God is Great (10 ) John Latham | Neal White – Portikus Gallery 2014
God is Great 10_19 featured the work ‘God is Great’ (#4), 2005 by the late British artist John Latham (1921-2006) and contemporary works by artist Neal White. Latham’s canonical ‘Skoobs’ performances were also restaged by Sophie von Olfers, curator at Portikus and Neal White, working with the John Latham Foundation.
John Latham became interested in the book “Otts Sneeze’ by Neal White and Lawrence Norfolk (Bookworks) following a meeting of the two artists in 2002. The book explored a one second event, a sneeze, and Latham connected this book with his own work. Curated by Sophie von Olfers, who was an assistant to Latham at the time, the exhibition, staged as a series of events, reunites the artists who met frequently to discuss their joint fascination with time in art, with the critical issues of science, technology and event structures, as well as exploring artists role in society more widely.
Infomoma was a work developed by White in search of the least known amount of time. The title of the work ‘Infomoma’ refers to a card in the John Latham archive in which the artist proposed to ‘Make a device which does less than any known amount’ for the ‘Information’ exhibition at MOMA in New York in 1970. The proposal was finally realised as two glass bulbs with vacuums, one inserted inside the other. The exploration of a void inside a void became one starting point for a work that explored space and time in the gallery and through online networks across Frankfurt.
Infomoma was developed as a collaborative research project led by White with Jose Sagebra of Portikus and Städelschule (Hochschule für Bildende Künste Städelschule) that mapped the financial trading landscape of Frankfurt. This research linked Latham’s interest in the infinitesimally small / quantum nature of time – a device of less than any known amount – and the collapse of time that financial ‘quant trading’ requires (using extremely high speed networks). Frankfurt as a financial trading centre in Europe hosted many quant traders at the time and was criss crossed by such super fast networks to support incredibly high speed trading algorithms (Frankfurt Equation) that operates outside of conventional internet connections, through a myriad of data of centres and relay infrastructures.
Documentation of these sites was undertaken in the Frankfurt region and in the UK, and included the Basildon (Essex) site of the New York Stock Exchange, as well as satellite upload link stations and an array of high tech, high speed infrastructure sites around the European Bank in Frankfurt. Working with the organisation Field Broadcast, Infomoma consisted of a series of live broadcasts from sites of interest during the last week of the exhibition.
Whilst broadcast independently, the transmission from these sites relates directly to the other work by White, a sculpture in the Portikus Gallery that consists of a Palm Tree suspended just a few centimetres above the ground, at the height of Latham’s floor based work – God is Great. The sculpture is a readymade, originally intended for use as a mobile cell tower and was a direct reference to a detail in the background of the Adoration of the Lamb in the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, which was used as the exhibition poster.
As Latham outlined to White, God is Great is a work about the search for the void (represented by the glass strewn across the floor) that lies at the heart of three belief systems or religious tomes, the Talmud, the Bible and the Koran, which are inserted into shards of glass across the floor piece. In the work, Infomoma, White links this search, and that of the ‘device’ to two other belief systems; science and finance, which could also be characterised as systems in pursuit of the unknowable, one out of curiosity, the other out of greed.
During the exhibition, the work God is Great by John Latham was attacked by a small group who objected to the piece on religious grounds. The work was vandalised and an element was stolen. The exhibition was then closed for a week by Police. The work ‘God is Great’ was finally removed and replaced by an image and information on the work and the event for visitors. The show reopened a week after this event.