RES Magazine Jan-Feb 2005

new syntax/storytelling

In the shadow of a hulking Korean Presbyterian church resides Flux Factory, an international crew of artists, writers, academics and variously talented folks. As their name would imply, the members of Flux are ever evolving, but president Morgan Meis, executive director Stefany Anne Goldberg, and chief curator Jean Barberis ground the shifting ensemble from their Queens headquarters. As Barberis explains, “[Flux] is three things: a not-for-profit arts organization, led by artists who participate in shows and who also collaborate with us; an arts collective, so we do projects outside of our space in different venues [such as] museums and galleries; and an artist-in-residency space.”

The original Fluxers were students attending the New School for Social Research in the mid-90s, at first just sharing a Williamsburg loft where people’s constant comings and goings led Meis – a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy – to term the name. Since 1998 the group has been incorporated, and now claims 50-plus scattered members – roughly 15 of whom reside in Flux’s Long Island City warehouse. While they claim no connection to Fluxus or Andy Warhol’s Factory, the similarities are striking. On the day of our interview, artists were busily assembling work for Cute and Scary, an exhibit exploring the dualism of innocent, childlike images with darker, more disturbing subtexts. Miss Van from France stood painting her Jessica Rabbitesque, Day-Glo vamps on the wall, while Swiss trio Mickry Drei put the finishing touches on larger-than-life cardboard creatures. “We get artists together and make something happen,” says Barberis, a French artist who came to Flux through an ex-girlfriend.

Whatever that something turns out to be depends usually on “somebody[‘s] wacky idea,” says Goldberg, who is currently completing her Master’s in Music and Sound at Bard College. Having produced such shows as Cartunnel – a “Choose Your Own Adventure” maze of work by cartoonists and illustrators – and residencies by artists such as The Space Invader, Flux feels like a playground for reluctant adults. Perhaps that’s why the imaginative and inviting group has been effective in their outreach to people living with autism. Twice a week, autistic adults through Astoria-based QSAC (Quality Services for the Autistic Community) come and help set up whatever projects are going on, as well as creating paintings and drawings of their own (one such piece is now a part of the Flux permanent collection).

Temporarily hidden behind a red velvet curtain in the main gallery is Paul Burn’s Ice Cave, a giant crawl-through sculpture that was installed during the artist’s residency in 2002. The piece will be joined by additional Burn artworks when his solo show opens in early January; the show will include “a maze made of edible materials inhabited by mice that will slowly disappear throughout the show; a Jacuzzi carved out of a big skull; and a couple more very large pieces that will probably be very hard to fit through our stairway,” says Barberis.

However, Flux’s most elaborate event to date took place outside the factory walls, when the collective was invited into the Queens Museum of Art’s International Show in 2002. “This was the very first project we did as an arts collective,” says Barberis. The Fluxers “lived” in the museum six days a week for three months, making themselves and their daily activities the exhibit and displaying themselves for visitors to interact with like curiosities in a cageless zoo. Documenting their daily “art” activities in video and written diaries, the restless troupe began burrowing into the museum’s temporary walls and painting messages on the roof for passing airplanes landing at nearby LaGuardia, causing some grief for the QMA’s board when all was discovered. But executive director Tom Finkelpearl, a Flux supporter, has since gone on record as saying other art institutions ought to invite the collective in, too.

While the decision to be based in Queens was based more on practical realities than choice, all agree that its location is essential now Flux’s identity. Goldberg says, “When this space came up we thought, ‘No one will ever come and see us.’ And no one did for a really long time. But now we grew something here. I think we are all very happy in Queens and would like to stay here.”

HERE, MORGAN MEIS DESCRIBES FLUX FACTORY’S DIGITAL HABITAT:
Flux is such a jumble of crap that it is hard to know where to start describing it. We once had a project with an Irish artist who had never been to our space in Brooklyn. The different members of Flux sent him descriptions of their studios or of other parts of the house, and he was to construct a digital model of Flux purely from that. Like many Flux ideas, it is still drifting out there as something to-be-finished-on-an-as-yet-undetermined-date. The point is that it would probably have been as accurate a portrayal of the place as anything because, even if he had finished the project, we would have already transformed it into something different anyway.

Flux Factory currently occupies about 7,500 square feet of an otherwise unremarkable warehouse within a thin strip of industrial structures near the MTA railroad tracks separating Long Island City, Sunnyside and Astoria in Queens, New York. There is a nice view of the Manhattan skyline. We have about 2,000 square feet of gallery/performance/laboratory space, 14 separate and smallish studios, and a large kitchen that is rarely very clean and usually full of people 24 hours a day.

We have a darkroom with several reasonably good enlargers, silkscreening facilities, and a variety of iMacs and PCs littered throughout the premises that are hooked up to our internal network. We have a workroom with tools and spare parts useful for anything from pulling teeth to building giant art mazes. Brian Matthews, our resident “mad scientist,” often works with the arts group Madagascar Institute and can be found in the workroom welding dangerous amusement park rides at any time day or night. We have an odd assortment of AV equipment, most of it hopelessly outdated but we often find ways to use it in projects like those done at the Queens Museum of Art and the New Museum. Most of this stuff was collected from Materials for the Arts, an angelic New York institution down the street from us that has the noble task of collecting otherwise to be discarded material from businesses around the city and recycling it back to arts organizations who can use it.

Because we use computers primarily for visual and sonic art (and because our resident techie Jason “Phunquey” Brown bullied us into doing so) we use Macs almost exclusively. G3s, G4s, and PowerBooks make up our fundamental working tools. A random day will reveal a group of “Fluxers” hanging out in the main space hunched over laptops and furiously e-mailing each other about various things someone else should have done last week. Even Phunquey now comes home from work to witness this daily scene with minor disgust and regret. We’re pretty happy, though.