Project Drawing – Fluxus and Yoko Ono

Fluxes were a network of artists  born in the nineteen sixties. Artists associated with the Fluxes include Georges Maciunas, Joseph Beuys, Ben Vautier, Nam June Paik and Yoko Ono. The group of artists were influenced by the Dada movement and by Marcel Duchamp, the teachings of John Cage and zen philosophy. Their intention was to bring art closer to life.  They organised concerts, invented Mail Art, video art, published theoretical volumes declaring their objection to the commercialisation of art.

The Fluxes were highly influenced by the concepts investigated by  John Cage in his experimental music of the 1950s. Cage explored ideas of indeterminacy in art, which influenced artist George Maciunas. Maciunas organized the first Fluxus event in 1961 in New York and the first Fluxus festivals in Europe in 1962. Marcel Duchamp and Allan Kaprow were also influential to Fluxus. Fluxus encouraged a “do it yourself” aesthetic, and valued simplicity over complexity. Like Dada before it, Fluxus forcefully incorperated anti-commercialism and an anti-art sensibility as reaction against the conventional market-driven art world. Well known works by the Fluxes are event scores and Fluxus boxes. Fluxus boxes (sometimes called Fluxkits or Fluxboxes) originated with George Maciunas who would gather collections of printed cards, games, and ideas, organizing them in small plastic or wooden boxes. The influence of Fluxus continues today in multimedia digital art performances.

Fluxus artists bestowed common characteristics including wit and “childlikeness”. It was significant that the Fluxes quite possibly had the most female members of any Western art group up to that point in history because it proceeded the white male-dominated abstract expressionism movement.

Yoko Ono was associated with the fluxes. Born in 1933 in Tokyo, Yoko Ono is one of the pioneers of Conceptual Art. In 1952, she became one of the first women in Japan to study philosophy. She studied creative writing at Harvard and in the 1950s  lived in New York City, where she knew John Cage.
After beginning a relationship with John Lennon Ono ambition to bring inner peace to different peoples continued. Her conceptual art manifested in the collection of works, Grapefruit, which she first published herself on July 4, 1964 in Tokyo.

Fluxus revealed qualities of play. To play Chess on a Backgammon table is to play neither Chess nor Backgammon, the rules must be altered and grafted into two games. Fluxus games were commentaries on the rules of making, buying, selling, and canonizing art. Through entertainment and “lack of seriousness,” they gained public attention, in the hope that Fluxus works “might bring the public to the realization of social and political injustice.”

Yoko Ono’s Play it by Trust consisted of a series of installations based on the concept of an all white Chess set. Ono’s Chess modifications represent prime examples of a game—specifically a war game—adapted and utilized as a call for peace. In Play it by Trust, players lose track of their pieces as their forces move forward. The pieces become lost as “enemies” meet, and, unable to differentiate sides by color, players either must remember where their pieces are, remember the direction their pieces face, or realize that they are all the same. The experience of becoming lost ultimately shows that both sides are equal, forcing players either to follow the standard rules for Chess or to create a new way to play. Here a game that traditionally represents a war is used to show that there are alternatives to fighting, and that when people recognize their similarities, they can find new ways to play, work together, and coexist in peace. Ono constantly uses temporary or intangible materials to draw the viewer back to a philosophical state. She works with glass and perspex, plays with noise and silence.  Play it by trust aka White Chess Set (1966). Play it for as long as you can distinguish yourself from your opponent.  Play It By Trust consists of an entirely white chessboard with white pieces. Perhaps she was interpreting the ideal of chess championed by Marcel Duchamp as “the landscape of the soul.”

Ono has made numerous objects based on a 1966 concept for an all-white chess set. Her simple alteration— painting the board and pieces a uniform white. The players lose track of their pieces as the game progresses; ideally this leads to a shared understanding of their mutual concerns and a new relationship based on empathy rather than opposition. Peace is then attained on a small scale; perhaps the rules will even be revised so that the game can continue. While Play it by Trust, like White Chess Set, is of course closely related to Ono’s consistent and varied activities toward the attainment of world peace, its one-on-one scenario is consistent with her wish that her work encourage each of us first to “deal with oneself.” The first version of this piece was made for Ono’s 1966 Indica Gallery exhibition and titled simply Chess Set. It consisted of a table whose surface was a chessboard made of alternating raised squares, a set of chess pieces, and two chairs, everything painted white. An accompanying sign attached to the table instructed viewers to play. Ono’s interest in chess is contextually linked to that of Fluxus mentor Marcel Duchamp, who in the 1920s announced his withdrawal from art-making to pursue his passion for chess.

Play it by Trust 1966-1998 – Yoko Ono

Play it by trust – 1991 – Yoko Ono – Installation

Play it by Trust – 1999 – Yoko Ono

Play It By Trust (Marble Version) 1966—2007 – Yoko Ono


~ by Phoebe Thompson on May 9, 2010.

2 Responses to “Project Drawing – Fluxus and Yoko Ono”

  1. Wow Phoebe, what an interesting article you have put together! Also will be very helpful towards my own writing on Duchamp and ‘MODERN ART’

  2. thats awsome Phoebe, Yoko Ono’s work really makes a powerful but subtle comment on war and peace.

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