Alison Knowles (born 1933) in New York City is an American visual artist known for her soundworks, installations, performances, and publications. Knowles was very active in the Fluxus movement, and continues to create work inspired by her Fluxus experience.
She has created work that incorporates performance, radio, and sound, papermaking, and printmaking. She briefly attended Middlebury College and 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 2000, Knowles began casting flax paper to make musical instruments. The Bean Turner, Rattles, and Wings and Drums use beans for sound with the aid of text, toys and silence.
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.
In 2006, her The Time Samples exhibition traveled from Venice to New York. In 2008, she performed three Event Scores at the Tate Long Weekend in London. Her Make a Salad exhibition drew an audience of 3000 people.
Knowles' Event Threads series appeared at Miguel Abreu Gallery in New York and traveled to Geneva and Berlin. She performed in Bern and Zurich in 2008. In 2009, she exhibited and performed in The 3rd Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989 at the Guggenheim Museum. In 2010 she participated in the art project Trust Me, by Gema Alava, in company of artists Ellen Fisher, Jessica Higgins and Jason Schmidt (photographer).
Knowles was appointed guest professor at Documenta X in Kassel, Germany. She also taught at Sommerakademie in Bochnia, Poland in 1990. Knowles was an Artist-in-Residence at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University in 2009.
In the early 1960s, published by Something Else Press, Knowles composed the Notations book of experimental composition with John Cage and Coeurs Volants and a print with Marcel Duchamp. She also traveled and performed throughout Europe, Asia and North America. In 1963, Knowles produced one of the earliest book object, a can of texts and beans called the Bean Rolls. In 1967, Knowles and James Tenney produced the computerized poem The House of Dust. A sound installation for a House of Dust public sculpture was produced by Max Neuhaus.
In 1967, Knowles created the Big Book, an 8-foot-tall (2.4 m) book of environments organized around a spine, which opened at the Frankfurter Buchmesse and toured through Europe. The book was eventually destroyed. In 1982, with the help of Franklin Furnace, Knowles produced a second large-scale book called The Book of Bean. Several pages of this book can be found at Museo Vostell in Extremadura, Spain. In 1985, Knowles created a smaller book of tactile languages called A Finger Book of Ancient Language. This book consisted of seven 11-inch-high (280 mm) pages all in braille and was shown at the Lighthouse for the Blind in New York. She has also produced and written several books of experimental text and poetry.
Knowles' 1983 book Loose Pages, originally produced in collaboration with Coco Gordon, consisted of pages made for each part of the body. In her other page sculptures, the audience physically stands in the page and enters it with one or more body parts. Her 1989 Mahogany Arm Rest and 1992 We Have no Bread invited the viewer to engage directly with their four to five meter pages.
Knowles has been active in sound since the late 1960s. In 1968 she designed and co-edited John Cage's Notations, a book of visual music scores, for the Something Else Press. The book and exhibition was performed at the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt in 2005. Her 1971 Bean Garden consisted of the sounds of people walking over a large platform covered with beans when visiting Charlotte Moorman's Annual New York Festival of the Avant-Garde. In 1982, Knowles was awarded the Karl Sczuka Award for best radio work from WDR for her sound work Bohnen Sequenzen (Bean Sequences).
In 1960, Knowles began producing silk screen paintings. From 1963 until the middle 1970s, Knowles used print to express her process-based concerns. In 1963, she collaborated with Robert Watts and George Brecht in the Scissor Brothers Warehouse show to make an eighteen inch square printed painting consisting of three images chosen by each artist. This image appeared on everything from canvas to bathing suits and hair brushes and were sold for random prices at a special sale at the Rolf Nelson Gallery in Los Angeles. She collaborated with George Brecht again on the 1983 book The Red, the Green, the Yellow the Black and the White
In 1973, Knowles produced a series of prints called Identical Lunch Graphic, which showcased many of her friends and Fluxus colleagues consuming the Identical Lunch. The prints included a Starkist logo which was withdrawn due to copyright infringement. Since 1978, Knowles has published limited print runs of found and manipulated graphic materials with Italian publishers Francesco Conz and Rosanna Chiesi.
Recently, Knowles has experimented with light sensitive chemicals that produce photographic prints on paper and cloth which can be manipulated by hand. The most sustained of these was her Bread and Water cycle of palladium prints and cyanotypes, which inspired a sound work and book.
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