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Meet The Female Artist Who Programmed A Computer To Make A House In The 1960s

From the Guggenheim Museum to the Seagram Building, Manhattan had a long-standing reputation as an island of avant-garde architecture when Alison Knowles first built the House of Dust in Chelsea. Built in 1967 and standing for less than a year, his structure is almost unknown today, yet it was far more radical than anything imagined by Frank Lloyd Wright or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Technically the house was not designed by Knowles. Instead it was created on a computer, using the Fortran programming language to describe the hypothetical architecture by randomly selecting attributes from a list provided by Knowles to his collaborator, the computer music pioneer James Tenney. The software generates hundreds of permutations, output in the form of a poem. Knowles chose the following quatrain: “A House of Plastic / In a Metropolis / Using Natural Light / Inhabited by People from all Walks of Life.”

A founder of Fluxus, and one of the few Fluxus artists still alive today, Knowles has only recently begun to receive attention for his work on the level that collaborators such as George Brecht have enjoyed for decades. This month the recognition reaches a climax with an extensive retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). There are many revelations, including silkscreen paintings executed before Andy Warhol began using the technique. But his most important work remains House of Dust.

The ’60s architecture of Knowles was innovative for the technology he used, however the most interesting of the land was the way he treated the built environment well. Before he created his house, he participated in the Fluxus practice of creating event marks, simple instructions for creating a work of art. The instructions are often simple enough for anyone to follow, a tactic where creative work is eliminated. For example, Knowles composed a score reading simply “make a salad”. The score has been performed countless times since 1962, when he first exhibited the work at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London.

In a way, House of Dust is an event marker that Knowles composed for a computer that performs random operations. From another perspective, it is a set of computer-generated event scores that Knowles created through the act of construction. But Knowles did not see the house he built as static. On the contrary, the house is an event marker in its own right, to be created by the people who live in it.

The full realization of the activity had to wait until Knowles moved from New York to Southern California where he took a teaching position at the California Institute of the Arts. There he decided to make another architectural permutations, building his house “In the Open Land / Illuminated by Natural Light / Inhabited by Friends and Enemies”. The house became a space where he held classes and meditation sessions, and where artists and composers responded to the structure with the events of their own compositions. More broadly, the House of Dust serves as an open label that invites variations in the art of living.

The idea that architecture scores the behavior of the inhabitants has antecedents in the modernist houses of Frank Lloyd Wright, the design of which was guided in part by the way he envisioned the future activities of his clients. And the German Bauhaus promoted behavioral research on a more formal level, especially in buildings designed by Hannes Meyer, who directed the Bauhaus before Mies van der Rohe.

But Knowles offers something more dynamic. From the standpoint of professional architectural practice, the closest equivalent is a methodology developed by Lawrence and Anna Halprin in San Francisco at the same time Knowles was teaching in Valencia. Anna is a choreographer whose work includes the composition of Fluxus event scores. Lawrence was the architect of new developments such as Sea Ranch. Together in the late ’60s, they developed a method for communities to score their own urban infrastructure by carrying out a series of actions that were not orchestrated by the open space. The result is intended to guide planners and builders.

The collaborative work of the Halprins eventually prevented artists rather than architects, notably through the publication of a book titled. The RSVP Cycles. The influence of dance, for example, was enormous.

Perhaps because it has never been formalized into a method, or translated into a meta-score for intermedial practice, Knowles’ unique approach to art and life has had less visible impact. As his House of Dust is excavated to inhabit a new generation, and his working methods are explained by art historians, all of his interactivity methods are crying out to be used in surprising bags. way.

Getting started is easy. Just make a salad.

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