Christopher Knowles (New York, 1959) played a significant role in the late 1970s New York avant-garde: as an artist he exhibited with Holly Solomon and as a performer he collaborated with theatre director and playwright Robert Wilson. In fact part of the libretto of the world-famous opera "Einstein on the Beach" was written by Knowles. Wilson and Knowles have collaborated subsequently, most notably through theatrical experiments like "A Letter to Queen Victoria", "Parsifal" and "The Sundance Kid is Beautiful".
Wilson describes his discovery of the then 13-year-old Knowles: "In early 1973 a man ... gave me an audio tape ... I was fascinated. The tape was entitled "Emily Likes the TV". On it a young man's voice spoke continuously creating repetitions and variations on phrases about Emily watching the TV. I began to realize that the words flowed to a patterned rhythm whose logic was self-supporting. It was a piece coded much like music. Like a cantata or a fugue, it worked with conjugations of thoughts repeated in variations; I knew it was clear in his mind, but I couldn’t follow it, so I transcribed the text, and it was visually stunning."
Knowles’s poetry, audio collages, and typings show how language serves not only as our gateway to the subconscious, where words play their anxious, fractious, and sometimes joyful games, but also the key to communicating with the other people who help us articulate who we are. Knowles was already a master of language when that early audio collage was handed to Wilson in 1973, and in fact, Knowles can be considered a true heir to that great American writer who put standard English on notice—Gertrude Stein.
Knowles was diagnosed early on as an autistic, and he did not receive a formal artistic education- instead, he came to the inventive rhythms of language through various everyday means like radio, TV, music, etc.