Alison Knowles

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Alison Knowles
Alison Knowles (right) performing one of her pieces on stage with her daughter Hannah Higgins at the Fluxus Semicentenary in San Francisco, CA in September, 2011
Born 1933
New York
Nationality American
Field Performance art, Printmaking
Movement Fluxus


Alison Knowles (born 1933) is an American artist who produces work that incorporates performance, radio, and sound, papermaking, and printmaking. Knowles was very active in the Fluxus movement, and continues to create work inspired by her Fluxus experience. Criteria that have come to distinguish her work as a female artist are the arena of performance, the indeterminacy of her "event scores" resulting in the deauthorization of the work, and the element of tactile participation in her performances and object-based work. She graduated from the Pratt Institute in New York with an honors degree in fine art. Knowles was married to the Fluxus artist and prominent intermedia theorist, Dick Higgins, from 1960 to 1970, and again from 1984 until Higgins' death in 1998.

In the 1960's Knowles was an active participant in New York City's downtown artist community, making work alongside Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. During this time she began producing scores; events that rework everyday activities into performances that incorporate music.

Knowles's performance work incorporates visual, aural, and tactile elements. The aspect of touch is a distinct element that sets Knowles apart from male Fluxus artists. One of her most notable event scores Make a Salad was originally performed in 1962 at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. In this event Knowles prepares a massive salad by chopping the ingredients to the beat of live music, mixing flamboyantly by tossing it in the air, then serving the salad to the audience. Make a Salad has since been performed in several cities around the world, including the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2003, the Tate Modern in 2008, and on the High Line in Chelsea, New York in 2012. Shoes of Your Choice also debuted at the same time as Make a Salad at the ICA. For Shoes of Your Choice Knowles asks the audience to describe a pair of shoes he or she owns and share the shoes' history, description, and appealing qualities. The Identical Lunch is an event score intended to be performed by any average citizen in which the performer must assemble and consume wheat toast, butter, tuna fish, lettuce and soup or buttermilk. This score evolved from Knowles's daily meal at Riss Restaurant in Chelsea. The Identical Lunch has since been performed by many of Knowles' artist friends over a period of years.

After participating in the initial Fluxus Festivals in Europe in 1962-1963, Knowles returned to the United States and began making objects, some as Fluxus multiples commissioned by George Maciunas. Knowles's object-based pieces focuses on the audience's tactile and audible interaction with the artwork. Knowles began to use the bean in her work in the 1960's, and since then the bean has become a distinctive motif in her work. The bean was a unique object for Knowles to use at the time when other Fluxus artists were using street detritus, readymades, and assemblage objects. Knowles has used beans in a variety of works, including artist books, sound producing sculptures, In 2004 Knowles spent time in a residency at the Women's Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY to work with their ArtFarm, where plant material is grown for papermaking. Her residency culminated in Knowles' project "Seed to Sheet". Alongside master papermaker Eugenie Barron, Knowles worked with handmade paper to create various objects that include found objects, including beans. Her work in "Seed to Sheet" floats between definitions of sculpture and musical instrument.

Knowles studied with the painters, Adolph Gottlieb and Josef Albers and maintains a studio in New York City. She has twin daughters, Jessica Higgins, a New York based intermedia artist closely associated with seminal curator Lance Fung, late Fluxus gallerist Emily Harvey, The Artists Museum's Construction In Process and having performed and collaborated as a youth in original Fluxus related events and Hannah Higgins, a writer and art historian residing in Chicago, Illinois. Knowles has done performance pieces with members of her family, including "Loose Pages", "Shoes Of Your Choice" and "Beans All Day".

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Bibliography[edit]

Rothenburg, Jerome (2012-06-07). “Alison Knowles: 17 Event Scores and Where They Happened.” Jacket 2. Retrieved 2014-01-31.

Robinson, Julia. “The Sculpture of Indeterminacy: Alison Knowles's Beans and Variations” Art Journal, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Winter, 2004) , pp. 96-115. College Art Association. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4134508

“Alison Knowles: Make a Salad.” The High Line. Retrieved 2014-01-31.

Chu, Ingrid and Savannah Gorten. (2011-11-11.) “Alison Knowles: And Interview with the Seminal Fluxus Artist.” Performa Magazine. Retrieved 2014-01-31.

Wilson, Beth E. “Alison Knowles.” From Seed to Sheet: The Women’s Studio Workshop’s ArtFarm Project (exhibition catalog). Rosendale, NY: Women’s Studio Workshop, 2004.