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Knowles, Alisonlocked

(b New York, NY, 1933).
  • Midori Yoshimoto

American printmaker, sound artist and performance artist. She was one of the founding members of Fluxus, the international avant-garde collective formed in 1962. Transferring from Middlebury College to Pratt Institute in New York, Knowles studied painting and drawing with Adolph Gottlieb and Richard Lindner and graduated in 1956. By the late 1950s she had lost interest in painting and burnt all her early paintings in a bonfire. It was then that she befriended artists Dick Higgins (1938–98), George Brecht and composer John Cage whose meditation on everyday life and music of indeterminacy inspired her to pursue a new artistic path.

After marrying in 1960, Knowles and Higgins were invited by George Maciunas to perform in the Fluxus inaugural concert series in Europe. There Knowles started to write her “Propositions,” radical reinterpretation of Cagean text scores, which transferred the artistic agency to the audience. Among her early events, Make a Salad (1962) championed a quotidian culinary activity as art while The Identical Lunch (1967) brought artistic consciousness to daily act of eating.

Knowles began sculptural experimentation with books such as the Bean Rolls (1963), a can of scrolled texts about various beans, produced as part of Fluxus editions. She explored the book’s physical interactive potential in The Big Book (1967), a walk-in book with 2.5-m-tall pages pivoted around a central pole, which traveled through Europe. The same year, she produced with composer James Tenney (1934–2006), the first computerized poem on record, the House of Dust, which won her a Guggenheim fellowship. Through the Something Else Press founded by Higgins, she also created the Notations book (1968) with John Cage and silkscreen prints, the Coeurs Volants (1967), with (Henri-Robert-)Marcel Duchamp.

From 1982 Knowles produced variations of Loose Pages, pages of which were made for different body parts, incorporating the human body into book. They developed into interactive sound-making paper objects often containing beans, such as Giant Bean Turner (2000), which was shown in the exhibition The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (2009). Knowles’s solo exhibitions include Time Samples (2006), which traveled internationally.


  • Alison Knowles: Um Laut (exh. cat., Cologne, Galerie Schüppenhauer, 1992)
  • J. Rodenbeck: “Alison Knowles,” Work Ethic (exh. cat., ed. H. Molesworth; Baltimore, MD, Mus. A., 2003), pp. 184–5
  • K. Stiles: “Anomaly, Sky, Sex, and Psi in Fluxus,” Critical Mass: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, Intermedia and Rutgers University, 1958–1972, ed. G. Hendricks (Piscataway, NJ, 2003), pp. 60–88
  • J. Robinson: “The Sculpture of Indeterminacy: Alison Knowle’s Beans and Variations,” Art Journal [New York; prev. pubd as Coll. A. J.; Parnassus], 63/4 (Winter 2004), pp. 96–115
  • B. Buchloh: “Knowles: the House of Dust,” Mainframe Experimentalism: Early Digital Computing and the Experimental Arts, ed. D. Kahn and H. Higgins (in preparation)