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FLUXCUP18: AN ALEATOGEOGRAPHICAL ODYSSEY

by Mark Staniforth

I’ve created my own micro-nation. It has its own flag (a white-on-purple Nordic cross), and its own anthem. It even boasts a couple of hundred real-life citizens, not that they know it yet. I’ll see Benjamin’s Paris and Goldsmith’s New York, and raise them the Kingdom of Fryup. [1]

Perhaps we should each have our own micro-nation, shattering existing and broadly accepted borders into a billion tiny pieces. Who, after all, is the arbiter of what constitutes nationhood? According to the late political historian Benedict Anderson, the concept itself is almost impossible to define. “It is an imagined political community,” Anderson writes. “It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members.. yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” [2]

Must we accept as definitive the current 193 member states listed by the United Nations, a body whose vested interests cause it, for example, to accept the claims of a bunch of warlords who carved South Sudan into being, yet reject those of the Milwaukee teenager who has declared his bedroom a sovereign state? [3]

The 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States decrees that in order to exist, a nation must contain four things: permanent population; defined territory; government; and capacity to enter into relations with other states. So far, so unclear. As part of my ongoing project, #FLUXCUP18, I adopted an alternative but similarly inexact equation to establish a final list of 364 nations, balancing existing sovereign and/or separatist claims with elements of cultural, historical and physical independence. Inevitably, that final list is fraught with inconsistencies and subjective judgements: from literally countless possibilities I selected a handful of the better-established micro-nations (including, as the ultimate illustration of the inherent democracy of nation-building, the Kingdom of Fryup), along with autonomous and semi-autonomous regions, stateless nations, pin-prick atolls and culturally and/or historically distinct areas. In doing so, I encountered the kinds of complexities which rendered any hope of making the final list objective and/or definitive impossible. What of countries made up entirely of so-called autonomous provinces (Spain, India)? When to lump tiny islands into archipelagos (ie. French Polynesia)? How to justify excluding Islamic State?

Nation-building as art preoccupied the originators of Fluxus (as chronicled in AOM1): had Ginger Island succeeded, it too would have had its place in #FLUXCUP18. It is in the movement’s home-made and anarchic spirit that the tournament aims to evolve. A year-long project, it appropriates the scaffold of sports competition by staging a straight knockout, with results determined by dice throws, until one nation remains to be declared winner – and recipient – of the FLUXCUP. [4]

As each nation exits, it is simultaneously afforded a portion of related, ‘found’ text, doubling from 50 words for preliminary round exits to 100 for the first round, and ultimately a year-long, 25,000-word multi-media project for the winner, revolving (within the realms of possibility) around the chronicle of an authorial visit to present the FLUXCUP in person. In this way, #FLUXCUP18 will constitute a truly aleatogeographic atlas of the world: that is to say, a global geography, or indeed a world order, determined entirely by chance.

Because, let’s face it, psychogeography is dead. The notion of somehow gaining spiritual succour from losing oneself in today’s banal and homogenous cities is an increasingly redundant one. The age of the ‘global capital’ is over. In his essay, ‘Beyond Walter Benjamin’s Paris and Kenneth Goldsmith’s New York’ [5], the art critic Michael Hampton describes the rise of an ‘homogenising consumer culture’: a sprawling, extended metropolis which has come to subsume, both physically and culturally, the countryside around it. The city, argues Hampton, no longer offers the space for individual innovation: it is blighted instead by a ‘conformist non-conformity’ in which it is ‘simultaneously co-opted by entrepreneurial capitalism and sold back to its target consumers.. as off-the-shelf product and lifestyle choice.’ [6]

Besides, these days it is quite possible – not to say wholly satisfactory in our indolent age – to engage in psychogeography without leaving our seats. Google Earth and other satellite imagery allows us to undertake vast, virtual road trips. The Belgian-born artist Mishka Henner has produced books built on Street View images of a range of subjects including US military outposts and suburban prostitute pick-up spots [7]. In ‘Your Country is Great’, Ara Shirinyan re-appropriates the banality of internet travel reviews by recording the results of typing ‘[name of nation] is great’ for each nation in turn into Google, and presenting the results as poetry. [8] Most pertinent are the couple of pages left deliberately blank because the search has generated no results. Bound by subjective whim, #FLUXCUP18’s textual accumulation in turn exaggerates and subverts cliches attached to the nation in question, exposing the prejudices which I as the author, and by extension we as a ‘nation’, hide in plain sight.

Cartographically speaking, early in the 21st century we have pretty much exhausted all surprises. There are no more remote islands to discover, few streets and towns still un-blighted by ubiquitous multi-national chains. Our departure from the city requires a re-purposing of our relationship with the ‘big wide world’: that is to say, the re-appropriation of subjectivity and fantasy as intermediary elements which can help us look at tired old cartography anew. I have argued for what I call ‘mega-subjectivity’: a wilful over-exploitation of one’s own creative processes to the point that they can be presented as a single, objective entity: to quote the Fluxus grandee Dick Higgins, a ‘meta-realistic trigger’ for the viewer or reader to pull [9].

