Not on display
Unedited Material from the Star 1960 is John Latham’s second film and one of two films that he made that year derived from his book, or ‘Skoob’, reliefs. The film employs stop frame animation to portray the changing states of the book relief Film Star 1960 (Tate T00854) – a relief that was constructed directly for the purposes of being filmed. Latham painted groups of pages towards the centre of each of the books in the relief one of twelve colours; turning the pages of each of these books thus directly alters the visual character of the relief, with infinite variations. Although wires hold the pages in place and invite the participation of the viewer, Latham’s preference was for the painting to be displayed in either a completely monochromatic state or in a purely printed state.
The resulting film, through a sequence of sections each roughly a minute long, appears to show the pages of the books turning to reveal areas of shifting colour. The first section shows the whole relief repeatedly changing in colour, from yellow to grey to blue to cream to grey to light blue to grey to cream and so on. This is followed by a section where pages are in a continuously multi-coloured state. The film then moves to close ups of the first of two books and then of the lower left quarter of the relief. The next section echoes the first section but reveals a hotter range of colours, predominantly red, brown and violet, before then switching to a close up view of the lower right hand eighth of the relief. The next three sections use a variety of close ups and move in and out of focus, so that the experience of the film progresses from a strobing of colour to a moving page to the fanned page edges of a book, and then to a close up of one part of the relief and a close up of a smaller area of the same part. The final two sequences return to a view of the full relief, but one that is inverted, and show the page colours moving between white, black and grey expanses and then, separated by a brief close up, to multi-coloured areas of predominantly red, blue and yellow. There is then another brief close up before the camera appears to move quickly over the surface of the relief before coming to rest, signalling the abrupt end of the film.
The film appears to have been shot over a number of days and was composed sequentially in the camera and so not edited subsequently. Although originally silent, at early screenings Latham would manually tune and detune a radio while the film was showing. The soundtrack that it now has – fragments of phrases and sentences with long silences – was provided by Latham in 1990 and derives from a radio discussion on the philosophy of Kant and Nietzsche. Unedited Material from the Star was screened between 1965 and 1967 as one element of Latham’s performance piece Film (later renamed Romeo and Juliet), enacted at Stratford East Theatre in 1965, as part of the Destruction In Art Symposium in 1966 and at the Experimentl 4 Film Festival at Knokke-Le-Zoute in 1967. It was produced in an edition of three plus two artist’s proofs; Tate’s copy is number one in the edition.
Books, as containers of knowledge, were a consistent motif in Latham’s work for almost fifty years, from his move from the two dimensions of spray painting to the three dimensions of his first book, or ‘skoob’, relief in 1958. The use of the term ‘skoob’ (the word ‘books’ in reverse) indicates the reversals that Latham sought in perception, in this case from reading to seeing, his concern being with how an observer understands an object in time as an event rather than as forms held in space. Furthermore, books initiate a temporal activity of a particular character: the turning of a page is an activity that emphasises a linear understanding of time. Latham’s intention with his stop-frame animation films was to show an object which did not in itself move, but which nevertheless changed its appearance as time passed (the films are made up of sequences of still images, nothing is filmed in actual motion). For Latham, film thus defined his key idea of ‘Event Structure’, which he described as proposing ‘a cosmology where the initial entities remain the same but display endless variation and development’ (quoted in Walker 1995, p.58). The historian John A. Walker has observed: ‘the powerful illusionism of film conceals its event-structural nature as a sequence of atemporal signs. In his own films he seeks to expose those signs while simultaneously utilizing film’s real/reel time character to introduce certain changes.’ (Ibid., p.58)
John Latham, Art after Physics, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford 1992.
John A. Walker, John Latham, The incidental person – his art and ideas, London 1995.
John Latham Films 1960–1971, Lisson Gallery/LUX, London 2010.