Henry Flynt – You Are My Everlovin’ (1986 / 2017)
Over the last decade, history has reformed. It’s a persistent subject when addressing the reissue market – the resurrection and revaluation of countless deserving artists, neglected within their own times. In most instances, particularly within the contexts of experimental and avant-garde music – where there is almost no money to be made, it’s easy understand this as a process of fan led democratization, where time has liberated great art from the clutches of capitalism, allowing it to be rescued.
Running roughly parallel to the vinyl revival and reissue culture, is a second, similar force – rarely regarded or challenged, which has asserted its effect on the histories and communities surrounding experimental and avant-garde music – a product of motives from within the world of fine art. This period has witnessed the folding of countless gestures from the temporal arts – sound, music, dance, performance, etc, into the commercial gallery realm. While doing a certain amount good, bringing recognition and financial support to historically marginalized mediums, not to mention access to sustainable intuitions – museums, publishing, critical and historical frameworks, etc, this broad sweeping gesture is deeply connected to the cynicisms of capitalism. It should be regarded with a careful and critical eye, and never taken for what it appears.
For the near entirety of my adult life – from my early twenties to late thirties, I worked in the belly of the beast – between New York and London, for many of the most noted galleries in the world. I have seen this industry from the inside, at its best and its worst. There are a few basic truths, within which there are rare exceptions, that I can render from nearly two decades of experience. Galleries almost always begin with the best of intentions. They are conceived as infrastructures of support, founded by people who truly believe in the importance and value of art – often initially dedicating their efforts to the immediate community to which they belong, but are deeply connected to the zeitgeists of their time. If they are founded within an era during which there is little money to be made, for example the economic downturns during the 1970’s and early 90’s, their connections to the ideological concerns of the art they support, and integrity, seems to be more sustainable. Galleries like Paula Cooper and Gavin Brown are great examples of this. If a gallery is founded during a period of immense growth within the top end of the economic spectrum (almost always housed within an era of ballooning inequity) – the 1980’s or the last decade, greater critical suspicion should be cast on a gallery’s motives, as well as upon the work that they show. I can say unequivocally, within the current incarnation of the art world, that there are a great many artists and galleries who would not have endured or bothered in an other era – whose motives are almost entirely economic, and have nothing to do with the noble values art. That said, regardless of how they begin, no gallery is exempt from the pressures of economics, something which, through a number of processes, will almost always corrupt.
One of the great sins which has been perpetrated over the last decade, is the increased proliferation of artists whose work should be relegated to the dustbins of history – awful, pandering, saccharine shit, made for childlike intellects of hedge fund managers and their ilk. While this practice is old – galleries have long been host to the careers of artists who you’ve never heard of, shuttled quietly from showrooms by consultants and decorators – expensive vacuums for wealthy people who don’t know any better, it has moved decidedly toward the front of the house – often under the direction of a new breed of gallery worker, possessing almost no understanding of, or background in, the arts – hired because they come from, and thus have access to, the same economic class into which this work is sold. Economics and nepotism opening the door for the blind, who lead the blind. As this practice has increased, coupled with the tendency of otherwise great artists to pander to the pressures of the market – thus making poorer work, galleries, aware of their weak stables, have scrambled to obscure the transparency of their finical motives, attempting to reestablish the overall appearance of integrity, necessary for any gallery to survive. To do this, they strategically began to engage artists whose work appears to be free from the corrupting influence of capital, particularly those working in conceptually or temporarily challenging territories – performance, experimental sound / music, and dance – things which are difficult to, or can’t be bought and sold. The simple fact that many of these artists have worked in the shadows for decades, with no hope for recognition or financial reward, when present, almost single-handedly possess the power to offset the sins of the context opening its door to them. They present a default of integrity which is difficult to challenge. Good for the galleries, but, given the power of context, not always good for the artists and their work. It is crucial, for the sake of the art – all of the potential, power, and importance it holds, to recognize the nature of this process – what is gained and sacrificed. It’s a devil’s handshake – short term good, often yields long term ills. With galleries, art historians, critics, museums, energy drinks, etc – each with their own motive and something to be harvested and gained, asserting their influence within, and at times co-opting, our world – that of experimental music and sound, we should never loose sight of what great art actually is, remembering our own power as viewers and listeners – as well as that of great art, and that affirmations are ours to give or withhold. The heart and ear are the most important critics of all.
One the most fascinating resurrections within the current era of historical reappraisal, is the history of, and the work and artists belonging to, Fluxus. This movement – among the most important of the 20th century, was founded as an attack upon the standing intuitions surrounding creative practice – to create art autonomously, beyond the realms of their influence and affirmations. At the core of Fluxus was a desire to free art from the grip of capitalism, democratize it, and place it into everyone’s hands. This is at the root of its philosophical position, and why it took the forms it did – fervently embracing the multiple (books, prints, etc), and temporalities of performance and sound – everyone could access and afford the same objects, interactions, and experiences, while offering them definition on their own terms.
