OBSERVER: John Latham and the Distant Perspective

For the first time, John Latham, a pioneer of British conceptual art, is the focus of an exhibition at Chelsea Space. This exhibition presents work by Latham that employs an aerial viewpoint and investigates how the use of this perspective is positioned in his wider thinking.


Whilst on an artist placement with the Scottish Development Agency in the 1970s, Latham was invited to suggest solutions for the problem of derelict land outside Edinburgh. When asked ‘from which perspective would he be looking at Scotland’, he apparently pointed to a map of the country and responded ‘from this distance’[1]. The distant view allows for comprehension in a broader context and Latham believed an aerial viewpoint offered a mode of understanding otherwise outside of human consciousness. His research in the Scottish Development Agency’s aerial photography archive allowed access to huge resource of such material that became hugely important to his work. It is a viewpoint he felt was ‘necessary if humanity is to see itself objectively’[2]. In the archival material, photographic and video works included in this exhibition we can understand the use of aerial imagery as a metaphor for an expansive mode of understanding, and as a means for locating oneself in the world and universe.

This exhibition is a collaboration between MA Curating and Collections (Chelsea College of Arts, UAL) and Flat Time House (a London landmark declared a Living Sculpture in 2003). The show stems from extensive research of John Latham’s archival material supervised by Flat Time House Director and Curator Gareth Bell-Jones.

The curatorial approach is based on Latham’s interpretation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1880 novel The Brothers Karamazov. According to Latham, each of the three brothers represents a kind of ‘observing person.’ Mitya is instinctive, Ivan is rational, while Alyosha relies on intuition in his observations. This third, intuitive perspective is held in wider society by the artist, referred to by Latham as ‘The Incidental Person’. The Incidental Person encompasses the characteristics of the other two observers but has the ability to reflect and view things from a distance.

The layout of Chelsea Space invites viewers to navigate Latham’s work and theories as one of these three brothers might. The Reading Room introduces a rational view of Latham through contextual material. As viewers instinctively follow the Ramp, they engage with the exhibition as Mitya. The Main Space presents a reflective and intuitive look at Latham’s work, embodying the perspective of Alyosha.


[1] Craig Richardson, ‘Waste to Monument: John Latham’s Niddrie Woman: Art & Environment’, Tate Papers, no.17, Spring 2012

[2] John A. Walker, unpublished manuscript, 1987, in Chrissie Iles, ‘Introduction’,John Latham: The N–U Niddrie Heart, exhibition catalogue, Lisson Gallery, London 1992,unpaginated

Opening Times
Preview: Tuesday 9 July, 6-8.30pm
6 - 26 July 2019
Tuesday to Friday, 11am-5pm

Chelsea College of Art & Design 16 John Islip Street