(edit: it’s becoming somewhat of a tradition that I post this particular article on January 17th. Read further to see why!))
You may or may not have known, but today is Art’s birthday.
You remember, you’ve met Art before: the last time you snatched up a fountain pen, inked a rubber stamp, or folded a snazzy envelope…that’s Art.
The idea of Art’s Birthday was introduced by Robert Filliou in 1963. The idea goes something like this: 1,000,000 years ago, there was no art. (!) But one day, on the 17th of January to be precise, Art was born. (!!) According to Filliou, it happened when someone dropped a dry sponge into a bucket of water. (!!!) And thus a new holiday was born. Art’s birthday is celebrated in a wide variety of ways throughout the world; there are accounts of musical/noise recordings, get-togethers in which artists build/exchange “gifts” to/for Art, or all-night birthday parties/celebrations.
Mail artists feel a special affinity for Art’s Birthday; Filliou and Fluxus artist George Brecht introduced the term “Eternal Network” to the art world (circa 1965), and mail artists have adopted this phrase for their own usage. Filliou himself believed that art didn’t have to express itself as an object (i.e. a painting/sculpture/tangible something-or-other). He saw art as a form of play that could even occur as unrealized notions, which is a view which stays with us today, stronger than ever.
One of the important ideas attached to the Eternal Network, (or “La Fête Permanente”/ The Constant Festival as it is also known) is that “the artist must be aware that he is part of a larger social network, part of the “Constant Festival” which surrounds him everywhere and elsewhere in the world.” For mail artists, this notion is always at work — creating, sending, and receiving in return are the gears that keep postal machinery running and mailboxes full.
Filliou went on the travel the world, as well as conduct interactive art experiments and events. His constant study of Zen Buddhism led him to incorporate many of it’s core beliefs into both film and art works. In 1987, after creating his final piece (Time is a Nutshell), Robert Filliou passed away.
We are left with a yearly celebration, a time to consider how important this thing named “art” is to us. Take a moment to create, to reflect, to share. How do you live with your art/works? What promises do you make to Art, and yourself?
Making is doing. Creating is learning. Art is all around us, in big things and tiny glimpses.
PS: the recent book “Felt: Fluxus, Joseph Beuys, and the Dalai Lama” by Chris Thompson is a fascinating look at the way western art met eastern philosophy when Robert Filliou and Dutch artist Louwrien Wijers arranged a meeting between avant garde artists and the Dalai Lama in 1982. Definitely worth a look if you’re interested in avant garde art history and it’s intersection with eastern philosophy.