House of Dust by Alison Knowles

sound sculpture
part of the The House of Dust by Alison Knowles exhibition
curators: Katherine Carl, Maud Jacquin and Sébastien Pluot
The James Gallery, New York, 7 September–29 October 2016
Cneai, Paris, 9 September-19 November 2017

The sound sculpture, Oh no, please don’t, belonged to a multi-part project (comprising an exhibition, a performative action, a course for students and a publication) dedicated to Alison Knowles, a classic of conceptual art, and her pioneering, precocious work, The House of Dust (1967). A computerised poem and a documentation of subsequent structures built on the poem’s basis (an action, a discussion, publications) were exhibited in a dialogue with works – primarily from Knowles’ own oeuvre as well as by other Fluxus artists – exploring relations between art, technology and architecture. In addition, the visionary, yet contemporarily undervalued, realisation became an inspiration for producing new pieces and spatial interpretations, especially for the exhibition, in resonance with The House of Dust.

Knowles’ The House of Dust is one of the earliest instances of computer poetry. The structure of subsequent quatrains, written in Fortran, is two-part. Each consists of the phrase, ‘a house of”, and of a random sequence generated from four sources and pertaining to either material, or the location of the eponymous house, or some situation, a manner of light falling, for example, or residents of the house. In 1968, the computer generated piece – a classic of conceptual art – became translated into matter, owing to the Guggenheim scholarship the artist received to erect a house in Chelsea (a district of New York). After a period, the materialised poem was deconstructed, secured and transported to Cal Arts Burbank, California, where Knowles lived in 1970-72. The artist used the house as a venue for her student classes. She also hosted other artists in the house, who entered into relationships with its open structure.

Oh no, please don’t is a concrete music concert based on a sonification of phrases from The House of Duse, emitted into public space of the loud Fifth Avenue. The composition relied on a threshold of subliminal frequencies and made use of fragments of universally recognisable sound signals of electronic communicators, refracting a pre-existing audio sphere, but acting at the limit of perceptibility, since it was filtered through the gallery glass windows, from behind which it was emitted.

The House of Dust exhibition artists were: Alison Knowles and Ay-o, Chloë Bass, Keren Benbenisty, Jérémie Bennequin, George Brecht, Hugo Brégeau, Marcel Broodthaers, John Cage, Alejandro Cesarco, Jagna Ciuchta, Constant, Jean-Pascal Flavien, Yona Friedman, Mark Geffriaud, Beatrice Gibson, Eugen Gomringer, Dan Graham, Jeff Guess, Geoffrey Hendricks, Dick Higgins, Maria Hup_eld, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Norman C. Kaplan, Allan Kaprow, Frederick Kiesler, Nicholas Knight, Katarzyna Krakowiak, Mikko Kuorinki, Theo Lutz, Stephane Mallarmé, Alan Michelson, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Jenny Perlin, Nina Safainia, Carolee Schneeman, Mieko Shiomi, James Tenney, Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss and Emmett Williams.