London Art Worlds: Mobile, Contingent and Ephemeral Networks 1960-1980

Friday 29th November 2013
Bowland Auditorium, Berrick Saul Building, University of York

Panel One: London and Beyond – International Networks and Exchanges

Antony Hudek – Cybernetic Determinism: Early Issues of “Control” Magazine.

This paper centres on the first few issues of Control, the magazine Stephen Willats founded in London in 1965 and which he continues to edit to this day. Published at a rate of approximately one issue per year, early Control brought together artists and writers concerned with societal control as it is exerted on individual behavioural patterns, and with how such patterns may be resisted and transformed. Tracking the evolution of the magazine’s content over its first five issues between 1965 and 1969, as well as its circulation across various exhibition and educational sites in the UK and internationally, reveals a number of unsuspected networks between artists and institutions, urging us to reconsider the interaction between some of the seemingly disparate art worlds active in the UK in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The paper will situate Control within Willats’ artistic and pedagogical practice from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, and within a larger history of cybernetics in Britain in the 1960s. Although the relationship between cybernetics and Willats’ two- and three-dimensional work from the 1960s has been noted, this paper argues for Control to be seen as a unique attempt to imbed cybernetic models of information exchange within the social realm. By enabling Control to cut across various disciplines as well as national and international readerships, cybernetics provided Willats with an effective model of social intervention at a time of radical change in art making and teaching in Britain. For Control, then, the magazine format is both the medium and the message, deploying a cybernetics-inspired distribution system for radical ideas on the distribution of cybernetics-inspired socially engaged art.

Dr. Antony Hudek is senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University and research curator at Tate Liverpool. He completed his doctoral studies at the Courtauld Institute of Art. His research focuses on histories of art from the late 1950s to the present, particularly histories of exhibitions and exhibition sites in the UK and the US. He has written on John Latham and Artist Placement Group, and as co-director of Occasional Papers has published two books by Stephen Willats. Hudek has translated works by Jean-François Lyotard into English (Discourse, Figure, with Marry Lydon, and What to Paint? Adami, Arakawa, Buren). As a curator, he has co-organised exhibitions of work by Artist Placement Group, Marcia Hafif, John Latham and John Murphy, among others.

Isobel Whitelegg – Everything Was Connected: The Particular Internationalism of Signals London.

Since the early 1990s, the organisation Signals London (1964-66) has come to renewed attention according to distinct concerns, amongst which the international reception of Latin American art has proved predominant. Artists whose work it showed for the first time in Britain are now seen not only as central to the history of Latin American art, but as precursors to a global contemporary practice. Its geographical perspective was unusually expansive for its time and location and those who were involved in organising Signals’ exhibitions, and editing its Newsbulletin, defended the artist-migrant as actor within the history of European post-war art.  Both factors have drawn it into association with both the post-colonial, and the transnational – that ‘primary marker’ of our contemporaneity. Signals’ accumulated associations, with Latin American art specifically and the parameters of globalisation more broadly, speak loudly to the interests of the present and recent past. The role that it played in the development and definition of kinetic art however has been more subtly articulated. For those involved with Signals, ‘kinetic’ was a provisional and mutable term, tempered by tentative alternatives, such as elemental, perceptual, or environmental art.  Its internationalism, contained within the short temporal brackets of its duration and altered by the circumstances of its ending, resonated with kinetic art as an expansive tendency marked by a shift from form to flux, representation to perception, artwork to relation. Without downplaying the relevance of its unprecedented embrace of both a Latin American milieu and the agency of the migrant artist, I aim to pay attention to how the specific parameters of its internationalism relate to the centrality of kinetic art to its activities. This distinguishes its perspective from present day globalisation, and accounts for the place that Latin America came to hold, at that time, within its world-view.

Dr Isobel Whitelegg specialised in Latin American Art at the University of Essex, where she completed a PhD on Mira Schendel and her critical milieu. Her post-doctoral work focused on the reception of Latin American art and artists in sixties and seventies Britain. She has an ongoing interest in the history of exhibitions within non-collecting institutions and has published widely on the critical history of the Bienal Internacional de Sao Paulo. She has curated a number of exhibitions on Brazilian artists including most recently the Geraldo de Barros retrospective What Remains (The Photographers Gallery, London, 2012). She is Curator of the Public Programmes at Nottingham Contemporary and was previously Director of MA Curating Programme at Chelsea College of Art & Design, UAL.

Carmen Juliá – Mapping the City – Felipe Ehrenberg in London.

Due to personal, artistic or political reasons, from the late 1960s to the early 1970s London became home to a number of artists coming from different countries of Latin America. For many of these artists, London became the place where they developed an original, experimental and radical body of work, which established new relations between their artistic practices and conceptualism, collaboration, participation, and political activism.

