John Latham: The Artwork as Irritant

Karenjit Sandhu

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper examines the artistic practice of conceptual artist John Latham and his controversial use of the book in his assemblages and skoob tower ceremonies. It will present Latham’s practice and involvement with the Artist Placement Group as an attack on: the power of institutions and the standardisation and fragility of human knowledge. The paper asks to what extent Latham’s artwork can be viewed as an ‘irritant’ as his unconventional practice irks and provokes conflicting responses from audiences. The viewer may take a disparaging view of his artwork as the book, an emblem of knowledge, undergoes a series of violent processes. The same viewer may simultaneously find themselves amused by Latham’s audacious concepts and practice. The etymology of the term ‘irritant’ is explored in relation to the theoretical ideas of Sianne Ngai, Yves-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss. This contextual framework underpins the discussion of Latham’s work as I propose that an artwork could irritate the viewer emotionally and intellectually, whilst also provoking a physical irritation because of the artwork’s materiality and the viewer’s handling of it.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2018

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