Robert Filliou: The Secret of Permanent Creation

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Robert Filliou’s career was motivated by a realisation of the need to break with the conventional understanding of creativity as something exclusive, as if it were out-of-this-world.
His home bore the inscription: “Art is what makes life more interesting than art.”
A new exhibition of Filliou’s work, at the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, in Antwerp, Belgium hopes to show us that the a French ‘Fluxus’ artist should be a household name for a large audience, rather a man often talked of as in the shadow, as a lesser compatriot, to other, more celebrated names.
“Filliou is not just one of the most influential artists of the recent past. He is a voice for our time, speaking of the political and poetic economy, of curiosity and research as more than a privilege for those who already know, of conviviality and play but also of loneliness as a productive and even desirable state,” the gallery said in a statement.
Filliou is often associated with Fluxus –  an international and interdisciplinary network or movement of artists, poets, composers, and designers of the 1960s and 1970s that includes, amongst its number, artists like Alison Knowles and Yoko Ono.
Yet Filliou never ‘belonged’ to this or any other movement or group.He worked closely with friends such as the artists Daniel Spoerri and Dieter Roth, the composer and artist George Brecht, the poet Emmett Williams or the architect and artist Joachim Pfeufer.
It was his wife and artistic collaborator Marianne Staffeldt Filliou who said: “You’re artists when you create. But when you stop, you’re not artists anymore.”
Filliou is quoted as saying: “The Secret of Permanent Creation: Whatever you’re thinking; think something else. Whatever you’re doing; do something else. The Absolute Secret of Permanent Creation: Desire nothing, decide nothing, choose nothing, be aware of yourself, stay awake, calmly seated, do nothing.”
If this sounds like Zen Buddhism, then don’t be surprised. Filliou had first-hand knowledge of the Far East. He trained as a political economist in the US after the war and was part of the UN team that authored ‘A Five-Year Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of South Korea in 1953’, before quitting to remain in the Far East, living a spiritual life quite unlike his upbringing. His premature death – in 1987, at the age of 61 – interrupted a retreat to a Buddhist monastery meant to last three years, three months and three days.
The exhibition is organised by Anders Kreuger, Senior Curator at M HKA, in consultation with Paris-based curator Cécile Barrault, in collaboration with the Robert Filliou Estate, managed by the Peter Freeman gallery in Paris. The exhibition’s catalogue is based on a previously unpublished long interview that Irmeline Lebeer made with Robert Filliou in 1976.
Robert Filliou: The Secret of Permanent Creation is on show from 14 October 2016 to 22 January 2017 at the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, Antwerp, Belgium.

Tom Seymour

Tom Seymour is an Associate Editor at The Art Newspaper and an Associate Lecturer at London College of Communication. His words have been published in The Guardian, The Observer, The New York Times, Financial Times, Wallpaper* and The Telegraph. He has won Writer of the Year and Specialist Writer of the year on three separate occassions at the PPA Awards for his work with The Royal Photographic Society.