If you weren’t at Art Basel in Miami Beach last year, then you might have missed Alison Knowles’ debut her nautical-themed installation “The Boat Book.” Rest assured, however, that James Fuentes has installed the Fluxus artist’s newest edition to her over-sized book project at his eponymous Lower East Side space for the final weeks of summer.
The work is installed in the left-hand corner of James Fuentes’ main room. Sounds of waves and indistinct clanking and rattling play in the background, every now and then a garbled radio transmission comes through the speakers, or woman’s voice reading aloud. The installation itself is very large, but the emptiness of the rest of the spaces reduces what could be an overbearing experience. The construction of the work is the same as Knowles’ first book in her series, “The Big Book,” from 1966; in which eight movable pages turn around a metal pole acting as the book’s spine.
It is clear that Knowles has created a set journey for us to follow. A small sign underneath a porthole aglow with lights demarcates the “entrance” to the work. This first section seems to be the deck of a ship, complete with an anchor cast off into the room. Climbing through the porthole, maritime objects, images and text surround me—this remains a constant throughout. Continuing to move through the piece, I come across a fishing pole stretching past a blue fabric tunnel that cuts through the next page. Moving through the tunnel, I enter the living quarters of the ship. This is the centerfold, the extra page bent, forming a cozy enclosure and inducing a sense of comfort. There is a small metal teapot resting on a shelf, a little bench sits nearby. Small shells and trinkets are scattered about. It is obvious that this area is supposed to feel like the interior of the boat. Another porthole, and suddenly I am back on the deck. Fishing nets are stretched across a metal frame in the place of a wooden page, the excess netting splayed on the floor. Passing through fabric decorated in more nautical imagery, notably huge fishing tackles, I am back where I started.
Beyond the physical implementation of the concept of being “absorbed” in a book, there is something childishly fun about “The Boat Book.” It is fully immersive, engaging in touch, sight and sound. The theme itself, seafaring and life on the ocean, already carries an implication of adventure and wonder, of being free. Moving, though sometimes ducking or crawling, through the pages of obstacles and objects captures the imagination. Knowles creates an environment that you cannot help but feel that imagining is vital to the work. With this, her artwork touches on the role of imagination in the interaction with both books and art. There is an interactive aspect to the installation, a reliance on the audience’s participation for the work to be fully realized and the necessity of the imagination that makes the work accessible.
“The Boat Book”
August 19th – September 9th
55 Delancey Street, New York, New York, 10002
Written by Madeleine Mermall
Photographs provided by lanningsmith.com and artrabbit.com