Last week I went to Flat Time House the once-home of artist John Latham (1921–2006) to meet with director Gareth Bell-Jones. The building now houses Latham’s archives and in many senses it embodies the cosmology the late artist proselytized and inhabited. Not unlike West African Batammaliba architecture, Flat Time House literally presents itself as a (social) body replete with ‘mouth’, ‘digestive system’, ‘brain’ and a ‘mind’ – the sunlit front room – choreographed to ensnare unsuspecting visitors in Latham’s dense philosophical dialogue. When he was alive the artist was known for his dynamic but often opaque and rambling mode of explaining the world through his work, and this tendency survives him in the concretized objects and diagrams that continue to populate the Mind and Brain of Flat Time House where Latham’s archives are kept.
Gareth had promised me ‘his version’ of a tour through these inner workings, and I went with a specific interest in learning more about Flat Time Theory, which I have come to understand as Latham’s proposition for a new conceptualization of reality, drafted with the utopian premise of shattering binary oppositions between subjects and objects by presenting All Things horizontally on a canvas of the artists own creation. The Flat Time Canvas, a sort of hyper-object, prioritizes the temporal dimension of things and – according to Latham – if one is able to experience all objects as durations in time, this lends them an equivalence without hierarchy, drawing them into undeniable relation with each another.
The tour was particularly satisfying because Latham’s works – which otherwise camouflage themselves fairly well in a more anonymous gallery context as straightforward ‘sculptures’ and ‘paintings’ – took on the role of performers or integral narrative props that literalised what might otherwise have been an indigestibly dense burrow through the diverse realms of influence that contribute to Latham’s cosmology. The point here is I suppose that, true to form, ‘flat time’ cannot be encapsulated in any single object or static sketch—moreover the objects that inhabit this world are not compliant representations that can be ‘explained’ or made sense of in isolation or through simple definition and it is therefore only in time, and probably only through some form of dialogical performance, that Flat Time might begin to unfurl itself and (if only for a fleeting instant) become legible. Perhaps this legibility then corresponds to Latham’s ‘Least Event’, discovered by the experimental spray-painting of a neighbor’s fence, the smallest possible action or moment in time that might refer equally to a single atom or an atomic explosion on a global scale. The Least Event exists inside the Mind as a one-second drawing made with spray paint, and again as a blank white canvas, alongside the Zero Event (materialized as a corresponding plane of glass). These are but two reiterating characters in a glossary that bifurcates the closer you look.
I’ve been particularly curious to discover the degree to which Flat Time, and Latham’s approach to mapping this 4D diagrammatic system, might correlate with the way I’ve been dealing with animal traps as durational objects and systematic assemblages, made of tendencies and capacities that relate to the umwelt (the sensory environment) of an animal. Traps are compelling and useful, in that they shed light on environmental relations in the context where they’re set, and have a tendency to invert general and personal assumptions regarding perspective, geometry and time. These inversions are, I suppose, a large part of what an Anthropology of Other Animals might really be about, particularly through the extended challenge that they pose to our collective reliance upon thinking of ourselves as humans in opposition to animals, subjects in an objective world, sentient beings in the context of an un-sensing material landscape, etc.
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