Untitled Performance (Newspaper Music, Shoes of Your Choice, Bean Snow, Celebration Red, Onion Skin Song)

Entry from Acts of Transfer:

Duration: 43 min 38 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

Alison Knowles is a founding member of the experimental Fluxus group that emerged out of New York in the late 50s and early 60s. As an established artist, Knowles is well known for her installations, performances, sound works, and publications. Her artworks follow typical Fluxus forms and ephemeral “acts” that are often anti-object, intermedial, process-based, and participatory. In 1999, Knowles was invited to Western Front by Eric Metcalfe and Scott Watson as a co-production with the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. Students from Eric Metcalfe’s Performance Art class from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design participate as performers and provide staging assistance in Knowles’ performance. During the introduction to the work, Knowles talks about her much anticipated visit to Western Front, and her parallel interests in merging art and everyday life, crossing disciplinary boundaries, and enacting collective forms of experimentation.

The untitled performance takes place as five event scores: Newspaper Music, Shoes of Your Choice, Bean Snow, Celebration Red and Onion Skin Song. Newspaper Music consists of a group of students who partake in the production of a cacophonous media soundscape. Each student reads from a newspaper score while Knowles conducts the volume levels of the chorus with her hands. Shoes of Your Choice also invites the students to participate, and begins with Knowles reciting a story about her shoe. She rests it on a music stand for display, after which the students proceed to recount their own stories behind their kicks. Bean Snow is an homage to other notable Fluxus works by Knowles that incorporate beans, such as Bean Rolls (1965) and The Book of Bean (1981). Knowles performs Bean Snow as a solo reading which is accompanied by a sequence of steps around the room. Celebration Red is a “celebration of everything red” and has appeared in various iterations including red-themed dinners, sonic experiments, and installations.

For her performance at Western Front, Knowles begins with a reading titled Celebration Red dedicated to Dick Higgins.[1] The text describes a trip in which she is found meandering through nature, walking from Northern Vermont to the Canadian border using a map as a performance score and stopping at the towns dotted red on the map.The landscape is vividly depicted, with flowers and plants named throughout. The second part of Celebration Red takes the audience “through the sounds of the town depicted on the map” using found objects, materials, and toys in various shades of red.[2] The items are laid out on a table in front of the artist who activates them through movement, emphasizing their materiality and sonic potential. In the last piece, Onion Skin Song, a long strip of plastic wrap is laid out on the floor while a tape of a performance overlaid with narration plays at the side of the stage. Knowles and a student spread what appear to be onion skins and dried beans over the plastic wrap, and proceed to walk on them, resulting in a new visual composition. The composition is covered with another layer of plastic wrap, raised off the floor, and flipped upright by two students. Knowles and another student stand behind the composition making noises, breathing, and blowing on the work. In a final ceremonial act, the composition is turned horizontally and rolled up like a scroll, concluding the performance.

1 – Front Magazine, Vol. IX, No. 11, Sept/Oct 1999, 32.
2 – Ibid.

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Original Archive Entry:

Excerpt from Front Magazine Sept/Oct 1999 Vol. IX, No. 11 P.32:

Celebration Red is an homage to Dick Higgins about travelling with a map of Vermont, making sounds and naming flowers.

Alison was born in New York in 1933. She is an intermedia artist incorporating sound and performance in her work. She is a founding member of Fluxus, experimenting with book form in human scale walk-in installation pieces, The Big Book appeared throughout Europe and Japan. Her installation The Book of Bean, included sound-text and a variety of media and was in the Venice Biennale in 1990. Her sources include found objects and toys structured into performances by chance operations and on-site intuition. She uses food in her work, for example, beans.

A co-production with the Morris & Helen Belkin Gallery.

Full digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.