Bean data and a bean cloud

In this blog post, I will discuss Alison Knowles’ contribution to one of the original Fluxkit produced by the Fluxus movement during the 60’s and 70’s. I want to specifically focus on her work “Bean Rolls”, a study of beans, as a form of urban intelligence. To do so, I discuss the concept of the Fluxkit and its specific purpose as a kit. Second, I zoom in on “Bean Rolls” and assess the object according to the way it frames intelligence and its ability to store data. Furthermore, I argue that Knowles’ bean study can be interpreted as a study of the field and the cloud.

The kit as an object generally references to a collection of items neatly organized for quick access for a specific purpose. Kits that come to mind are research kits for the natural sciences, or the emergency kit to be stored at home. The specific purpose of the Fluxkit is multiple, for one, their purpose is to not be art, second, to be experienced, touched, and evoke a sense of play, and third, it collected works produced for various performances of Fluxus.

Fluxus artists aim to blur the boundaries between life and art, bringing art into the everyday, and combatting the idea that art can only exist on a white wall inside a museum. By working in a variety of media, the Fluxus group created participatory events and objects. The Fluxkits became a form of endless play. The Fluxkit as a whole can be understood as an index of the work of the Fluxus movement, as well as a collection of acts of the everyday.

One of the objects found in the Fluxkit is Alison Knowles’ “Bean Rolls”. Bean Rolls is a small square metal tin containing 17 scrolls of paper held closed with dental rubber bands as well as different types of dried beans. The scrolls of paper contain a range of assembled information on legumes from an extensive study conducted by Knowles. Her methodology: collecting data on beans referenced in songs, recipes, stories, science, cartoons, and ads from libraries from all over the world. Her epistemology: rare information. For Bean Rolls, Knowles acts as researcher and curator of the data she collects on beans, and the rolls store this wide array of information, whilst referencing knowledge storage from across the world in libraries.

The rolls of bean data are the materialization of Knowles search for bean data accross the world. Her research can be framed as a practice of a field and cloud exploration prevalent in experimental practices today (Shannon, 2016). Using the bean as the singular object of research, Knowles maps the abundance of ‘bean data’ (the cloud) making the subjective decision as to what data is valuable and worth visualizing to create a story, and in a way to represent the field (a cloud-like set of social, cultural, economic, and nonhierarchically networked conditions of reality) by assembling bean data from these different types of media.