Submission title: Nights of Skoob Sadness* /a reading group about John Latham’s Skoob Tower Ceremonies
Submitted by: The Noit School (that is, not Elisa Kay)
John Latham’s Skoob Tower Ceremonies took place mainly between 1964 and 1968. The Towers were around 3m high, made up of books, usually reference editions, held open at right-angles to each other with their pages interleaved, and stacked on top of a metal framework and plinth. These improvised chimneys were set alight from below, usually in conceptually loaded public spaces: the Law Courts, the British Museum and Senate House were all locations. The tightly-woven pages let in little air, making combustion a slow process – taking as long as a couple of hours. But when the conflagration finally came, the iconography of a flaming pillar of books was both an intellectual and emotional affront. The collective memory still held powerful images of Nazi book burnings and all they symbolised; Truffaut’s Farenheit 451 (based on Ray Bradbury’s novel) was released in 1966. In this light, Latham’s Ceremonies could be interpreted as anti-intellectual, fascist acts of iconoclasm. Further Ceremonies took place during the Destruction in Art Symposium of 1966. DIAS, whose organising committee was led by Gustav Metzger, aligned tendencies to destruction in art during that period, to tendencies to destruction in society. As Jeff Nuttall expressed in his autobiographical account of the period, ‘Bomb Culture’ (1968), in the shadow of the bomb, violence seemed the only possible artistic response. Latham, however, was expressing a different but no less radical agenda, one in which books are the apparatus of learnt knowledge and received opinion – a so-called ‘Mental Furniture Industry’ of which he was deeply critical. For him, books represented knowledge held fast in a congealed and unreflective form, stifling intuition. His sentiments were perhaps more in line with the writer Alexander Trocchi’s sigma project, ‘The Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds’. A sigma gathering at Braziers Park in Oxfordshire in 1964 attended by Trocchi, RD Laing, Nuttall, Bob Cobbing and others, was the occasion of the first Skoob Tower Ceremony.
The Noit School is an informal structure developed for the study of the theoretical ideas of the British artist John Latham (1921 - 2006), in particular his concepts of Flat Time and Eventstructure. The School’s reading group, the Know Source, meets for detailed examination of Latham’s writings. The documents collected below are reading material for a meeting of the Noit School on Skoob Towers to take place during October 2010.
* The title comes from a document in the John Latham Archive which appears to be an early plan for a series of happenings which took place at Better Books during 1967, eventually collectively titled Book Plumbing. Skoob is books spelt backwards. An exhibition of the same name is at Flat Time House, Latham’s former home and studio, from 25 September - 24 October 2010.
Galerie Schmela, Aachen
Skoob films: Unclassified Material; Unedited Material from the Star
Soft Skoob as Dress
July : Braziers Park, Oxfordshire, sigma gathering
End of summer : Edinburgh, Cain’s Book
October : 22 Portland Road (home), celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Io54 and the founding of the ISMI with Gregory and Kohsen. Gustav Metzger attends and Skoob contains fireworks.
March : Bangor,Wales (showing with Barry Flanagan)
June : publicity event for DIAS. 2 towers ; Metropolitan Seminars and Smiths at Sea
12 September : DIAS, London Free School Playground, Notting Hill Gate. Skoob with Powder (DIAS Summary of Events).
13 September : Yoko Ono performs Shadow Piece 23 & 30 September : Film at Mercury Theatre 28 & 29 Yoko Ono performs Cut Piece
13 September : DIAS, London Free School Playground, Notting Hill Gate. Encyclopedias over London, encyclopedias detonated. Described as Flying Skoob in DIAS Summary of Events.
24 Sepember : no DIAS approval ; 3 towers in Bloomsbury. 2 at British Museum (National Encycopedias and Metropolitan Seminars) ; 1 at Senate House, University of London
December : Galerie Aachen, bad weather prevents Skoob Tower Ceremony. Galerie Schmela, Dusseldorf : detonation of Blue Anonymous on demolition site cancelled due to bad weather. Inside a young woman is covered in newsprint.
Four weekends in April : Book Plumbing at Better Books. At Smoke and Plaster Jeffrey Sawtell burns a Skoob Tower of his own making .
1 June, Nodnol Lives : Law Courts, Gardens of the Inner Temple (law books)
Skoob Tower replica included in Tate show – ‘Work in Progress’
John makes new Skoob Tower for Lisson Gallery show from Encyclopedias including the Book of the Year from 1967 – Events of 1966
Skoob Tower burned at Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh
Skoob Tower burnt for ‘Out of Actions’ at MoCA LA.
Image file: Skoob 1.
Image of Skoob Tower used to publicise Ceremonies during DIAS. Courtesy the John Latham Foundation.
Image file: Skoob 12.
Skoob Box Diagram, published in Jeff Nuttall’s My Own Mag, issue 8, 1964
Image file: Skoob 15.
Photograph of Skoob Tower Ceremony; National Encyclopedias, Bloomsbury
(between London University and British Museum), 24 September 1966. Courtesy the John Latham Foundation.
Image file: Skoob 19.
‘Slight Case of Skoobic Arson’, Jeremy Bugler, 25 September 1966, Evening Standard?
Image file: Skoob 21.
‘Nights of Skoob Sadness’, John Latham, c. 1967 (?). Courtesy the John Latham Foundation.