and education.

The exhibit displays Fluxkits, boxes full of interactive art like journals, card games, audio-tapes and films. Also displayed is a poster for a “happening” event by Allan Kaprow in San Francisco. One of the organized “happenings” was for individuals to sit in a chair on a San Francisco street, take a picture and leave the photo there. 

During UCSC’s fledgling years, UCSC students and faculty were at the forefront of developing a new arts curriculum. Students and faculty were inspired by avant garde and Fluxus artists who pioneered the idea of participatory art, breaking down the barrier between artist and  viewer. 

Photos by Lluvia Moreno.

“The goal of these experimental classes was to collaborate with invited artists to decide the future of art on campus,” Pigza said.

To the untrained eye, Fluxus art might seem vulgar, but flux artists are dedicated to their work. They inject joy and absurdity into an ailing world. 

Fluxus art is often made with materials you can find at home. The materials are primal and the artists’ work is boundary-pushing. Fluxus artists’ impact on contemporary art and art at UCSC is visible today. 

Elizabeth Stephens is influenced by the traditions of Fluxus artists George Manciunas and Geoffrey Hendricks. In 2008, Stephens and artist Annie Sprinkle created a performance art piece called Green Wedding, which portrayed a formal wedding ceremony between participants and the Earth. Stephens said the impact of Fluxus artists is alive in her today and she tries to instill a sense of joy and play in her  students.

“Art keeps the university human, it makes us see who we are,” Stephens said. “It creates culture.”

Some of the most unique pieces on display are photographs from a 1969 Stevenson College production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” Then technical director Deena Ferigno commissioned Thor Marvel Comics illustrator Jack Kirby to design costumes for the production. Ferigno was able to transform his 2-D comic world into a 3-D production.  The production included a multimedia geodesic dome created by world-renowned architect Buckminster Fuller, Pigza said. 

One tangible creation that emerged from this period of experimentation is Porter College’s concentration on art. Today, Porter College is a hub for creativity and uniqueness that best encapsulates the quirky culture of UCSC. After 50 years, the symbiosis between art and education as its founding principle remains. 

“At Porter College, we believe that creative inquiry is an essential part of a rigorous and broad-minded education, a flourishing society, and a happy life,” said Porter College Provost Sean Keilen. “[Porter College] is creative and open-minded, committed to the idea that one’s education is a life-changing experience and so much more than the major one completes.’’

UCSC’s roots as a different university trace back to the experimental year of 1967-68. Fluxus artists’ ideas broke the mold of conventional thinking and if you look around, you can see their lasting impact in art department studios and senior projects. 

“[Fluxus] has teeth, it has staying power, it’s influenced lots and lots of people,” said Stephens. “[Fluxus artists] made life into art.”