exhibition archive

OBSERVER: John Latham and the Distant Perspective

06 - 26 July 2019

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Private view: Tuesday 09 July, 6-8.30pm
Exhibition continues: 06 - 26 July, 2019

Aerial image of ‘Niddrie Woman’ site, 1970s. © John Latham Foundation
Aerial image of ‘Niddrie Woman’ site, 1970s. © John Latham Foundation

Chelsea Space is delighted to present OBSERVER: John Latham and the Distant Perspective. For the first time, John Latham, a pioneer of British conceptual art, is the focus of an exhibition at Chelsea Space. This exhibition presents work by Latham that employs an aerial viewpoint and investigates how the use of this perspective is positioned in his wider thinking.

Whilst on an artist placement with the Scottish Development Agency in the 1970s, Latham was invited to investigate the problem of derelict land outside Edinburgh. When asked ‘from which perspective would he be looking at Scotland’, he apparently pointed to a map of the country and responded ‘from this distance’*1. The distant view allows for comprehension in a broader context and Latham believed an aerial viewpoint offered a mode of understanding otherwise outside of human consciousness. His research in the Scottish Development Agency’s aerial photography archive allowed access to huge resource of such material that became hugely important to his work. It is a viewpoint he felt was ‘necessary if humanity is to see itself objectively’*2. In the archival material, photographic and video works included in this exhibition we can understand the use of aerial imagery as a metaphor for an expansive mode of understanding, and as a means for locating oneself in the world and the universe.

This exhibition is a collaboration between MA Curating and Collections (Chelsea College of Arts, UAL) and Flat Time House (a London landmark that was declared a Living Sculpture in 2003). The show stems from extensive research of John Latham’s archival material supervised by Flat Time House Director and Curator Gareth Bell-Jones. Included in the show are rarely seen pieces from the archive, as well as video works, a sculpture and a spray work on canvas, bringing together Latham’s principle of Distant Observation through a variety of materials.

Latham’s Erth works began in 1975 after a stay in hospital, during which Nicholas Wegner visited him with a 1950s travel book of Australia and a Hasselblad booklet of the Earth. From these materials, Latham created the 15cm square collage titled Erth 2 and continued making reproductions of this work on larger panels.

Targets by John Latham is part of the Dadarama series of Artists Works for Television, which was produced by Anna Ridley in 1984 and broadcast by Channel Four Television in March 1985.

“Working from a free brief, the artists could make either a single work or a series which were not required to fill a pre-determined slot. The works were all broadcast in their own right without mediation or introduction.”

- Anna Ridley, producer of Dadarama, July 2019.

Three of these works will be screened at Chelsea Space during the course of the exhibition. The schedule is as follows:

From 9 July to 12 July: John Latham, Cumbrae Clyde, 1984. Colour video with sound. 7 min 40 sec.
From 16 July to 19 July: John Latham, John O Groats to Cape Wrath, 1984. Colour video with sound. 6 min 15 sec.
From 23 July to 26 July: John Latham, Dave’s Bike, 1984. Colour video with sound. 7 min 48 sec.

Also included in the exhibition is a work from Latham’s Cosmic Blood series, courtesy of Lisson Gallery. This series marks Latham’s return to aerial imagery through different approaches in his later work. Untitled (Cosmic Blood Series) [1994-95], which is being exhibited for the first time, features red spray paint on canvas outlining the shape of the Niddrie Woman site. The red paint is the colour of the shale found at the site.

The curatorial approach is based on Latham’s interpretation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1880 novel The Brothers Karamazov. According to Latham, each of the three brothers represents a kind of ‘observing person.’ Mitya is instinctive, Ivan is rational, while Alyosha relies on intuition in his observations. This third, intuitive perspective is held in wider society by the artist, referred to by Latham as ‘The Incidental Person’. The Incidental Person encompasses the characteristics of the other two observers but has the ability to reflect and view things from a distance.

The layout of Chelsea Space invites viewers to navigate Latham’s work and theories as one of these three brothers might. The Reading Room introduces a rational view of Latham through contextual material. As viewers instinctively follow the Ramp, they engage with the exhibition as Mitya. The Main Space presents a reflective and intuitive look at Latham’s work, embodying the perspective of Alyosha.

John Latham, (1921-2006) was a British conceptual artist and Chelsea College of Arts graduate (1947-1951). With a career spanning more than fifty years, he made significant contributions to contemporary art, blending science, art and philosophy. Latham has had numerous international exhibitions at institutions including the Serpentine Galleries, London, UK (2017); Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland (1973); Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, Germany (1975); P.S.1. Contemporary Art Center, New York, NY, USA (2006). Latham's work is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Tate Gallery, London. He was the subject of a retrospective at the Tate Britain in London (2005).

This exhibition was made possible by the support of the Director and trustees of Flat Time House

Flat Time House (FTHo) was the studio home of John Latham (1921-2006), recognised as one of the most significant and influential British post-war artists. In 2003, Latham declared the house a living sculpture, naming it FTHo after his theory of time, ‘Flat Time’. Until his death, Latham opened his door to anyone interested in thinking about art. It is in this spirit that Flat Time House opened in 2008 as a gallery with a programme of exhibitions and events exploring the artist's practice, his theoretical ideas and their continued relevance. It also provides a centre for alternative learning, which includes the John Latham Archive, an artist's residency space, and the academic journal NOIT.

Curated by:
Shalini Rajasegaran, Lena Czermak, Brandon Rickett, Lourdes Mendez, Ines Basille, Santiago Simoes, Soojin Oh, Zeyu Zhao, Qiaoyi He, Yihuan Chen, Xiaotong Xia, Tianning Lu, Jingyi Chen, Jing Wu, Ying Ying Lin, Liting Zhang, Bingjie Liu, Hingis Szewah Ng, Beining Liang, Yingying Chen, Yuyang Lin, Yao Zhao, Yue Ying, Philipp Abdullah

Special thanks to: Gareth Bell-Jones and Mary Vetisse, Flat Time House; Andreas Leventis, Emily Sofaly, Hana Noorali and Andrew Ekin, Lisson Gallery; Barbara Steveni, Athanasios Velios, Anna Ridley, Nick James, Agnese Reginaldo, Jocelyn Cuming, Steven Ball, Lynton Talbot, David Dibosa Adam Lockhart, DJCAD Media Archives & Preservation Lab; British Artists’ Film and Video Study Collection

Details of the curated public programme to coincide with this exhibition can be found on the additional handout, summary below:
10 Jul 2019 15:00 - Curators' Talk with Shalini Rajasegaran and Ying Ying Lin
10 Jul 2019 20:30 - Telescope Observation Workshop with Melanie King
11 Jul 2019 18:00 - CREATIVE ARCHIVAL METHODS – Adrian Glew, Jo Melvin and Athanasios Velios
13 Jul 2019 14:00 - CIVIC AERIAL VISION: Ariel Caine of Forensic Architecture
17 Jul 2019 15:00 - Curators' Talk and ERTH Screening with Brandon Rickett and Ines Basille
24 Jul 2019 15:00 - Curators' Talk with Santiago Simoes and Lourdes Mendez
26 Jul 2019 15:00 - Curators' Talk with Hingis Szewah Ng and Beining Liang

*1 Craig Richardson, ‘Waste to Monument: John Latham’s Niddrie Woman: Art & Environment’, in Tate Papers, no.17, Spring 2012
*2 John A. Walker, unpublished manuscript, 1987, in Chrissie Iles, ‘Introduction’, John Latham: The N–U Niddrie Heart, exhibition catalogue, Lisson Gallery, London 1992, unpaginated




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