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Alison Knowles: An Interview

Video Data Bank

2005 01:00:00 United StatesEnglishColorStereo16:9Video


The word-based art and performances crafted by world-renowned artist Alison Knowles (b.1933) are central to the 1960s international Fluxus movement and its enduring legacy. Describing her experience as a student at Pratt University in the 1950s where she learned from Richard Lindner and Adolf Gottlieb, Knowles recalls her transition from Abstract Expressionist painting to the chance operations initiated by John Cage and Bertolt Brecht. Knowles shares personal anecdotes about the significance of Cage’s historic course on Experimental Composition, the early years of the Judson Theater, and her subsequent Fluxus projects with Dick Higgins, George Maciunas, Emmet Williams, Jim Tenney, and Bill Fontana occurring in the U.S., Europe and Japan. 

Among the many pieces discussed in detail, House of Dust, emerges in this conversation as one of the defining works of her career. Several other projects including Mother and the Great Train Robbery, Bean Rolls, Loose Pages, Make a Salad, and her more recent turn to cyanotype sun prints, also receive special attention. Knowles speaks specifically of her collaboration with her partner Dick Higgins, and their shared project The Something Else Press, which contributed to the larger art book movement and the preservation of the Fluxus mentality. Additional themes—such as the impact of world travel on her practice, and a life-long investment in poetry—also emerge as catalysts for Knowles’s ongoing commitment to art.

— Faye Gleisser

Interview conducted by Simon Anderson in November 2005, edited in 2014


The Video Data Bank is the leading resource in the United States for videotapes by and about contemporary artists. The VDB collection features innovative video work made by artists from an aesthetic, political or personal point of view. The collection includes seminal works that, seen as a whole, describe the development of video as an art form originating in the late 1960's and continuing to the present. Works in the collection employ innovative uses of form and technology, mixed with original visual style to address contemporary art and cultural themes.

Founded in 1976 at the inception of the media arts movement in the United States, the Video Data Bank is one of the nation's largest providers of alternative and art-based video. Through a successful national and international distribution service, the VDB distributes video art, documentaries made by artists, and recorded interviews with visual artists, photographers and critics.