This piece is about 11 printed pages long. It was conducted by email over a couple of weeks in September 2006.
Alison Knowles was born in New York City in 1933. She is a visual artist known for her soundworks, installations, performances, publications and association with Fluxus, the experimental avant-garde group formally founded in 1962. In additon to numerous teaching engagements and minor awards, Knowles has been acknowledged for her profound contributions to contemporary artistic practice in the form of a Guggenheim Grant (1967), NEA Grants (1981 and 1985), a collaborative New York State Council on the Arts Grant (1989), a Dokumenta Professorship at the Kunstakademie Kassel, Germany (1998), the College Art Association Lifetime Achievement Award (2003), and Anonymous was a Woman Grant (2003).
Much of our everyday morality is concerned with the question of obligation and spontaneity in the gift. It is our good fortune that all is not yet couched in terms of purchase and sale. Things have values which are emotional as well as material; indeed in some cases the values are entirely emotional. Our morality is not solely commercial.
The conference in Leicester was stimulated by the remarkable Nicholas Zurbrugg. The subjects we spoke of concerned concepts like avant garde, collaboration, Dada and what we could say of our own Fluxus interaction over years and what had been salted out. I had the pleasure of staying with Nicholas in his little house and sipping tea at breakfast served on a fresh white table cloth from an english tea set. beside a window looking out on green. He always wore a white shirt and a cab was waiting for him every morning. What a pick up from the death of my husband Dick Higgins who had died that same year. It was Nicholas who offered me the silk screen lab and working with Kevin to do the prints. All my experience and much of the experience of others is relevant to my practice, however I am slow to digest.
I made an edition of ten each of the five male artists I selected to honor. Nicholas invited Richard Hamilton to come to Leicester and give a small introduction to the performance I did which is titled Loose Pages. Richard sent a lovely letter of refusal and as I remember the performance went very well.
Here it is briefly, and there is a gift idea in it somehow: walking onto the stage with a female performer I place her on a riser (platform). Opening a portfolio I take out one at a time the “pages” of a book. I dress her.She becomes the spine and each page becomes part of her dress. Arm flaps, head flap, pants pages are carefully put on and finally foot covers. Each page has a different sound. It is paper I have hand made and formed loosely into body parts. The papers are made of cotton(soft muffled) or flax(sharp, hard and strong sound). When she is totally clothed in the edition I help her off the platform (she is blinded by the head flap) and in the wide slipper pages we shuffle off the stage. Perhaps the gift here is that the audience has seen the performance evolve from still pages into a sound work. we have seen the artist(me in this case) present a work created (wrapped) before our eyes. The audience partakes in the dance.
The screen prints were dedicated to Richard Hamilton, Emmett Williams, Dick Higgins, George Brecht and Hermann Braun: a.(Richard Hamilton).
Richard introduced me to Marcel Duchamp in order to execute the screen print Coeurs Volants. The Something Else press needed permission to use the image of the flying hearts on a cover of a book called Sweethearts by Emmett Williams. Gifts for me are above all else a way to thank someone for something done for you: connections, love, admiration, a rich idea, lots of things but personal. For Richard , I did the Leicester print for him to be grateful for connecting me and the Press to Marcel Duchamp. I had tea with Marcel and there are stories to tell but not right here. I sent Richard two prints, the dedicated one to him from the October series and the print I did of Coeurs Volants with Marcel. He responded to me with his own print The Critic Smiles. In other words we made an exchange.
I find emotional values to be the source for my work. In terms of survival I have had incredible luck and fortuitous chance factors kicking in all along. More the trails of a spider than the leap of a tiger! If I am obligated to give a gift it is not my own artwork but something purchased.
b.(Emmett Williams) The print dedicated to Emmett concerned our many performances of my event score by that name, Nivea Cream. The October suite shows the blue plastic jar with the white label that we all used for skin cream years ago (I still do). For many years Emmett worked as an editor of the Something Else Press in New York. He was and is a dear friend who gave me the insight that my artwork is a collection of insights into my own life. He influenced and helped me make the Big Book at my 22nd st. studio in 1967.
c.(Dick Higgins) friend, collaborator and husband. His press was really a threesome with Emmett. I included in this print some of Dick’s music as well as some poetics. With Dick I really learned to read and through his Press I published several books. His concept of intermedia allowed me to do poetics, do sound works and do screen prints. That’s all okay in fact he felt that all artists should have a variety of avenues. We are speaking here of the 60’s of course but I find my closest associates do a number of artforms.
d(George Brecht) a chemist by trade and the creator of many of the best event scores I know. Without him Fluxus would have bent to much to the french(Ben Vautier).
e(Hermann Braun) this collector of Fluxus is as well as the others a dear friend. We once took a weekend at the North Sea when I was a documenta Professor in Kassel. On that beach I found some of the finest specimens of shoe parts piled up for no reason on a loading dock! I have some of them still. The print pictures Hermann facing into the wind with his inevitable cap pulled down tight.
