John Latham

Five Sisters Bing


Not on display

John Latham 1921–2006
Object: 190 × 622 × 457 mm
Purchased 1976

Display caption

Five Sisters is one of the derelict land sites in the Midlothian and West Lothian area which Latham, during his placement with the Scottish Development Office, proposed should be preserved as monuments (see Derelict Land Art: Five Sisters displayed nearby). Latham’s proposals included a suggestion for the erection of large sculptures, in the form of books, on the summits of the shale heaps or ‘bings’. This proposal was never carried out but the arrangement of the books which form this work echoes the shape and appearance of the Five Sisters Bing.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry


Not inscribed
Mixed media, 7 1/2 × 24 1/2 × 18 (19 × 62.2 × 45.6)
Purchased from the artist (Discretionary Fund) 1976
Exh: John Latham, Tate Gallery, June–July 1976 (not numbered)

The structure of T02072 is entirely made from books. The base is a bound volume of a complete set of The Times newspapers from January 1954. The binding is brown with leather spine and corners. On this base are arranged in fan-shape five free standing pieces, each consisting of a diagonally bisected book, spine uppermost and irregularly cut pages downwards. The details of the books are:

Title Author Publisher Colour of cloth


Creative Education M. A. Payne Maclellan? green
A Piece of the Sky is Missing David Nobbs Methuen red
All the Brave Promises Mary Lee Settle Heinemann blue
Meeting with a Great Beast Leonard Wibberley Chatto and Windus black
Playing and Reality D. W. Winnicott Tavistock black

The physical arrangement of the books clearly follows the shape and appearance of Five Sisters Bing, a heap of red shale, with five distinct summits, covering an area of fifty-six acres at West Calder in the West Lothian district of Scotland. Five Sisters Bing is also the subject of T02071 above, a work which together with T02072 flowed from the artist's involvement with derelict land sites south and south-west of Edinburgh, where he was employed as a temporary civil servant by the Scottish Office.

Five Sisters is one of the five derelict sites which, Latham proposed, should be preserved as monuments. In his feasibility study, prepared over the period December 1975–April 1976 Latham recommended the erection of large sculptures of his, in the form of colossal books, as markers at the summits of the Bings, or shale heaps. T02072 thus reflects the link already established in the artist's mind between his own sculpture and his derelict land proposals. Books had featured prominently among other paraphernalia in Latham's collage reliefs and sculptures, as well as in ephemeral events designed by him, ever since he first incorporated books in ‘The Burial of Count Orgaz’ (T02069) in 1958. Frequently the titles are left visible, as in the case of T02072, where they function as conceptual ‘signposts’ or triggers for sequences of associative thought. Some of the titles were chosen by the artist because they are monuments themselves, of pretentiousness.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1976-8: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979

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