Felipe Ehrenberg (b.1943) was one of such artists. He arrived in London with his then wife, the artist Martha Hellion, fleeting the increasing political oppression against the student movement in Mexico at the end of 1968. During his time in England, Ehrenberg’s work embraced psychogeographic explorations, mail art, institutional  critique, Fluxus activities and political activism, as well as the publication of numerous artists’ books and magazines, establishing an important publishing network, with the participation of artists around the world. In London, he took part in many artists’ initiatives such as the Second Destruction in Art Symposium and The International Coalition for the Liquidation of Art, as well as being the instigator of artists’ groups such as The Polygonal Workshop and one of the founders of the independent imprint Beau Geste Press.  Through Ehrenberg’s work and collaborations, this paper will explore the participatory and transient nature that characterised many of the works that he produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the emergence in London of an itinerant avant-garde tied by shared artistic commitments and by its opposition to the mainstream.

Carmen Juliá has been Assistant Curator at Tate since 2008. She currently works on the acquisition of Contemporary British Art. She has curated numerous collection displays including Gallery One, New Vision Centre, Signals and Indica, solo presentations such as Douglas Gordon: Play Dead; Real Time, Gerard Byrne: 1984 and Beyond, and Melanie Smith: Six Steps to Abstraction, contemporary projects such as Art Now: Jess Flood-Paddock and commissions such as Simon Starling: Phantom Ride. She is currently curating the Tate Britain Commission 2014 with artist Phyllida Barlow. Before joining Tate she was Assistant Director at Blow de la Barra gallery, London, where she worked with artists such as Carla Zacagnini, Carolina Caycedo and Federico Herrero. Recent curatorial projects include: Friends of London: Artists from Latin America in London 196X to 197X at The David Roberts Foundation, London 2013, Case Study: Julio Plaza. Transnational networks of exchange at Five Years, London 2012, Jonas Mekas: He Stands in a Desert Counting the Seconds of His Life at the Museo Tamayo, Mexico 2006 and Pablo Helguera and the Instituto de la Telenovela at Lawrence O’Hana Gallery, London 2005. She holds a MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art and previously she worked as a researcher at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. She has contributed to magazines such as Tate Etc, ArtNexus and El País, and has written for many catalogues and publications, including Carmen Herrera at Ikon, Birmingham 2009, and Transatlantic Encounters: Avant-Garde Discourses in Spain and Latin America 1920 – 1970 due to be published by the Museo Reina Sofia in 2014.

Panel Two: New Art Worlds – Creating Alternative Times and Spaces

Joy Sleeman – Oranges is not the only sculpture: Roelof Louw and international sculptural connections in London. 

Roelof Louw is probably best known (in Britain at least) as the sculptor who made the Pyramid of Oranges – a work he first made at the Arts Lab, Covent Garden in 1967, and has featured prominently in recent exhibitions surveying the period since its ‘rediscovery’ by Clive Phillpott for the exhibition Live in Your Head at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2000. Earlier this year the work was acquired for the Tate collection. Pyramid of Oranges has become a paradigmatic example of an interactive – perhaps proto-relational – art in the late 1960s. This is a sculpture in which viewers are encouraged to participate in the work’s progressive change and destruction. But Oranges is not the only important sculpture by Louw, nor was his contribution to sculpture through works of sculpture alone, but also through his contributions to teaching and writing. In the late 1960s and 1970s Louw’s writing was published in Studio International, Tracks and Artforum.

In 1961 Louw moved from South Africa to London to study in the Sculpture department at St Martin’s School of Art. Louw’s network and sculptural practice links various artistic communities in London and beyond, including Stockwell Depot where he worked and exhibited. William Tucker selected his work for exhibition at the Kasmin Gallery in 1967 and Louw taught with Tucker at St Martin’s. In January 1969 Louw was afforded a pivotal role in Charles Harrison’s account of the history of ‘Recent British Sculpture’ published in Studio International in a special issue devoted to sculpture. That same year Louw was included in Harald Szeemann’s When Attitudes Become Form in Bern. By the beginning of the 1970s Louw was developing even more ‘dematerialised’ works that manipulated viewers in a gallery situation into sculptural material, using sound recordings to direct their movements in the space. These works were considered beyond the pale as sculpture for Louw’s early supporters such as Tucker and, also beset with personal difficulties, Louw found it challenging to continue to make his sculpture in Britain. He moved to New York to begin a new chapter of transatlantic sculptural dialogue, including interactions with the work of Robert Smithson. My paper will explore the potential of a reconsideration of Louw’s work for disrupting settled narratives of sculpture in Britain in the 1960s and in reconnecting some of the international networks that fed into – and out of – the London art scene.

