‘The Boat Book’ by Alison Knowles

knowles cover

Commissioned by James Fuentes Gallery

The buoyant octogenarian Alison Knowles, First Woman of Fluxus; Soho real estate pioneer; early feminist-by-example; collaborator with John Cage and Marcel Duchamp; author of world’s first computer poem and one of the world’s seminal performance artists, launched her newest project. The Boat Book, a “book sculpture” with 4 by 8 foot pages that roll, allowing viewers to make their way through it, at Art Basel Miami Beach.

The Boat Book is a completely new work but it also offers a fresh 21st Century look back at her important earlier project, 1966’s “The Big Book” that made waves in art and book circles without a nautical theme when it traveled the world—from New York to Canada to Europe to California—48 years ago.

The Boat Book, like The Big Book before it, is just that: a big book, composed of eight 4′ x 8′ movable pages—anchored to a metal spine. “This walk in construction was equipped with casters, which made it possible to leaf through the individual pages. Each page had access to the next, opening up different spaces between them where a reader could spend some time,” as it is described in a more traditional book brought out this year by Passenger Books called Alison Knowles’ The Big Book.

Unlike The Boat BookThe Big Book contained a toilet, an artificial grass sleeping tunnel, a gallery with works by artist friends illuminated by black light and tungsten, a library, a telephone, a window to open, close or climb through, and other utilitarian objects in the spaces between the pages. “I remember in Cologne they had to kick a man out of the tunnel who stayed overnight,” Knowles recalled.

But like its predecessor, The Boat Book contains a soundtrack, a guest book, blinking electric lights, a stove for making a cup of tea and instead of a grass sleeping tunnel, a blue plastic tunnel is provided, keeping with the mariner theme that is maintained throughout the work. “This time,” continued Knowles, “the grass tunnel will be replaced by a hoop structure between two pages covered with blue silk like the ocean.”

It also contains a giant porthole for climbing through, fishing nets and a fishing pole, an anchor and many other accoutrements of water travel for visitors who navigated its pages as they did with the first two incarnations of Knowles’ large book concept, The Big Book and its follow up, The Book of Bean which combined two of her trademark interests.

The Boat Book contained a soundtrack called “Fishes of the Phillippine Seas,” a two track recording with Electric guitar, Brazillian Cavaquinho, Large Bell, Sopranino Bean Turner, a sound and intermedia performance by Joshua Selman and Alison Knowles. A reading of the text about the Phillipine Seas was from a previous publication by Left Hand Books.

–Mark Bloch

1 knowles and boatbook-bloch

2 Spine, Poem, Bean Turner-bloch

3 jamesfuentes-publicxity photo

4 photokma 2

5 phototunnel 2

6 alison in blue tunnel

7 photokma 4

8 the big book-1967

9 photokma 5

10 photokma 1