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Recap: Raphael Montañez Ortíz, “WHAT DOES FLUXES HAVE TO DO WITH IT, 2013” at the MFA.

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It was madness, unlike any other event I’ve ever been to at the Museum of Fine Arts. Of course, I am referring to last week’s Boston performance by Raphael Montañez Ortíz entitled WHAT DOES FLUXES HAVE TO DO WITH IT, 2013

Organized by Liz Munsell, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art and MFA Programs, this unforgettable night brought together El Museo del Barrio founder and member of the Fluxus movement and the Destruction Art Movement of the 1960s Raphael Montañez Ortíz, Boston-area performance artists, and Museum School students for a once in a lifetime event that had the audience on their toes.

The excitement was seen in people's faces as they waited in line outside the Remis Auditorium to see and hear the legendary artist. Upon entering the auditorium, unsuspecting members of the audience were given brown paper lunch bags and were told that they were "part of the performance." These paper bags, as it turns out, are signature pieces in Mr. Ortiz’s performances, in particular his 1966 Burst Your Paper Bags piece, a performance in which participants explode paper bags and throw them to the front of the room. The celebratory (participants were instructed to write one thing they would like to get rid of in their life, past or present. I bet many of those bags had names of exes and bosses written all over them) sounds made by the bursting of paper bags filled the room. YouTube videos of tornadoes and other natural disasters were projected on screen as participants continued to explode the bags.

Within the first thirty minutes, the Constitution of the United States and the Gettysburg Address were read forward and backward by student volunteers and local performance artists, creating a cacophony of sounds that complemented well the grinding noise of electronic paper shredders.

After the performance, the audience was treated to a viewing of a video documenting one of Raphael Montañez Ortíz’s famous piano destruction concerts. This time it was a performance held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Since 1966, Raphael Montañez Ortíz has physically destroyed household objects like chairs, mattresses, sofas and pianos not only exposing their inner workings (this is true in the piano performances), but rendering these pieces of furniture useless in performances that sometimes involved audience participation. The video shown during this event at the Museum of Fine Arts, is a 1996 re-enactment of one of Ortíz’s performances from the mid 1960s titled Humpty Dumpty: Piano Destruction Concert. It shows Mr. Ortíz destroying a piano with an axe and a woman in pigtails singing in an operatic voice while dropping "golden eggs" from atop of a utility ladder.

Raphael Montañez Ortíz also been making films since the 1950s as well as videos using laser scratch technology, one of which, The Kiss (1985) is on view through July 2013 in the exhibition Slippery Surfaces, in the Krupp Gallery of the museum.

As with most Fluxus performances during which the audience becomes part of the performance itself and often takes home a piece of the props used in it, WHAT DOES FLUXES HAVE TO DO WITH IT, 2013 involved large oblong pebbles, spray painted gold to resemble golden eggs. Some members of the audience walked away with a lucky "golden egg," myself included.

A brief Q&A session followed the performance which Liz Munsell opened up to discussion by asking Raphael Montañez Ortíz about his use of imagery in this particular event at the MFA.

"The whole idea in some instances is to be direct, but always in some sort of metaphoric way, so that we make all sorts of associations that are fairly general to psychology which speaks of texts and subtexts. That there are always meanings within meanings and so on. For instance, the Mother Goose, the story of the golden goose, what that might represent culturally, socially politically. In a sense, it is as simple as that and yet we seem we may not be able to see it as simple as that" said Mr. Ortíz.


Performers and Volunteers: Zayde Buti, Chealsea Anagnoson, Ashley Capachione, Creighton Baxter, Hayley Morgenstern, Gabriella Shypula, Karson Andrews, Eric Narvaez, Celina Greene, Andisa Jones, Ryan Hawk, Darian William Eck, Julianne Hooper, Joel Fernandes, Kelsie Lynch, Emily Radziwon, Mari Novotny Jones, and Alexa Beychok.

All photographs by Ricardo De Lima.

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About Author

Anulfo AKA The Evolving Critic is a preservationist and blogger with a strong interest in architectural history, urbanism, and the parallels between fashion and architecture. He holds degrees in Tourism Planning and Development from the University of New Hampshire and in the History of Art and Architecture from Boston University. Anulfo has written for the Boston Society of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He oversaw BR&S's blog, Our Daily Red, from 2012-14.

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