Distress Over Parliament at Lítost / Prague

Distress Over Parliament / Curated by Gareth Bell-Jones

Athanasios ArgianasJohn BaldessariJulius Heinemann, and Rachel Reupke

31 August – 12 October, 2019

Vlkova 23
Žižkov, Prague
Czech Republic

‘an action
distress over parliament to mark the occasion of its assent to acts of official
censorship, conversion and contempt of truth, the bearing of false witness and
assassination by stealth under cover of Royal Charter…
will take place during Sunday, 1st May, 1983’
Distress Over Parliament curated
takes its title from John Latham‘s rarely
acknowledged 1983 happening of the same name. Photographic documentation of
Latham’s performance, never previously exhibited, provides the centrepiece of
the show. Presented alongside are artworks by
Athanasios Argianas, John
, Julius Heinemann, and Rachel Reupke, each
resonating and existing in intuitive dialogue with Latham’s work.
John Latham (1921-2006)
is one of the few genuine radicals of post-war British art. His artwork
extended the boundaries of nearly every artistic genre conspicuous in Western
art, and from the 1960s his work became increasingly driven by theoretical
questionings. He believed the non-linguistic media of art were the keys to
resolving society’s conflicted relationships with objects, money and
possessions. He proposed a shift towards a time-based cosmology to compensate
for our sensory, spatially dominated view of the world. Latham passionately
believed that this would free the mind, language and pedagogy from dangerous
specialisations and inevitable divisions. He developed a theory of time –
 – relating the notions of time-base, passing the time and the
The work distress over parliament is an action,
which characteristically proves hard to pin down. In a publicised event on
Mayday 1983, John shot two maritime flares over the top of the Houses of
Parliament. The event was produced in response to the
Council of Great Britain
‘s refusal to take his time-based ideas seriously
and coincided with the aftermath of the UK’s involvement in the Falklands War,
Margaret Thatcher‘s defence of
the controversial sinking of the Argentine cruiser the
Belgrano to
significant loss of life. This deliberately controversial action, intended to
bring attention to the issue, was barely noticed. As his one-time partner,
has stated: ‘Sometimes when John was attempting to be controversial
no-one noticed, and at times when he thought he was making something innocuous,
people were outraged’
. The small photographic prints documenting this act,
never previously exhibited, provide the backdrop to the exhibition.
The action can be understood as a political act of protest but should
also be understood within the broader context of Latham’s practice. Presented
at lítost alongside the piece are artworks by artists that resonate and exist
in intuitive dialogue with Latham’s work. Although Latham and
followed different trajectories in conceptual art, in work Throwing
Three Balls in the Air (Best of 36 Attempts)
, (1973) Baldessari reaches a
similar aesthetic end to Latham from an entirely different thought process:
Baldessari’s red balls in the sky and Latham’s red flares in the Air, poetic
thought experiments, transient events captured on film.
Latham is well known for his work in spray paint, and it is logical to
consider the flares of
distress over parliament as an
event-based painting in four dimensions. A full gallery mural installation by
responds to this understanding. Heinemann considers his mural
interventions as echoes of events in time, recording the different layers and
shifting experience of our surroundings.
A new sound-based work by Athanasios Argianas provides an
overtly durational aspect to the exhibition. Argianas has an interdisciplinary
practice, which concerns itself with translations between media and the
production of effect and hybridity. Finally,
Rachel Reupke‘s artwork
often operates within the interplay of the still frame and moving imagery. In
the video work Infrastructure, fleeting moments of human drama punctuate fixed
shots of major infrastructural hubs. These almost imperceptible gestures or
acts are framed by and situated within a broader indifferent and unceasing
In 1983 John Latham’s distress over parliament was an
ultimately futile gesture of activism, heavily reliant on an esoteric and
conceptual understanding on the nature of time. This radical act of protest
against the British Government would be impossible to recreate in the current
climate, and all that remains are the invitation and small snapshots with which
Latham recorded the event. While the present-day disorder within the UK
parliament persists, the unknowing and uncaring reception of this action
continues to resonate.
Over Parliament
is conceived in a cooperation with Flat Time
, London, and the opening weekend takes place in conjunction with a
gallery sharing initiative Friend of a Friend Prague 2019.

The exhibition has been kindly supported by the Prague City Hall’s
Cultural and Arts Grant and Key Promotion.