This is one of a suite of etchings, entitled 5 photo etchings, that Latham produced in collaboration with artHester Editions. The suite of prints refers to two groups of works. The first four images – Tadpole-Taffrail (Tate P79062), Boy-Girl (P79063), Ben (P79064) and Presumed Level of Abstraction (P79065) – derive from Review of a Dictionary, a long-term project that Latham began in the mid-sixties. For this project, Latham photographed illustrated pages from a dictionary and other text books, and subjected the photographs to various experiments in the dark-room.
The fifth print in the series, Flat Time I-IO (Neg), also makes reference to books. It shows the interleaved pages of two books, viewed close up. The Swiss photographer Hélène Binet took the photograph from which the print was created. It is based on a monumental metal sculpture, projecting from the façade of the artist’s house in Peckham, South London, entitled Flat Time HO 2003. The sculpture comprises two giant books mounted horizontally as though suspended in a large pane of glass, resembling a shop window, in front of a white screen. Latham called his house at 210 Bellenden Road, SE15, Flat Time HO, commenting:
the front of the house is the face of what I’m calling Flat Time HO. Flat Time House you can call it. But what you see has a membrane behind it which takes you into what I’m calling the mind in here. And why this is the mind is because it’s got the abstract version of the cosmic history which comes from a zero point. So in here, what you can do is to go round from the zero piece, which shows the difference between white and pre-white, which is transparency. And you come round via book reliefs.
(Quoted in John Latham in Focus, p1.)
Above the door to Latham’s house, the title Flat Time HO appears in white text. The ‘H’ in HO is written using narrow spaces between the two vertical lines so that it may be read as I-I, referring to Latham’s ‘state nought – state one’ or ‘0 1_1 0’ idea. In this concept, central to Latham’s art, he used the binary system to express the emergence of matter in empty space, embodied in his painting Full Stop 1961 (Tate T11968). The title of the print Flat Time I-IO (Neg) was intended by the artist to be read as simultaneously I-IO and HO.
Books are central to Latham’s practice, representing systems of knowledge and belief on which society is founded. In the 1960s he built towers of such books as encyclopedias and art history books, which he called Skoob Towers (reversing the word ‘book’ in an indication of the reversal of cultural knowledge involved), and ritualistically set fire to them. In his most famous act against the authority of the printed word, undertaken when he was teaching at Saint Martin’s School of Art in 1966, he invited a group of artists, students and critics to chew and spit out pages of Clement Greenberg’s authoritative collection of critical essays, Art and Culture (published Boston, 1961). The masticated pages were subsequently distilled and bottled, resulting in the work Still and Chew 1966-7 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). More recently he has brought together the holy books of the three great monotheistic faiths – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – in his God is Great series of sculptural works (see Tate T11969). These works combine books with glass in a manner similar to that of Flat Time HO. From his earliest use of books in art, Latham interleaved the pages of paired books to create structures similar to that seen on the print Flat Time I-IO (Neg). This interleaving is visible on his painting-assemblage, Belief System 1959 (Tate T11841) where two pairs of books are interleaved to make different forms, and in the maquette, Noit Intercourse 1960 (courtesy John Latham Estate and Lisson Gallery, London), which consists simply of two books standing face to face, their pages coupling behind the shell of their protective covers.
5 photo etchings is the only set of limited edition prints that the artist made. The portfolio was created in an edition of thirty, plus six artist’s proofs. Tate’s copy is the sixth in the edition. The etchings were printed and proofed by Hugh Stoneman of Stoneman Graphics (west Cornwall). They are printed on mingei paper and printed chine appliqué on 400gsm velin arches. The portfolio was published by artHester Editions, Cambridge and London. The etchings may be exhibited together or separately.
John Latham: Art after Physics, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford and Staatsgalerie Stuttgart 1991, p.28
John Latham interviewed by Marianne Brouwer, December 2004, for John Latham in Focus, http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/latham/transcript.shtm