Alison Knowles

Seventeen Event Scores and where they happened, redux for her ninetieth birthday (April 29, 2023)

[EDITOR’S NOTE. The following “event scores” are a reminder of the pivotal role played by Alison Knowles in what can be described in retrospect as the Fluxus revolution of the 1960s. With their deceptively simple surface, Knowles’s performance works exemplified the thrust of many artists, poets, and performers to build on what Allan Kaprow and John Cage spoke of as an erasure of the boundaries between art and life. In this Knowles herself was a seminal figure, something to which I called attention — or thought I did — in the commentaries to “A Book of Events” in “Technicians of the Sacred” (1968). So much of her work, I wrote elsewhere, “speaks for itself and through the simple/not-so-simple things through which she dreams and meditates. But she knows this far better than most of us, of course, and says it too: ‘It is important to remember that we are free to make art and poetry out of anything: a loaf of bread, some beans, a hasty jotting on the train.’” More than fifty years after the “events” themselves, it’s curious to consider whether and how they still play out or to try to emulate them at whatever level.

Further works by Alison Knowles can be found at her website and elsewhere on the web. (J.R.)]

Event Scores involve simple actions, ideas, and objects from everyday life recontexualized as performance. Event Scores are texts that can be seen as proposal pieces or instructions for actions. The idea of the score suggests musicality. Like a musical score, Event Scores can be realized by artists other than the original creator and are open to variation and interpretation.

Following scores are taken from By Alison Knowles from the Great Bear Pamphlet series (1965).

#1 Shuffle (1961)
The performer or performers shuffle into the performance area and away from it, above, behind, around, or through the audience. They perform as a group or solo: but quietly.
Premiered August 1963 at National Association of Chemists and Performers in New York at the Advertiser’s club.

#2 Proposition (1962)
Make a salad.
Premiered October 21, 1962, at Institute for Contemporary Arts in London.

#2a Variation #1 on Proposition (1964)
Make a soup.
Premiered Nov 9, 1964, at Cafe au Go Go in NY.

#3 Nivea Cream Piece (1962) — for Oscar Williams
First performer comes on stage with a jar of Nivea cream. The performer massages hands in front of the microphone. Other performers enter one at the time. They make a mass of massaging hands and leave one at a time following the first performer.
Click here to listen to a recording from Fluxsweet concert at Harvestworks organized by Taketo Shimada.
Premiered Nov 25, 1962 at Alle Season Theater, Copenhagen, at Fluxus Festival.

#3a Variation #1 on Nivea Cream Piece
Large quantities of Nivea Cream must be available, at least one large jar per person. The performers enter and each lathers up his arms and face, then his colleagues, in a fragrant pig pile.

#4 Child Art Piece (1962)
The performer is a single child, two or three years old. One or both parents may be present to assist him with a pail of water or a banana etc. When a child leaves the stage the performance is over.
Premiered at the Fluxus Festival, Staatliche Kunstakademie, Dusseldorf, on Feb 3, 1963.

#4a Variation #1 on Child Art Piece (1964)
Exit in a new suit.
Premiered June 27, 1964, at Fluxus Concert, Carnegie Recital Hall, NY. This variation was written for the NYC performance when the Society for the Preservation of Cruelty to Children forbade the performance of Child Art Piece in its original form.

#5 Street Piece (1962)
Make something in the street and give it away.
Premiered in August 1963. #9 and #11 are really variations on this piece.

#6 Shoes of Your Choice (1963)
A member of the audience is invited to come forward to a microphone if one is available and describe a pair of shoes, the one he is wearing or another pair. He is encouraged to tell where he got them, the size, color, why he likes them, etc.
Premiered Apr 6, 1963, at the Old Gymnasium of Douglass College, New Brunswick, NJ.

#7 Piece for Any Number of Vocalists (1962)
Each thinks beforehand of a song, and, on a signal from the conductor, sings it through.
Premiered May 11, 1963, at Hardware Poet’s Theater, NY, during the Yamdays.

#8 Performance Piece #8 (1965)
Divide a variety of objects into two groups. Each group is labeled everything. These groups may include several people. There is a third division of the stage empty of objects labeled nothing. Each of the objects is something. One performer combines and activates the objects as follows for any duration of time:
1. something with everything
2. something with nothing
3. something with something
4. everything with everything
5. everything with nothing
6. nothing with nothing
The Alison Knowles T Dictionary is a graphic performance of this piece, which uses words as one group of objects and image as the other.

#9 Color Music #2 (1963)
Print in the streets.
1st movement: orange
2nd movement: black
3rd movement: blue
Performed on Canal Street, NY, in 1963.

#9a Variation on Color Music #2
As performed on Canal Street, NY, in 1963.
Same as above except that white, aluminum, and cerise were used.

#9b Color Music #2 (1963) Revised Version
Print in silkscreen on the pavements and streets of a city. This piece is dangerous. Have some ready excuses such as This ink is water soluble.

#10 Braid (1964)
The performers, usually two, find something to braid, hair, yarn, etc., and do so.
Premiered Apr 11, 1964, at Fluxhall, in NY.

#10a Variation #1 on #10 (String Piece, 1964)
Tie up the audience.
Premiered May 30, 1964, at Fluxhall in NY.

#11 Printing Piece
This piece is officially deleted from Alison Knowles canon. What happened was that on May 30, 1964, at Fluxhall in NY, Alison Knowles silkscreened images on any and all objects, animate and inanimate, which were brought to her for imprinting. It was felt to be too close to #5.

#12 Simultaneous Bean Reading (1964)
Using the Alison Knowles Bean Rolls and six to eight performers, unroll the rolls over the audience and start reading aloud. Have the audience join in. A single performer goes among the other performers with scissors, cutting out large sections of the rolls. This performer determines the length of the performance.
Premiered Nov 16, 1964, at Cafe Au Go Go, NY.

#13 Composition for Paik (1964)
Select a platform, or any large square or rectangular area that is set apart, or raised above the room. Measure this area, using Paik as assistant, finding its center. Then drop a plumb line to this point from the ceiling. Find the center of this distance and mark the string with chalk. Build Paik a platform up to this point so that he may sit there for the duration of the performance.
Premiered Nov 16, 1964, at Cafe Au Go Go.

#14 Chair piece for George Brecht (1965)
Locate an empty chair, before the performance, in the center of the center aisle, equipped with reading light and a book. If nobody has taken this seat by intermission, one of the other performers should do so.

#15 Wounded Furniture (1965)
This piece uses an old piece of furniture in bad shape. Destroy it further, if you like. Bandage it up with gauze and adhesive. Spray red paint on the wounded joints. Effective lighting helps. This activity may be performed with one or more performers and simultaneously with other events.
Premiered July 19, 1965, at Cafe Au Go Go, NY.

#16 Giveaway Construction (1963?)
Find something you like in the street and give it away. Or find a variety of things, make something of them. And give it away.
Premiere date unknown. Note: this is a variation of #6.

#17 Color Music #1 (1963) for Dick Higgins
List your problems from one to five.
For each problem list the best solution you can think of.
For each problem also list a color.
Whenever the problem arises in your mind, think first of the best solution, and if you cannot act upon it immediately, switch to concentration on the color until an absolute necessity intervenes.
Premiered 1963 at 423 Broadway, NY.