Fluxus Collectors in Northern Italy
by SHIOMI Mieko (composer)

The activities of Fluxus began in New York, Europe and Japan at the same time during the 1960s. Kansai resident and composer, SHIOMI Mieko, is one of the few Fluxus artists now living in Japan. While continuing to participate in Fluxus events abroad, Shiomi is active in a variety of projects to introduce the group to Japanese audiences including workshops, exhibitions, and performances. Of these, "Media Opera" (1992), "Balance Poem" (1992), "Fluxus Balance"(1993) and "Fluxus Media Opera" (1994) have been presented at Xebec. In this issue, the artist writes about her recent trip to Europe to meet Fluxus collectors.

The dates for an exhibition at Galerie J & J Donguy, who I'd already been in contact with, had been set and I received a message asking me to do a performance at the opening. I decided to go with my recently retired husband. It was the first time in five years that I had been to Paris, and it was unbelievably hot. Another thing I was looking forward to was meeting Esther FERRE who lives on the Rue de la Roquette, the same street that the gallery is on. Although she was leaving on a month-long performance tour two days later, she was kind enough to invite me and the Donguy brothers to lunch and treated us to a homemade meal. "I've been telling all my friends to come and see your performance," she said. I had been feeling rather carefree, expecting that on the whole there would only be a few people in Europe who would want to come and see a solo exhibition by someone as completely unknown (except as a member of Fluxus) as me. But on the night of October 18, fifty or sixty people turned out. It was a good thing I had decided to do a performance. I would have felt bad if people had gone out of their way just to see my already completed visual works. For someone like me, raised not in galleries but performance spaces, I couldn't help thinking that the exhibition would be meaningless without an event that could only occur at that particular time in that particular space through the unified concentration of minds of everyone present. My performance was a reading of one of the English poems being exhibited along with background sounds. These were produced by two record players that played as I accompanied them with small instruments and objects in rhythm with the poem. At the end, I quickly spun blue marbles inside a wineglass and slowly raised it to my lips to drink them down in a single gulp. But the marbles brushed against my lips and fell to the floor, making hard sounds and rolling around. Despite this, a kind of cathartic understanding seemed to go through the audience and me. The day after the opening, Mr. Donguy and the critic, Michel ASSO, asked to interview me. Next year they are planning to put out a special magazine about Fluxus, and considered this to be an ideal opportunity. After our conversation, I was comforted to hear Mr. Asso's apologetic words about France's nuclear tests. The feeling of distrust that had been growing somewhere in my heart ever since I had come to Paris was eased somewhat, and the following day, we left the city which, with terrorist bombings occurring once every ten days, is at once beautiful and dangerous.

There was actually another reason I went to Europe. In a town that lies near the railway connecting Milan and Venice, live three of the biggest Italian Fluxus collectors. In the past, they had told me that if I ever had a chance, they would very much like me to visit them. It was a good time because one of them, Luigi BONOTTO of Molvena, had recently produced a peculiar edition of bottles called "Grappa Fluxus" that were designed by about ten Fluxus members. Since my glass was finished, I was going there to sign it. After we had arrived in Verona the next morning, Mr. Bonotto, bringing a young interpreter with him, lost no time in coming to our hotel and picking us up. It was the first time I had met this large-framed, warm-hearted gentleman. On the way to his house, we stopped at the ruins of an old castle where a human chess tournament takes place once every four years. The center of the square had indeed been covered with two colors of stone to form a chessboard. Long ago when a number of young men were fighting over the beautiful daughter of a noble family, these chess games were used to decide the winner. Incidentally, Tendo City, in Yamagata Prefecture, similarly known for its human shogi (a Japanese game resembling chess) matches, happens to be Molvena's sister city. Mieko Shiomi Image 4

Mieko Shiomi Image 2 At the edge of some gently rolling hills covered in green was Mr. Bonotto's house. Once inside, I was astounded. In not only the guest room and along the staircase, but in the kitchen and in the bathroom, there were a tremendous number of new Fluxus works lining the crowded house. It was truly a living museum. All of them were in frames or cases that he had designed and ordered for himself, and in a single glance, it was clear how well he cared for them. For a series of large cloth works, he had attached a rail to the ceiling to suspend the exact number of objects and had designed a mechanism to allow them to be shown one at a time to a visitor seated on the sofa. Among these were works in process that were being completed little-by-little each time the artist visited. "Whenever you come here, something has changed. And this house has become a kind of meeting place for the Fluxus artists," said the interpreter, Mauro, a company worker. Mr. Bonotto himself started out as an artist, but is now running his own textile company and designing cloth for fashionable clothes for young people. He showed us part of the factory, adjacent to his house, and it was quite magnificent; he said he exports a lot to foreign countries, especially Japan.

