Portikus presents the work of late British conceptual artist John Latham (1921-2006) and a new work by artist and researcher Neal White. By facilitating a dialogue between these two practices, the show decodes Latham’s expansive and hugely complex oeuvre and the conceptual legacy of art in relation to the ‘event’ as a structural entity.
John Latham’s engagement with the phenomenological and temporal is represented here in the critical work God is Great (#4), 2005. The work consists of a field of shattered glass spread with copies of the Bible, Koran and Talmud across the gallery floor. The glass represents the ‘least event.’ According to Latham’s theory of time, this is the moment after which a form, organic or material, returns to its origin as matter, a place before or after its own existence. In a lifelong pursuit of concepts relating to temporality, Latham’s art questions common registers between belief systems and what he termed the ‘occluded dimension’ of science, language and religion, as well as the question of events and non-events. His ultimate concern was to address why these different belief systems fail to recognise concepts of time, and therefore to co-exist peacefully and productively in order to allow progression. God is Great (10-19) refers to the title of Latham’s piece on show, whilst including a modification of the formula 1019, the smallest possible entity of time identified by science during his lifetime. Latham would use the term to describe God.
In 2003, John Latham and Neal White met and started a dialogue that led to White’s involvement with O+I, the organisation which followed on from the Artist Placement Group (1966-89), an artist collective founded by Latham and Barbara Steveni. After Latham’s death in 2006, White was involved in the establishment of the archive at Flat Time House, the artist’s former home and studio in South London. In the exhibition at Portikus, White’s ongoing project INFOMOMA draws upon notes from this archive, referring in particular to Latham’s idea for the Information show at MOMA in 1972: to create a device that ’does less than any known amount.’ The INFOMOMA extends the idea of the least known amount through research into the techno-scientific and military-industrial complex today. This research encompasses examples such as the work of the CTBTO, a global organisation monitoring nuclear explosions and, as a result, catastrophic natural events, as well as algorithmic-driven quantum trading companies that shape markets and the urban fabric of our cities. Both use advances in technical and scientific knowledge, yet correspond to regulatory and legal frameworks that exist in relation to events played out on macro and micro scales.
John Latham spent much of his life developing his art as a form of epistemic enquiry that challenged our reliance on the ‘verbal idiom’. His insistence in dematerializing the book as an object of knowledge – subject to material as well as intellectual degradation – drew his harshest critics. It was nonetheless a book by Neal White, Ott’s Sneeze, that first united the two. With its page numbers replaced by slices of time, text disintegrating into mathematics and code, Latham insisted Neal White intuitively understood his own concern with Flat Time Theory. Their meeting established a personal dialogue over several years, in which shared critical concerns with the register of art in relation to knowledge production, temporality and event space were elaborated.
As part of the exhibition, further research is conducted through ongoing fieldwork and as situated experiments though a series of Skoob Performances. These performances, which were originally titled Skoob Tower Ceremonies and executed by John Latham, either in person or under instruction, were slow burnings of book towers constructed with volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which Latham initiated throughout his life at different intervals and in different sites, from the 1960s onwards. The Skoobs undertaken for Portikus are staged in and around Frankfurt during the running of the exhibition, and convey the investigative and incidental affinities between both artists’ practices and theories. Erratic transmissions of these performances are screened as field recordings via an intervening software tool available for download with unscheduled showings of different events and non-events.
Both artists draw on the cultural and natural dimensions of destruction, and address the impulses of organized belief systems, inlcuding the spatio-temporal limitations of institutions by working through complex non-linear structures of time in global sites and events. Neal White’s metal palm tree, a ready-made data tower, is cut up according to the structural givens of the building and placed partly in the garden of Portikus as well as inside the exhibition space. It suggests both spatial and regulatory limits through an interest in the non-linear and in destruction as a productive ’force majeure.’ Rather than producing objects and proclaiming ways of how they should operate in the world, White’s practice focuses instead on mediating how things, or no-things, exist as events in space.
A DVD of the field recordings of the Skoob Performances will be inserted into the second edition of NOIT, a journal published by Camberwell Press and Flat Time House. The launch of the journal will take place at Portikus on June 20, with a presentation by Lisa Le Feuvre, Head of Sculpture Studies at the Henry Moore Institute and editor of NOIT 2, followed by a Skoob Performance.