Dr Joy Sleeman is senior lecture at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. Her research embraces aspects of the histories of sculpture and landscape coalescing around the new forms of landscape art that emerged in the 1960s. She is on the editorial board of Sculpture Journal, recent publications include The Sculpture of William Tucker (Lund Humphries, 2007), an article entitled ‘Land Art and the Moon Landing’ in the Journal of Visual Culture and a monograph on, Roelof Louw, forthcoming from Ridinghouse in 2014. Sleeman also worked on the exhibition and publication Uncommon Ground: Land Art In Britain 1966-1979 in 2013, which toured to Southampton City Art Gallery, National Gallery of Wales, Mead Gallery, University of Warwick and Longside Gallery, Wakefield.

Courtney J. Martin – Artists for Democracy: Collectivity, Temporality and Festival Culture in London 1971-1977.

In 1972, John Dugger was invited to participate in Harald Szeemann’s landmark Documenta 5. Based in London, Dugger went to Kassel where he installed the People’s Participation Pavilion (1972) — a large, red house surrounded by a trough of water — in the middle of the exhibition on the grounds of the Museum Fridericianum.  For the 100 days of Documenta 5, the temporary, public sculpture was a singular form that also housed several other, smaller installations by his friends, and fellow London artists, David Medalla and Graham Stevens.  As a kind of ‘participation environment’, the pavilion also served as the model for another project a few years later in London, the Arts Festival for Democracy in Chile held in 1974 at the Royal College of Art.  This paper will examine the collective practices, temporality and festival culture of sculpture by a group of immigrant artists in London as a specific form of occupying physical space for political means.

Courtney J. Martin is an assistant professor in the History of Art and Architecture department at Brown University.  She received a doctorate from Yale University in 2009 for her research on twentieth century British art and architecture. She is the author of lengthy essays on the work of many contemporary artists, including Rasheed Araeen, Kader Attia, Rina Banerjee, Frank Bowling, Leslie Hewitt, Wangechi Mutu, Ed Ruscha and Yinka Shonibare.  Prior to Brown, she was an assistant professor in the History of Art department at Vanderbilt University (2010-2013); Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Art at the University of California at Berkeley (2009-2010); a fellow at the Getty Research Institute (2008-2009); and a Henry Moore Institute Research Fellow (2007). She also worked in the media, arts, and culture unit of the Ford Foundation in New York.  Her writing has appeared in Art Asia Pacific, Artforum.com, Art Papers, Contemporary, Flashart, Frieze, the Getty Research Journal and NKA.  In 2012, she curated a focus display of Frank Bowling’s painting at Tate Britain. This year she is completed a manuscript about British art and politics after 1968, curating an exhibition of post-minimalist art in Denmark and co-editing a volume of essays on the critic/curator Lawrence Alloway.

Lucy Reynolds – Circulations: charting the emergence of a women artist filmmaking network in 1960s and 1970s London.

In 1979, the formation of Circles marked the emergence of the first organisation wholly committed to the support of women artist filmmakers in the UK. Circles provided a vital space of advocacy for women artists working with film and video until the 1990s: distributing their films and videos, organising women only screenings, discussion groups and rehabilitating filmmakers of an earlier generation, such as Maya Deren and Alice Guy. Circles reflected the diverse range of feminist directed activities in London at the time, from newspapers such as Feminist Art News and Spare Rib, other women’s film organisations such as Cinema of Women, and the About Time exhibition at the ICA in 1980. However, what moving image activities existed prior to Circles that related to a feminist consciousness? Were the questions of feminism confined to the practices of a small number of individual artists working with film? This paper takes Circles as its end point, in order to address the practices and communities of women artist filmmakers prior to its formation, looking at those women working through the early days of the London Filmmakers Co-operative, such as Sally Potter and Annabel Nicolson (later one of Circles’s founder members). To what extent would they have seen themselves as involved in a feminist film practice? And what was the influence of American visitors to the co-op, such as Carolee Schneemann and Barbara Ess, on the idea of a feminist inflected film practice?

Dr Lucy Reynolds is a lecturer, artist and curator in artists’ moving image. Her area of research focuses on expanded cinema and British avant-garde film of the 1970s. She runs MRes pathway in Moving Image at Central St Martins, University of the Arts, and teaches the history and theory of artists’ moving image at the University of Westminster, Goldsmiths College, LUX and the Arnolfini. She presents talks on artists’ film and video at arts venues across the UK. Recent publications include ‘Magic Tricks? Shadow Play in British Expanded Cinema’, in The Expanded Cinema: Art, Performance, Film by Afterall/Tate publications. She is the Features editor for a new peer-review journal on artist’s moving image: the Moving Image Research and Art Journal.