That afternoon we visited Massimo, a glass craftsman, at his workshop. And all at once, right before our eyes, he made a new version of the work I had designed. It was a terrific display of skill. Next, he asked me to sign the twelve blue, clear bottles, similar in appearance to wind instruments, that he had already finished, and brought me a heavy, metal pen that was electric and oscillated minutely. I practiced a number of times on another cup, but because blue glass is especially hard, it was like trying to stand on ice for the first time with skates on--the tip of the pen was beyond my control. In this extremely nervous state, with his help, I was somehow able to sign all of them. By the time I had finished, my hand was exhausted and quivering. If nothing else, it was an appropriately shocked signature for someone who had come from so far away. Just then, as the sun was setting over the hills of Molvena, the sound of bells from churches all around began to ring through the air. Mieko Shiomi Image 3

The following day I visited Francesco CONZ at his house in Verona. Since meeting in Venice five years earlier, we had remained in contact through a frequent exchange of letters. He was glad to see me and suddenly began telling me all about himself. The first Fluxus collection had been begun at the end of the sixties by Gino DIMAGGIO; and Mr. Conz began collecting in the early seventies. He said that he was the one who had introduced Mr. Bonotto to Fluxus. Until then, Mr. Conz had managed a furniture business, but in order to devote himself to Fluxus work, he had resolved to quit his job and this had led to a divorce from his wife. He said he hadn't seen his family since.

Mieko Shiomi Image 1 According to one view, he is the biggest collector in Europe. The works he owns are stored in two warehouses located just thirty minutes by car from Verona. About ten years ago, he published various editions of two-dimensional works by Fluxus artists by printing them on flags or large pieces of cloth, and it is through the sale of these that he presently earns a living. He has been involved with the planning of a countless number of exhibitions, and just finished with a big Fluxus show in Bassano with Mr. Bonotto and others last summer. The number of photographs of Fluxus artists he has taken approaches 150,000. Throughout the three hours I was with him, since this was such a rare opportunity, he was continuously taking my picture and had to change film three times. Then, saying, "This book is my life, I want you to write something in it and sign it," he brought over a huge sketch book. As he turned the pages, he joyously explained in great detail who had written what. This man, who became so completely absorbed that he exchanged his family for Fluxus, is now sixty-years-old. "When I die," he worries, "What's going to become of my enormous collection?" In the way he drifted between solitude and sorrow, I was suddenly reminded of MACIUNAS. What should he do to ensure that his mission in life has been accomplished and that the dream he has been trying to grasp isn't an illusion? The next morning on the cliffs near Castel San Pietro, I shot one of Robert WATTS's arrows to satisfy Mr. Conz's mania for documentation.

On the last day, the DiMaggios came to meet me at Milan Central Station. They have an art museum with beautiful spaces called Mudima where they have put on a variety of exhibitions including one of Japanese Gutai art and one of works by TESHIGAWARA Hiroshi. Gino was in charge of producing the large-scale Fluxus Festival that was held in Venice in 1990. That was where I first met him. He's handsome enough to have been an actor. But to support the museum, he oversees a number of businesses in North Africa. As we sped down the highway toward the airport, Gino and I chattered away.

"Do a project at my museum."
"But your place is too big for me. If it was a group show..."
"Right. Well...then how about 'Fluxus Women'? How many are there?"
"That would be great! I'll print a beautiful catalog..."

His dreams were starting to take shape again. Whether or not they are realized depends wholly on whether or not his North African jobs are a success.
part three
Fluxus in Italy
Christopher Stephens
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