Within the last 20 years, the history of Fluxus has been radically altered. Prominent and decisive voices have been pushed down, while lesser figures have been elevated to towering heights. Not so long ago – during the era I was in art school and first encountered their efforts (the second half of the 90’s), Fluxus was almost nowhere to be seen. Two of the largest and most complete collections of this work, now belonging to MOMA and Harvard, were only purchased in recent years. Historically, what little was housed in institutional collections almost always remained hidden from view. It wasn’t that no one cared. While the work is unquestionably challenging, this wasn’t the problem. It was being actively suppressed by the institutions which they had long ago attacked – the commercial gallery word, museums, critics, historians, etc – a charge which had been headed by none other than Henry Flynt, a figure who remains conspicuously absent within the current image of Fluxus’ history.
While Henry Flynt is widely know among fans of avant-garde music – the partial result of a series of reissues and archival releases which appeared around the outset of the millennium, he has never entirely received his due – cast as a secondary figure next to friends and peers like La Monte Young, Charlemagne Palestine, Tony Conrad, Dick Higgins, and George Maciunas. In truth, Flynt’s efforts – despite not having been recorded until the early 80’s, lay at the very inception of Fluxus music, Minimalism, the deployment of text based scores, and anti-authoritarian performance. He is also responsible for the ideas – initially drafted in 1961 within the text Concept Art, and published within An Anthology of Chance Operations (issued by Jackson Mac Low and La Monte Young) in 1963, which gave way to all subsequent movements of Conceptual Art. Far from secondary, he is among the most important creative figures of the 20th century.
The narrative of Flynt’s creative life begins in an unexpected place – in the mathematics departments at Harvard, where he met the like minded Tony Conrad during the late 1950’s – two rebellious, brilliant, and contentious minds, who, for many years, were bound as a single force. Following the completion of their studies, the two would move to NY, joining forces with George Maciunas, La Monte Young, Jack Smith, and a number of others, to form the core of the dawning Fluxus movement, which Flynt – through writing and performances, sketching many of its central ideas, some of which would give way to the development of musical Minimalism.
The absence, suppression, and downplaying of Henry Flynt within the history of creative practice – ideas, art, music, and performance, unveils the very character and power of the institutions he long ago attacked. As an artist, musician, and intellectual, he has never played nice or by the rules (since when was art supposed to?) – so important and uncompromising, that he bursts history’s seams – crushing orthodoxy, standing narrative and points of view. He is the bearer of inconvenient truth. Since the day his efforts emerged – first by design and then default, he has been denied access to the hallowed institutional halls, and with it, the recognition he rightfully deserves.
For those of us who identify as members of the underground and counterculture, Flynt’s position activates a degree of conflict – anger at the institutions for denying him his rightful due – for being so transparently corrupt, and joy that he is free from their clutches – one of our own. He remains among the last unfaltering voice of his generation – a vision of its truths and intents, laying the groundwork for those us who followed in his wake.
Joined within their broad effort to provide access to important artifacts from the histories of avant-garde, underground, and counter-cultural musics, the San Francisco based imprint Superior Viaduct returns with a reissue of Flynt’s seminal work You Are My Everlovin’, a 45 minute epic which initially appeared on his recording debut. While the inceptions of Fluxus and musical Minimalism were anti-authoritarian – intent on smashing the institutions of history and art, their own histories have bowed to their effect – developing orthodoxies, within which many of the founding ideas and gestures don’t entirely fit. This has led to a shuffling of the deck, pushing minor contributions to the forefront, and major to the depths. The image that we are presented with, is little more than a lie that suits the agendas of those who were not there. Such has been the case of Flynt, whose music was late to be documented, and jarring compared to the likes of Young, Reich, and Glass. Superior Viaduct, first with their issue of Graduation in 2013 – comprised of archival recording made by Flynt between 1975 and 79, and now with You Are My Everlovin’, is taking essential strides toward rectifying this sin, placing the artist in the framework which rightfully he deserves.
The recording which makes up You Are My Everlovin’ was made in 1981, but wasn’t released until 1986, when it was issued as one half of an incredibly rare cassette / artist edition by Edition Hundertmark. It encounters Flynt at his best – rendering a wild, powerful, improvised raga inspired work for violin, pulling equally from his experiences studying with Padit Pran Nath, as from indigenous rural American folk music. A hybrid, representing a pure image of Minimalism as it was conceived – democratic, adventurous, contentious, and creatively brilliant, entirely reforming the understanding of history across its 45 minute length. This isn’t music which attempts to be anything but what it is. It doesn’t set out to establish a new orthodoxy within the standing architectures of music – classical or otherwise, it seeks autonomy and the liberation of art. A writhing bath in tone, elevating the vision of Flynt’s contribution to history, with its seminal importance, to towering heights.
An image of experimental music as it ought to be – as an immersive and democratic investigation led by the heart and ear, the reemergence of You Are My Everlovin’ is as essential and welcome as reissues come. It is a reclamation of history – clawing back its moments, and setting the story straight – a crucial reminder of the value activated by autonomy within the arts. Flynt could have easily pandered and played the game. He chose not to, suffers for it, but retains power and control. He remains one of our own. He is a crucial example of another path, and a reminder that our world grew from an opposition to the institutions which now seek to assert their control over it. Superior Viaduct’s edition is accompanied with Flynt’s own explanatory liner notes. Many thanks to the label for bringing it back. You can check it out below, and pick it up from the label, or from SoundOhm.