1 April 2016

Jurgis (George) Maciunas

For those keen on the American avant-garde world of the past 60 years, the name Maciunas will be all too familiar. Jurgis (George) Maciunas (1931-78), was a Lithuanian-American artist, who was one of the masterminds behind the Fluxus publications. As we can see from the manifesto below, Fluxus was about rebellion and anti-art. Like many reactionary groups founded after the second world war, many artists were sick of the historic establishment as it was ultimately complicate, or at least strongly associated with the powers that lead innocent civilians into two world wars.

The artistic work of Jurgis Maciunas is staggering, mostly in its impact and originality. Like many works by artists associated by Fluxus, the artistic drive was expansive, contradictory, intelligent, anti-intellectual, deadly serious, and some comical.

To try and connect it to the 'grand narrative' of art Maciunas, like the other Fluxus gang, created in a landscape post-Dada and following the experimentations of John Cage. John Cage opened the floodgates allowing composers and artists to challenge many historical norms like:

what is self? what does it mean to be an artist? why compose? can we actually control anything? 

With these questions being left to artists to answer, artists associated with Fluxus hit the ground running with these philosophical conundrums. This stance encouraged Jurgis Maciunas to tackle art on so many levels. From architecture to music, from religion to poetry, Maciunas tackled it with fervour and originality. His essays were almost as expansive as his artistic work.

Recently the Lithuanian Music Information Centre with Apartment House produced a CD of works by the late great Maciunas. I finally got hold of a copy of the wonderful disc. It was definitely worth the wait. The disc combines eight different works by the artist:

1. In Memoriam to Adriano Olivetti, version for ensemble
2. Solo for Rich Man
3. Piece for 3 Mouths (homage to Toshi Ichiyanagi)
4. Solo for Ballons (for Jean Pierre Wilhelm)
5. In Memoriam to Adriano Olivetti, version for string quartet
6. Homage to Philip Corner, version for clarinet, cello, and piano
7. Solo for Violin (for Sylvano Bussotti)
8. Music for Everyman

The eight pieces were all written between 1961 and 1962 and show a real highlight of just some of the wonderfully original work Maciunas produced. The ensemble in every performance are so solid, every performance is as profound as it can be. For me my personal favourite is the Solo for Rich Man it is full of fascinating sounds and gestures, but is also wonderfully sarcastic; a perfect sign of a true genius. 

The CD is definitely worth getting hold of! Apartment House have been wonderful in their support of Lithuanian music, so even beyond this CD they should be commended for their brilliant work. To find out more about this stunning ensemble check out their website.

This has been a wonderfully brief look at Maciunas, a character I will definitely return to on this blog. But until then enjoy the video of Sonic Youth performing Maciunas's Piano Piece #13.

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