Flat Time House, since 2008, has held a public archive of the late artist John Latham. It also presents a programme of contemporary exhibitions in response to his artwork and his complex theories. Latham's work often uses or comments upon language and literature, employing rhetorical tropes to discuss broader ideas around time, language, the universe and the role of the artist therein. Situated on Bellenden Road in Peckham, South London this former home of Latham stands out - a spectacle on a quiet residential street. An oversized model of two interlocking books intercepts the front window of the mid-terrace house, jutting half out of the building and half into the front room. The title on one book spine reads “How the Univoice is Still Unheard”. Initially an eccentric and humorous work, it exemplifies the artist's typically irreverent attitude towards rhetorical thinking: the intertwined white pages of two books only readable to each other and not to the viewer. It announces Latham's esoteric ideas contained within the building very boldly to it's surrounding public.
This sculpture by Latham creates an immediate dialogue between his ideas and those of other artists temporarily shown in the building. It's permanent presence, alongside his other works throughout the building, alludes to a living archive of an artist's work – one that continues to set a precedent in contemporary practice.
The building is still domestic in appearance but stripped down: there is a front room, an office, then a corridor leading off to a kitchen and a back room. The flow from room to room controls the narrative of the space. Immediately behind the front room you must walk through the small staff office to access the rest of the exhibition – this creates an immediate sense of activity within the archive, as you move through this cramped, chaotic space. Although the office is also positioned awkwardly as a barrier or a threshold to cross. Behind it there is a corridor which leads off onto a kitchen and then a back room. The kitchen has is furnished and a wall based text-work by Latham is situated high on the wall above the table. This is a printed text-transfer of the phrase “the shift” underscored by an arrow line. The back room has two large book cases containing Latham's library of reference books: spanning geography, religious texts, physics, astronomy, art and philosophy.
On entering the building, Latham's large book sculpture shares the crowded front room with works in the current temporary exhibition 'Eye Music For Dancing'. Curated by Bridget Crone, this exhibition explores intersections between the ideas of Bob Cobbing - a major figure in British spoken and visual concrete poetry from the 1960's onwards and living artists Anna Barham, Heather Phillipson and Julika Gittner. The exhibition proposes a cross-over in the how information is received by the senses. It looks at visual form that can translate into rhythm and relate to the body, language is placed at the centre of this process and the transformative potential of the written word.
Bob Cobbing is represented only through his printer matter. Seven of his works in total are spread throughout the front room, corridor and back room. A common thread throughout the exhibition, Cobbing's works vary from room to room in relation to the contemporary work shown alongside it.
Two works by Cobbing are located in the front room: Are your children safe in the sea? (1966) and The Five Vowels (1974). They focus on word-play and are shown alongside an installation titled Zero-Point Garbage Matte (2012) by Heather Phillipson, a film projection titled Slick Flection (2009) by Anna Barham as well as Latham's huge book sculpture which hangs through the window. Quickly identifiable as concrete poetry, these works by Cobbing show his exploration of typography, philosophy and spiritual ideology around phonetics. The progression of Cobbing's works throughout the exhibition show how this interest in language as abstracted form – a concept developed as he sifted through printed junk material to expose the connections between language, object and the body. This trajectory exposes a relationship between detached language and the unwanted detritus shed by consumer culture. Cobbing and Phillipson also share a tongue in cheek attitude which particularly comes through in his work Are your children... which sardonically overlays the typewritten phrase “Are your children safe in the sea?” across three pages. The second work here by Cobbing titled, Five Vowels (1974) contains a typed copy for an advertisement in The Times newspaper from Bob Cobbing at The Writer's Forum. This cites “TotaAlphaOmieronOmegaUpsilonEpsilonEta” one of the Gnostic names for God, explaining how vowels were first used to communicate with the celestial beings alongside music, before they were combined with consonants and adapted into language.
Cables drop from the ceiling, down through Phillipson's Zero-Point Garbage Matte (2012) into the blue, yellow and pink rings of a children's paddling pool on the floor which is filled with gravel. A flatscreen TV protrudes upwards out of it. To watch the video you must stand on a step ladder looking down and leaning over towards the pool filled with gravel. This display references an anecdote in the video where Phillipson goes to the doctor who diagnosis her with “ear gravel” she is advised to hold this position to “get it moving the other way”. The video follows her train of thought: connecting her simultaneous embracement of and anxiety towards her over-saturated, consumer culture surroundings, back to bodily metaphors. Her ear gravel is being held in by a goo - like gelatin which is a compound of animal parts, connective tissue and bone marrow. This work is one of three video installations by Heather Phillipson interspersed throughout the exhibition: pink, blue and yellow VGA cables run out of the monitor to the ceiling and out of the room, through the office and into her next work in the corridor. This creates the effect of an artery running through the building, giving a sense of interconnectedness between her works while renegotiating the house as a body.
