It Was 40 Years Ago Today

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A research project devoted to uncovering and archiving the history of Performance Art in Wales.

Prosiect ymchwil i ddadorchuddio ac archifo hanes Celf Perfformio yng Nghymru.

Winner of the David Bradby TaPRA Award for Research in International Theatre and Performance 2011.

If you have any information on performance in Wales that could be of use to the project, please get in touch!

Whether you are an artist who has made performance work in Wales, or an audience member who once witnessed a performance (voluntarily or involuntarily!), we would be pleased to hear from you.
Any material will be of interest - from actual pieces of documentation to vague memories of events caught out of the corner of one's eye.

Cysylltwch â ni os oes gennych unrhyw wybodaeth am berfformio yng Nghymru a allai fod o ddefnydd i'r prosiect!

Efallai eich bod yn artist sydd wedi gwneud gwaith perfformio yng Nghymru, neu'n aelod o gynulleidfa a welodd berfformiad unwaith (o'ch gwirfodd neu'n anwirfoddol!). Pwy bynnag ydych chi, hoffem glywed gennych.
Bydd unrhyw ddeunydd o ddiddordeb - o ddogfennau gwreiddiol i atgofion amwys am ddigwyddiadau a welwyd o gornel y llygad.
Mae'r manylion cyswllt wedi'u rhestru dan 'Cyswllt' yma, neu gallwch anfon e-bost i'r cyfeiriad hwn:

Project Director Cyfarwyddwr Prosiect: Heike Roms
Dept Theatre, Film and Television Studies, Aberystwyth University
Adran Astudiaethau Theatr, Ffilm a Theledu Prifysgol

Contact: Professor Heike Roms
Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies
Adran Astudiaethau Theatr, Ffilm a Theledu Prifysgol
Aberystwyth University
Adeilad Parry-Williams Building
Aberystwyth SY23 3AJ,
UK phone ffon: (+44) 1970 - 621911 (direct uniongyrchol)

Funded by Wedi ei drawsgronni gan:

AHRC logo and link to website

Aberystwyth University Logo and link to website

Arts Council Wales logo and link to website

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Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved
Hawlfraint © 2011 Cedwir pob hawl

What's Welsh for Performance? Beth yw 'performance' yn Gymraeg?

:15 events from 15 years: 1966

:1965 :1966 :1967 :1968 :1969 :1970 :1971 :1972 :1973 :1974 :1975 :1976 :1977 :1978 :1979


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John Latham

Skoob Tower Ceremony

04 March 1966

Bangor: Bangor University - Bangor Art Gallery

Opening of the 10th U.C.N.W. University Arts Festival (Bangor) and the opening of a two-man show (John Latham and Bob Flanagan) at the Bangor Art Gallery, which ran from 5-26 March, 1966.

[Photos: © John Latham Archive.]

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Books burned at Opening

The tenth Bangor University Arts Festival opened on Friday with an exhibition at the Art Gallery and the burning of encyclopaedias. Entitled "Skoob" (which is Books spelled backwards), the exhibition was a skit on the absurdity of civilisation and more especially of knowledge.

Artist John Latham, who was co-exhibitor with Barry Flanagan, explained that it was not knowledge that was important, but one's attitude to it. Although he said he could not put his feelings into words (artists' alibi) his message was quite clear from his exhibits. From a distance these resembled parts of burned-out engines but were in fact copies of the Bible (leather-bound) and of works by Voltaire soaked in black synthetic cement and glued at different angles to a white backing. Bits of wire were sprouting generously, in all directions, from among the books. This, I was told, was a revival of the Dada Movement.

One university student explained that they felt knowledge was transitory – that once it was absorbed the books could be burned – and that this was the reason for the burning of the encyclopaedias (wired together, one on top of another, to a height of about eight feet). She continued that the artists did not believe in their art and for this reason had mocked human stupidity and attached tremendous prices to their works. Another student said the whole thing was a hoax. Victor Neep, the well-known Bangor artists [sic!], said the Skoob fans were "still waving the flag of the rebellion that was won thirty years ago." He was referring to the Dada movement started during the war, when the objects of human artistic reference were wrenched away from the conventional – of form, material and appearance – to include such things as bicycle wheels.

I am sure good use can be made of any other Bibles, encyclopaedias and works by Voltaire destined to black cemented death, by those who feel that without knowledge and the ability to use it, our civilisation would not exist.
Elizabeth Watson.”

[Elizabeth Watson, North Wales Chronicle, 11.3.1966]

John Latham's Skoob Tower Ceremonies, most of which took place between 1964 and 1968, were possibly the most controversial art works by one of the 20th century's most controversial artists.

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 and public places: the Law Courts, 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 had 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 trying to express 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 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 exhibition includes newly discovered footage of this occasion.

* 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.

[From the John Latham Foundation and Archive website]

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For more information on the event and on its available documentation search our database.