Panel Three: Counter-Cultural Antagonisms: Negotiating Institutions

Andrew Wilson – Project Sigma – an Interpersonal Log Book.

This paper will broadly sketch out the milieu in which Alex Trocchi formulated Project Sigma in the early 1960s. From Paris as editor of Merlin magazine, writer and associate of Guy Debord and the Lettrist International in the early 1950s to the east and west coasts of America in the late 50s, when he was a founder member in absentia of the Situationist International, and London in the early 1960s as a cosmonaut of inner space bringing together the worlds of poetry, art, anti-psychiatry, play and drug culture. Trocchi’s identification of Project Sigma as ‘Spontaneous University’ or an ‘Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds’ serves to underline the centrality of Trocchi’s rhetoric at the heart of an emerging counterculture built on a criss-crossing network that refused to recognise boundaries.

Andrew Wilson is curator of Modern and Contemporary British Art at Tate Britain. He is the author of numerous articles on British art and artists including contributions to Blast to Freeze, Art & The 60s This Was Tomorrow and Goodbye to London. Most recently, he published a book on Richard Hamilton’s Swingeing London 67 (f) as part of the Afterall One Work series.

Elena Crippa – The Artist as a Speaker-Performer: The London Art School in the 1960s-70s.

This paper traces the development of the figure of the artist as a speaker-performer in the art school during the 1960s-70s. This includes the second generation sculptors emerging from St. Martin’s School of Art in the mid to late 1960s (particularly Bruce McLean and Gilbert and George’s lecture-performances), but it also stretches to other institutions and includes the events organised by RoseLee Goldberg at the Royal College of Art (1973-75) and those organised by Stuart Brisley and Lynda Morris as Student Advisers at the Slade School of Art (respectively 1968-70 and 1975-76). What is especially interesting about this history is that it fostered a very particular type of performance, bridging academic styles of delivery with the performing arts – not just an extension of painting and sculpture or engagement with movement and space, as performance art is usually discussed – but hybrid forms of art and criticism, by which artists articulated their thoughts and critical stances through staged acts. This account also draws attention to the prominent role of the London art school as a site where some of the most important and innovative artistic and curatorial activities where taking place.

Elena Crippa is a lecturer at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. She completed a collaborative doctoral award with London Consortium and Tate as part of the Art School Educated research project. Her research focuses on the development of discursive pedagogies and practices and on the growing importance of the moment of public exhibition within British art schools since the 1960s. Her other main interest relates to an attempt to look at the history of twentieth-century art as the process of integration of display practice into artists’ work. She has also organised exhibitions for a number of public venues as an independent curator and worked as artist liaison and associate director of exhibitions at the Lisson Gallery in London.

Dominic Johnson – File Under COUM: Art on Trial in Genesis P-Orridge’s ‘Mail Action’ (1976).

Genesis P-Orridge has been a controversial figure in British art since the late 1960s. His notoriety peaked during the national scandal of Prostitution, his exhibition (as COUM Transmissions) at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1976, through which he became a household name and prompted Nicholas Fairbairn to label him and his collaborators ‘the wreckers of civilisation’. This paper studies P-Orridge’s artistic practice in London in the 1970s, focusing on his manipulation of public anxieties around the time of Prostitution, and exploring in detail his Mail Action, a performance at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court earlier in 1976, which consisted of his trial for sending ‘indecent’ collages through the Royal Mail. P-Orridge’s performances and mail art (as well as documents from the trial) show the artist to be a notable and highly effective provocateur, and the Mail Action in particular demonstrates his ambivalent position both inside and outside the ‘London art worlds’ of the 1970s.

Dr Dominic Johnson is the author of Glorious Catastrophe: Jack Smith, Performance and Visual Culture (2012); and Theatre & the Visual (2012). He is the editor of four books, most recently Pleading in the Blood: The Art and Performances of Ron Athey (2013); and Critical Live Art: Contemporary Histories of Performance (2013). He is Associate Editor of the journal Contemporary Theatre Review, and guest-edited a special issue on ‘Live Art in the UK’ in 2012. He is a Senior Lecturer in the School of English and Drama, at Queen Mary, University of London.


Lisa Tickner – Ken Russell’s Pop Goes the Easel, 1962.

Pop Goes the Easel emerged from the create encounter between Russell’s interests and opportunities at Monitor, on the one hand, and the example of a cohort of Royal College painters – in effect his collaborators – on the other. This paper offers a brief account of the film and its controversial reception.

Lisa Tickner is Visiting Professor at the Courtauld Institute of Art where she teaches an MA in British Modernism, 1890-1970. She is the author of four books and numerous articles on aspects of nineteenth- and twentieth-century art history and visual culture. Her interest in Pop Goes the Easel relates to her current research on the London art world in the 1960s.


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