Anna Barham's work Slick Flection (2009/12) responds to spoken word and beat poetry of the 60's and 70's and plays with the interconnected nature of audio and visual elements in film projection. The audio fills the front space and plays the steady, repeated rhythm of a tap dancer repeating one step, overlaid with a female voice reading a progression of words: “ still, still, metal, slick, metal, slick, metallic. an, metal, an, still”. This repetition and combining of words transforms and produces new ones. Concentric circles of light are projected onto the wall, related in the rhythm of their alternation to that of the dancer. This work by Barham is emblematic of avant-guard performance from Cobbing's generation. It raises the question: why this, yet no audio recording of work by Cobbing? Regarded a major spoken word artist in the British Poetry Revival - the act of performing spoken wordwas central to his work. Barham's echo-filled audio recording borrows the grainy aesthetic of analogue technology and introduce the idea of Cobbing as' influential on a younger generation of artists.
His influence is clear too in Phillipson's work but as opposed to deriving from it, she embodies it's general attitude. Instead of reinterpreting earlier spoken word performances as an exercise like Barham, Phillipson applies it to modern day situations and uses references to current pop culture. In this way she shows the trajectory of earlier experimental word-play by collectives and artist performance spaces of the 60's and 70's, to new music scenes like UK Grime which also originated in London.
Past the front room and through the office, Gittner's sculpture SBWA (Sector Based Work Academy) – Aspire, Achieve Sustain (2012) exudes from the corridor passage which leads to the kitchen and back room. It's form oozes out of the corridor wall and is mashed together from scraps of wood and wooden furniture, wrapped in chicken wire, stuffed with plastic bags and crumpled newspaper then wrapped in nylon bedding material. These forms resemble contorted, spongy orifice shapes and seem to exist as the contorted, living, domestic fabric of the space that was at one time a home. The title of this work is taken from a 'back to work' scheme currently used by the Job Centre in the UK for the unemployed receiving benefits. The material properties of the installation bare a connection to Cobbing's photocopied works and Phillipson's interest in commodity culture and it's waste. It's overbearing presence ensnares the viewer and intensifies the feeling of claustrophobia in the space. This perhaps, in view of the work's title, brings about a connection with the feeling of entrapment by individuals caught within a cycle of institutionalised unemployment.
Further down the corridor, Torso Portions (2012) by Phillipson is an assemblage: a wall- mounted monitor with a McDonald's Pepsi cup balanced on top. The monitor floats above a pedestal under it which is comprised of a a pink table leg, screwed into a cabbage, on top of a white pillow. The film on the monitor shows video clips of meat processing and other consumer food processes, collaging and overlaying them. They are accompanied by a sound track of abstract voice effects, animalistic and mechanical-sounding beat boxing. The imagery, as in all of her videos here, uses HD digital editing effects. Her uncomplicated use of these effects and application of bold, minimal layouts and colour schemes, both reveal computer generated imagery and retain connections to the graphic style of artists like Cobbing using earlier copying technologies. The visual style of Phillipson's work included in the exhibition uses the plastic, high-gloss sheen synonymous with modern print, HD video and digitally processed sound.
Dispersed from the end of the corridor to the back room there are five more of Cobbing's works. They are untitled, black and white photocopies of scrunched up, printed word often on branded junk with sections of words lopped off to created new ones. In the back space they hang on all four walls surrounding a work by Phillipson titled Catastrophicephaleconomy (2012), which takes up most of the floor space in the room. Viewing Cobbing's prints around it is constricted. In Phillipson's installation a video is shown on a flat screen TV, housed inside a shelter made of cardboard crates. A narrator speaks in a hollow voice processed with digital delay echo. This voice creates an overlapping repetition in speech, building a strange, metallic-sounding intensity.
This work by Phillipson connects back to the aforementioned work by Cobbing in the first room titled Five Vowels, combined they mark the beginning and end of the exhibition and use superfluous elements of language. This excess relates to the ideas of Latham – most visibly his book sculpture which denotes the limitations of the written word and critiques literature as self-serving. Furthermore Latham's permanent wall-based work in the kitchen, the shift, hints at the need for the perceptual shift needed to shake off the limitations of established language. This “shift” is introduced through a parallel between the ideas of Gnosticism-1 in Five Vowels by Cobbing and the breakdown and transformation of language in Barham's video projection. An insight is given into the creative potential of the cast aways of mass-production and pop culture in Cobbing's later photocopied works and in the works of Phillipson and Gittner.
1 “ Christ was an emissary of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric knowledge (gnosis) of whom enabled the redemption of the human spirit” (Oxford Dictionaries (2011) The New Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford, OUP Oxford)