Beyond Notebooks

Recording and Archiving at John Latham's home 2006-2007

There is a note, handwritten by John Latham, pinned up in the 'brain' room of his home Flat Time Ho. It is a kind of' to do list' showing that finally, as an octogenarian, Latham had begun thinking about archiving his papers. It says:

  1. Choose Categories
  2. Put everything in Boxes
  3. Log everything in Notebooks

He makes it sound easy. In fact he got as far as item 2 on the list, with item 1 being passed over fairly loosely. I imagine he had more pressing matters to concern himself with, like making new art works and trying to convince the world that if only we would adopt his Event based view of the world, that he called Flat Time Theory, we would surely live a less divided, more dynamic and better world. Archiving, understandably, took a back seat.

In the light of Latham's death on 1 January 2006, the 8 000 or so documents in boxes at Flat Time Ho took on a more fierce importance and became a vital part of continuing Latham's own theoretical mission. Latham had died but his work left many unresolved questions which still need to be tackled and challenged. Although nobody knew exactly what was in his boxes, it became clear then that in order to prevent Latham's line of enquiry from drying up, these boxes, now raised to the status of 'archive', needed recording properly.

A quick initial search through the boxes showed that they contained, personal and professional correspondence, photographs, exhibition catalogues, press cuttings, essays and notes by Latham, financial documents, meeting of minutes, invitation cards and many more items going back as early as the 1940s. There was no doubt that this was an important archive.

Going Digital

In October 2006 in discussion with the Latham family, curator Simon Gould, conservator Athanasios Velios and a team of volunteers from Camberwell College BA Conservation degree course, took up this challenge, relying on Gould's knowledge of Latham's work, Velios's conservation and IT skills and the volunteers' enthusiasm and time.

Deciding to extend Latham's own suggestion of 'logging everything in notebooks', the team developed a database to record a set of archival criteria and began to make a computer record for each document in the archive. Each record focused on:

  • A description of the content of the document
  • A brief condition check
  • A physical description of the document
  • A digitisation assessment
  • Any treatments made or suggested

The database elements were created in line with international standards for describing data by the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative. This was specifically done with the intention of eventually making the archive catalogue available on-line along with a fully digitised version of the archive contents.

Physical Intervention

It was decided that Latham's archive would stay in his house, in and around many of his artworks and his studio rather than be given to a museum or professional archive facility. This decision was taken in keeping with Latham's working methodologies. However, it was also decided that some basic interventions should be made. These were to:

  • Place every document in acid free paper
  • Place groups of documents in acid free folders
  • Remove any staples, paper clips and plastics and replace with non-corrosive alternative, other than where integral to the make-up of a document
  • Place all documents in new storage boxes but maintaining original groupings.

Time Line

The initial team of four volunteers worked from October 2006 for six weeks. There have been 15 volunteers in total to November 2007, some of whom have also been from Camberwell College. These have mostly been artists and conservators, all of whom have gained valuable experience of archiving as well as enjoying being in the unique environment of Flat Time House.

As of November 2007, 6000 documents have been recorded, leaving approximately 2000 remaining. It is hoped this will be finished by March 2008.

What Happens Next?

The process described on this page marks the first phase of recording of the documents in the John Latham Archive. When this phase is complete, all documents will be recorded on the database but more detailed descriptions are needed for full searching facilities and for using the archive in an exciting innovative way appropriate to Latham's theory and practice. For more about the next phases see relevant pages.