Encyclopedia Britannica

John Latham

Livingstone, Zambia, 1921 - London, England, 2006
  • Date: 
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  • Media description: 
    16 mm film, also transferred to video (Digital Betacam and DVD)
  • Duration: 
    11 min.
  • Colour: 
    Black and white
  • Sound: 
    No sound
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  • Entry date: 
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  • Image credit: 
    Courtesy John Latham Estate and Lisson Gallery

In this film, every frame corresponds to one page in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and at a speed of seventeen frames per second, this reduces the text to an illegible blur, and produces an initial anxiety as the viewer attempts to understand the information as it flashes past. So the point of departure is a text that is universally considered canonical in terms of access to knowledge in its widest sense. Its illegibility here is a reflection on human incapacity to take in knowledge through books and encyclopedic learning, using a method that turns the text into the object of a new mode of visual perception. One of the fundamental criticisms in the artist’s work was his radical stance on American critic Clement Greenberg’s formalism; however, that did not mean that his criticism leaned towards Minimalism (with which he had nothing in common), being more concerned with aspects related to conceptual art. This is a seminal piece in John Latham’s career, which brings together a number of the his work’s principal concerns: the way history is written, memory, interest in the word as a container of knowledge and the reflection on art as an autonomous object.

Lola Hinojosa