Artist biography

British painter, sculptor, conceptual artist, performance artist, video and filmmaker, of Rhodesian birth. He studied at the Chelsea School of Art, London, from 1946 to 1950. His concern from 1954 was not with the production of art objects as an end in itself but with various processes and consequently with the recording in three dimensions of sequences of events and of patterns of knowledge. In 1958 he introduced torn, overpainted and partly burnt books into assemblages. The destruction and parody of systems of knowledge implied in Latham's work was apparent in 1966, when he organised a party at which guests chewed pages of Clement Greenberg's book Art and Culture; the remains were then fermented into mash, distilled and returned in a test-tube to the St Martin's School of Art library.

Latham's art and theory were consistently experimental from the late 1950s, including investigations into conceptual art and performance art as well as paintings, assemblages, films and videos. His concept of Event-Structures, which was central to his theories, represents a complex proposition suggesting the realignment of social, economic, political and aesthetic structures around a ‘time-base' mode of thinking progressing from what Latham termed the ‘least-event', to complex social and political structures in which a critical role is played by the artist, Latham's ‘Incidental Person'. In 1966, with his wife Barbara Stevini, Latham created the Artist Placement Group, a sociological and aesthetic programme for placing artists in positions within industry, science and government so that they might generate alternatives to divisive systems of power.

Bibliography
John Latham: State of Mind (exh. cat. by J. Harten, R. Brooks and J. Stezaker, Düsseldorf, Städt. Ksthalle, 1975)
John Latham (exh. cat. by T. Measham, London, Tate, 1976)
John Latham: Early Works, 1954–1972 (exh. cat. by R. Hamilton, London, Lisson Gal., 1987)

KRISTINE STILES

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