The primary intention of the Fluxus ‘fluxkits’ – essentially, boxes containing random collections of apparently unrelated, everyday items – was, again in the words of Higgins, to ‘redirect the ordinary towards significance’. [10] #FLUXCUP18 adopts a similar conceit, taking the ubiquitous sports event and proceeding to exploit the space between its truths and fictions: for today, that is where today’s truly unexplored world resides. Referring to his own inter-disciplinary and hyper-real approach, the American film-maker and artist (and painter, and poet, etc..) Harmony Korine said: I don’t care about truth. I want to make things that are more transcendent. I like the idea of confusion, half-truth, half-fantasy, not knowing where one thing begins and the other thing ends”. [11]

This hyper-reality is evident in the burgeoning industry in virtual sports games, which allow us to determine the destinies of the teams/nations of our choice, effectively legitimising the childhood games when we contrived imaginary destinies in our back yards. Now, not only can we re-create those games on computer schemes but even make money out of them, by betting real money on virtual horse races online. The prevalence of such temptations speaks volumes for our innate desire to co-opt and control our respective fantasies within the realms of reality: a kind of hyper- or para-real, if you will, in which the established rules and conventions still apply, but which one has transcended to become its sole authority. In their introduction to ‘Micronations: the Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations’, the authors ask: ‘What do we do with the childhood fantasy of being the boss of everything?’ [12] Evidently, the answer is to act upon it. Ironically, however, it is precisely the introduction of aleatory element – i.e. the subjective decision to forego fate and root one’s fantasy in reality (leading, presumably to the kinds of problems and frustrations which mirror real-life) – which yield the desired response. As Martin Creed, who invoked predictable tabloid fury for his Turner Prize-winning ‘Work No. 227: The lights going on and off’ in 2001, once declared: ‘I don’t believe in conceptual art. I don’t think it is possible to separate ideas and feelings’ [13].

The aleatory element plays a further role in creating rising expectations: in this case, an emerging destiny (the commitment to travelling to the winning nation) which obliterates the travel brochures and Tripadvisor reviews which have turned global travel into part of the ‘homogenised consumer culture’ that Hampton rightly derided, as well as obliterating the hierarchies of nationhood (and fundamentally questioning its definition). The subjective response will ultimately be dictated by – and critically, always have its roots in – purely aleatory origins. Whether it is a pain-staking and prohibitively expensive slog to the south Pacific, or a ride up the road to the Kingdom of Fryup, is something that ultimately only the decide can decide.

#FLUXCUP18 is updated daily at: https://fluxcup18.wordpress.com. Click the drop-down menu for results/fixtures, schedules, etc.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] The boundaries of the Kingdom of Fryup correspond roughly with the dales of Great Fryupdale and Little Fryupdale in the North Yorkshire moors. The name ‘Fryup’ is likely to stem from a combination of the name Freyja, the Old Norse goddess of love, beauty, war and death, and hop, which denotes a small valley.

[2] Anderson, B. (1983) Imagined Communities. London: Verso (Kindle edition)

[3] In 1979 a Milwaukee teenager, Robert Ben Madison, declared that the nation of Talossa – comprising his second-floor bedroom, had seceeded from the United States.

[4] Approaching mid-July, the 364 original entrants have been reduced to just about 100 (including, after a pair of tight wins over Ryukyu and Mali respectively, the Kingdom of Fryup).

[5] Hampton, M. (2018) Beyond Walter Benjamin’s Paris & Kenneth Goldsmith’s New York. London: MA Bibliotheque

[6] Hampton/Beyond

[7] Henner, M. (2013) No Man’s Land. via: https://mishkahenner.com/No-Man-s-Land; (2010) Fifty-One US Military Outposts. via: https://mishkahenner.com/Fifty-One-US-Military-Outposts

[8] Shirinyan, A. (2008) Your Country is Great. New York: Futurepoem

[9] Higgins, H. Fluxus Experience. Berkeley: Univ of California Press, 2002

[10] Higgins/Fluxus

[11] Korine, H. (2018). Harmony Korine. New York: Rizzoli

[12] Ryan, J., Dunford, G., Sellars, S. Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations. London: Lonely Planet, 2006

[13] Creed, M. What’s the Point of It? London: Hayward Publishing, 2014

 

 

BIO

Mark Staniforth is a writer and poet from a small village in North Yorkshire, England. He is currently investigating mega-subjectivity for a PhD at Leeds Beckett University, and engaging in a year-long project at http://fluxcup18.wordpress.com . He tweets as @markflux1

 

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