Yam was a name thought up by George Brecht and Robert Watts in late 1962 to act as an umbrella project ‘for all manner of immaterial, experimental, as yet unclassified forms of expression.’ Specifically intending to provide a platform for ‘art that could not be bought,’ the earliest Yam events involved mailing event cards and other objects stamped with the word ‘Yam’, or variations, to friends. Designed to increase anticipation, the project reached a head with a month-long series of events in May, 1963, in New York, Rutger’s University and George Segal’s farm. The festival, (’May’ backwards), was organised as a wide ranging series of events taking place throughout the month, whose main objective was to bypass traditional gallery outlets, giving artists and ‘receivers’ greater freedom.

“In all of its formats and strategies Brecht’s and Watt’s Yam Festival operated as an alternative to the gallery system, producing “art” that could not be bought.” Julia Robinson

Artists participating in the festival included Alison Knowles, Allan Kaprow, John Cage, Al Hansen, Ay-O, Dick Higgins, La Monte Young, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Ray Johnson. The festival has come to be seen as a proto-fluxus event, involving many of the same artists.

Yam evolved parallel to George Maciunas’ Fluxfests, set up with almost identical aims but currently operating only in Europe whilst Maciunas was stationed in Germany. The International Fluxus Festival of the Newest Music (Festum Fluxorum), 1962-63, would feature the work of artists such as John Cage, Raoul Hausmann and Nam June Paik. Brecht’s event-scores, including the famous Drip Event, were amongst the pieces Maciunas would perform, along with pieces by Kaprow, Robert Watts, Daniel Spoerri, Robert Filliou, Terry Riley, Emmett Williams and Dick Higgins.

Brecht’s Drip Music, performed by George Maciunas, Amsterdam, 1963

Clearly aware of the Yam Festival, George Maciunas brought together 73 of Brecht’s event-scores whilst working as a free-lance designer for the US army stationed at Ehlhalten near Wiesbaden, and placed them in a box with a fine example of his graphic design pasted onto the cover. Maciunas referred to the box as ‘Brecht’s complete works’ and intended it to be the first in a series compiling works by artists he admired. Few of these intended ‘collected works’ ever saw the light of day. The use of multiple fonts derived from his interest in experimental typography by Dada figures such as Hugo Ball and Raoul Hausmann, and was to prove crucial in defining a recognisable style for fluxus products.

Published in spring 1963, the box was designed to be the cheapest and simplest way of disseminating art, and in keeping with Maciunas’ beliefs, was neither numbered nor signed, although later editions would be published as limited, numbered editions. The box is the very first Fluxkit, and the only published link between Brecht and Watt’s Yam Festival, and Maciunas’ FluxFests.

It has since been re-published a number of times with differing numbers of event-scores, alternate designs on the cover, and housed in various materials, including plastic boxes and wooden ones. It is worth noting that later editions such as the English Parrot Impressions, 1972, or the Lebeer Hossmann edition, 1986, don’t include Maciunas’ graphic design, and don’t include the word Fluxus anywhere in or on the work. Ironically, for an object conceived as an “inexpensive, mass-produced unlimited edition (designed) to erode the cultural status of art and to help to eliminate the artist’s ego.” and originally sold for $4, early copies are now worth in excess of $1800.