John Latham and Flat Time House
John Latham was a conceptual artist who thought that the event of making an artwork was more important than the finished object. Though this idea has been a major influence on many present-day artists, Latham himself remains largely unknown to the wider public.
Much of Latham’s work also reflects a belief that the universe essentially consists of time and events. His attempts to persuade physicists of this theory met with no significant success and his one scientific prediction, that gravity waves would never be discovered, proved incorrect. However, his insights on the importance of humans developing an intuitive concern for the future of the earth remain vitally relevant. They also provide the easiest way into explaining his work to school-children.
John Latham declared his house and studio a living sculpture and opened his door to anyone who wanted to think about art. Fourteen years after his death in 2006, Flat Time House remains open as a place where art is viewed, discussed and created.
Key Stage:KS3-4 Art and Design, KS2 English, KS2 Citizenship
Overview:This lesson can be used as part of an introduction to conceptual art.
The activity helps develop students sense of social justice and moral responsibility and begin to understand that their own choices and behaviour can affect local, national or global issues and political and social institutions.
The activity supports the English National Curriculum requirement to help the learners understand what they read, by drawing inferences such as inferring characters’ feelings, thoughts and motives from their actions, and justifying inferences with evidence.
Background - John Latham
John Latham was a British conceptual artist who is best known for works that related to books. His work created by chewing up pages and dissolving the pulp in acid is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. His event based art influenced artists in the 1960’s. From 1983 Latham lived and worked at Flat Time House in Peckham.
Suggested Classroom Activity
Show the film about John Latham's Flat Time House made by students from Belham Primary School. Stop the film at 3m 25 seconds and see if any of your class can summarise Gareth Bell-Jones’ explanation of the roller blind piece.
Wind back to 2m 53 seconds and then play through to the end of the film. Ask the learners to discuss their reactions to the film and then listen to each groups summary of their thoughts. If necessary, use prompt questions such as ‘What did you find unusual or surprising about John Latham’s work?’ and ‘Does the roller blind artwork make sense to you?’.
Time and People
Explain that John Latham believed there was a link between how people understand time, and how they behave.
Play the short film, ‘John Latham: Time and Events’. Latham’s concepts are not easy to understand, but all the learners need to grasp is his idea that the way humans see time affects their behaviour.
The Brothers Karamazov
After viewing ’John Latham: Time and Events’ check the students have the basic idea of the Brothers Karamazov as representing three types of human personalities.
You could state the obvious important point that Latham thought this applied to women as well as men – he only used men as the symbols because they were the fictional characters that sparked his idea.
You can introduce the names of the characters to recap the three types.
Mitya – lives solely in the present, just interested in his (her) own pleasure.
Unable to see that what they do to make themselves happy can cause them pain.
Lives day by day.
Ivan – more logical and cunning but also selfish.
Capable of realising that actions have consequences but unlikely to change.
Thinks further in to his or her own future
Alyosha - reflective, intuitive, compassionate.
Thinks about how the future could be better for everyone
Thinks on a longer timescale.
Ask the learners, working in groups, to think of characters from books or other media they know: which category would they fit …?
Give reasons for their opinions.
Suggested Classroom Activity
In groups of three; make a list of present day issues where to which the three types might have different attitudes. For example, climate change. Write them on paper, fold the paper up and swap with another group. Randomly select a paper and improvise a short drama/discussion between the three characters.