Fluxus artist Nye Ffarrabas talks flow, fun and 'Flux'
For 18 seasons, Made Here has brought local and regional documentaries to Vermont Public audiences. And this season, we’re providing more context on each film by bringing you interviews with the directors or subjects.
Only, with this week’s pick, we sort of already did that. Back in February, Vermont Public’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke to artist, former state representative, and filmmaker John Killacky about his video piece Flux.
So, why not go back to the source, and speak with one of the artists that inspired Killacky’s film? Nye Ffarrabas of Brattleboro, 91, is an artist, poet and contributor to the Fluxus Art Movement of the early 1960s.
As Ffarrabas herself describes it, Fluxus was “calling out art as a business, something that was making a lot of money for the galleries, but not so much the artists.” She says Fluxus is art for everyone — something that may be considered more community than art movement.
Vermont Public's Jenn Jarecki sat down with Ffarrabas to discuss the Fluxus movement and Killacky’s film. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Jenn Jarecki: So, Nye, for listeners who may not be familiar with the Fluxus art movement, will you describe it for us? We would love to hear your impressions from the inside, so to speak.
Nye Ffarrabas: It's difficult to describe because Fluxus means flow, and flow is change. So, Fluxus never stands still. It was very much -- and still is -- experimental. It was a community of people who were playfully exploring fun themes, but also serious themes. It was about the connection between art and life, and that they are not really separate. In other words, blurring the line between art and life, between life and art.
Nye, you just spoke to this somewhat, but in 2014, you were speaking at an event in Brattleboro in your honor. And you said something really striking, which is, "A lot of people think that humor means trivial, and I don't agree with that." Will you say more about that?
Well, I was thinking a lot about that last night. People think that anything that is humorous or funny, is trivial and something to be ignored or brushed away, like crumbs on a table. Not at all, it's a way of looking at often very serious themes and poking at them a little bit in order to find a fresh way of looking at them.
Life within a growing art movement in New York City sounds pretty exciting.
Well, I'm curious Nye, what brought you to Brattleboro? And why have you stayed in Vermont for so many years?
Well, in 1946, I persuaded my reluctant parents to let me go to Putney School and it changed my whole life. And in the fullness of time, I came back to these hills, because I love them very much. And I've found very good friends here.
Curiosity and love for my children are the two things that have kept me on the planet longest I think.Nye Ffarrabas
Turning to John Killacky's film Flux, I'm curious what your thoughts are on it, Nye. I mean, did you know you'd be credited as a contributor of sorts before you saw it?
No, we hadn't discussed it. But I know that he is very much interested in Fluxus and in my work. So, I wasn't that surprised, but I was delighted.
And what are your thoughts on the film flux?
Oh, I thought it was absolutely beautiful. And I think a lot of people are going to be wondering what the hell? Why isn't there any talking? Or what is he doing? What I know about John is that he spent a certain amount of time in the Himalayas, learning about meditation and whatever else, and it's a meditative piece. And I think it's a lovely one and also draws from the work of other people as well as mine.
There was one moment in particular that stuck out for me, it's when Killacky peels and then eats the clementine. And that sort of drove home this "art for and of the people" message. Like art is nourishment, sure, but also art as digestible and understandable. What do you what do you make of this moment?
I didn't see that as a different moment. Art in general and Fluxus in particular, people's associations are theirs. Mine might have been memories of peeling tangerines, clementines as a child and being fascinated that you could do that. Somebody else might remember the taste of it and salivate a little bit.
We're coming up on the final weekend of Flux Fest, an exhibition co-curated by Killacky, and Champlain College Art gallery director Wylie Garcia. Nye, I understand you spoke at Flex Fest, and I'm curious, what was that experience like?
It was wonderful. It was re-immersion in a life and a way of life and a way of art that I love very much and that feels very alive to me but doesn't have a lot of feelers out into this society. It was wonderful. And I must say that John Killacky is one of the most brilliant Renaissance men that I have ever met. He is, he's all over the place. And he's excellent wherever he goes.
I do have one more question for you, Nye if you're feeling up for just one more.
Well, I understand that, that like me, you really enjoy a good nap. And I wonder what other activities might you recommend to those of us who would love to make it to 91 with as much energy and creativity as you?
Oh, my goodness. Well, luck is part of it. I'm sure. My parents lived my father to 86 and my mother to 97. So that was a boost. I think it might have something to do with willingness to flow from one life context, from one life to life context to another.
I was a lychee farmer in Florida. I came from a conservative Boston family. As I say, Putney School was an amazing eye-opener for me — mind opener, life opener. I think exploring and curiosity. Curiosity and love for my children are the two things that have kept me on the planet longest I think.
Flux premieres on Vermont Public's main TV channel 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26.
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