George Brecht



Artist / Artist group
George Brecht
Edition / Serial number
artist book
Material / Technique
cardboard box with 102 cards, offset
Dimensions / Duration
Box 3,2 x 17,3 x 17,3 cm ; cards from 3 x 3 cm to 15 x 12 cm
ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe

"FIVE PLACES. Write the word EXHIBIT on each of five small cards. Set each card in a place fairly distant from the others." [1] (Brecht, 1961)

»Water-Yam« is a box containing 102 white cards on which instructions, events, or single thoughts are printed in black lettering. Visitors and performers are free to interpret the events and implement the instructions in any way they choose, and the index cards are not organized according to a particular hierarchy.

US artist George Brecht, born George MacDiarmid, spent the 1960s composing scores and transcribing events, such as a happening in which participants are meant to try to spill water quietly. Inspired by the composer John Cage, Brecht developed event scores as well as other works using randomizations and ambient noises. For »Water-Yam«, he extended these event scores to encompass painting, sculpture, theatre, the everyday and the extraordinary, humor, mathematics, logic, and irrationality. "All I do is bring things into evidence, but they're already there", explained Brecht.[2]

The simplicity and directness of the cards reflect the participatory and experimental philosophy of Fluxus. In the 1960s and 1970s, this group of international, avant-garde artists strove for a radical abolition of the boundaries between single art forms, between artists and audiences, and between art and daily life. Boxes and suitcases constituted important formats for Fluxus artists, serving as alternative means of distributing their work. Inexpensive to produce, the editions and multiples they created were intended to counter high culture.

[1] George Brecht, »Water Yam«, 1961.

[2] Marianne Schmidt-Miescher, »Jenseits von Ereignissen: Texte zu einer Heterospektive von George Brecht«, exhib. cat. (Bern: Kunsthalle Bern, 1978), 154. Translated here from the German.

Author: Dorothea Deli