Not particularly, nor do I think that there is a particular fixted network of participants in mind. I do hope certain people would be present when I perform or present, but if not, others seem to turn up and ultimately these others extend the network. Preaching to the converted is not the idea.
The Fluxus event scores for me have a Platonic pearliness, a perfection that some performers can reach that sets ego aside as well as extraneous materials (bad lighting, buzzing air conditioner) and presents an abstraction of excellence in use of the materials and human interaction. Somehow” social practice “includes the ordinary without the Platonic element. hmmm mm the most focussed performers seem to elevate the most simple turns(moving a chair) into magical occurrences.
“Between like minded people” okay.
It’s not either or, I distribute my work by gifts and donations and don’t connect the act with commerce. I am not averse to selling work however.
No it’s in the nature of a gift that it asks no response and rises from a need in the giver. Nor is it a potlatch where objects must be upscaled to prove status or superiority (Incans I think).
Unsettling static positions, yes.
It is interesting to have Joan Retallack as a neighbor here. I live around the corner from Bard where she teaches. It was circumstantial that she came to look at work when I was writing to you!
The bracketing of time is something we all do all the time even when trying to write or whatever, not to be interrupted. Or like Cage, accept the interruption and get back right away into the bracket. sometimes one does that too. What is different with Aristotle is that the material he was writing is itself a bracket of his mind, a construct of his thinking which he writes down and it appears onstage. What distinguishes a piece like Gift Event, or its full title Gift Construction #16 from anything Aristotle did is simply that the time bracket doesn’t really exist. One could wander a street for days finding things to finally put together as a gift for some stranger. when this piece was performed in Canada at the W.O.R.K.S festival I had the report that it wasn’t that hard to make something from street cullings.The hard part was trying to get a stranger to accept the gift. They finally were able to talk someone into it. So is that open ended time when a person has to be convinced to take the gift also part of the piece. Of course it is. The piece in my mind is not bracketed since the elements cannot be fortold nor the time span. Also all the happenings could be considered bracketed. The whole day becomes performance time, bracketed. This is a gray area since most of the happenings I know of were existing in the mind of the artist and planned out with indeterminate factors of time length left more open or indeterminate within the whole Happening experience of a day or long evening. This relates more to Aristotle. In my mind most of the happenings I was involved in were simple outdoor theatre pieces.
You ask how the Event score effects the time sense of the perfomance. I would say the time sense changes in tone and even in its meanings depending on presentation on a stage, outdoors or alone in the kitchen. Event scores have an open frame from daily life from non actor performers and from found materials. This is a long way from Aristotle (thank goodness).
I don’t use words like “most important” in this case, rarely do. Has the same problems as “genius” or “the best.” These words get art historians into difficulties, but then I am not one and don’t know what they are up against to categorize and list artists from one to ten. I would say that interhuman communications
are among the important ingredients in the area of performance art.
Actions to be carried out.
Let’s just bet on what we are trying to do right now. Colored though it be by yesterday and tomorrow. Looking around too much shows a lack of focus. I like what you say about my utilization of methods. Yes, I agree with your assessment thank you.
Found materials are simply gifts from the street.
Yes, my use of found materials is a mysterious gift from somewhere. When I pick up street items, a shoe heel for instance, it may be just a dialog of walking, of pausing and observing on my way to the post office. I pick it up and put it in my pocket. It gets cleaned, and observed on a small table with other such things under the sky light. After time I well may abandon it. Its use was simply a casual encounter on my way to the post office, and useful as such. Greene street where I have lived on a corner for many years used to open onto small businesses all the way to Canal street. Small, usually metal items would catch between the bricks items that were custom designed for special uses in industries were then crushed and changed by the traffic. Making their origins unknown and giving them a context for me as abstract and significant.
The use of scotch tape which I intentionally included in the photographs constitutes an homage to Dieter Roth and his something else press book 246 Little Clouds.
This is a nice idea, provided it doesn’t create a closed system in your mind. Sometimes I titled things poem objects.
I love the work of Eva Hesse.
The Bowery Poetry club is a great space for poetry in NY. I have performed there in the works of Jackson Mac Low.
Good luck and thank you.
 Mauss, Marcel. The Gift, Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, (trans. Ian Cunnison) Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1954
 Craig Saper, Networked Art (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. Subsequent references are to this edition.
 Saper, p.4
 Friedman, Ken. The Fluxus Reader, Academy Editions, 1998
 Maciunus to Higgins and Knowles,1963. Located at Archiv Sohm.
 Peggy Phelan, Unmarked, the Politics of Performance, Routledge, London, 1993.
 Joan Retallack, “WRITERS – READERS – PERFORMERS, Partners in Crime,” How (2) 1.6, 2001 http://www.scc.rutgers.edu/however/v1_6_2001/current/in-conference/retallack.html
 Nicholas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, Les Presse Du Reel,France, 1998
 Barnes, Sally, Greenwich Village 1963: Avant-Garde Performance and the Effervescent Body. Duke University Press, Durham and London,1993, p.202
 Ann Waldman speaking at The Bowery Poetry Club, August 2005