Exhibition: The Mental Furniture Industry


Flat-Time House, London, until 4th August 2013

This exhibition at Flat-Time House, the former home of the artist John Latham which now houses his archives and conducts a range of curatorial and educational projects, features an array of archival printed matter, video and original artworks from three radical pedagogical activities of the late 60s: The Anti-University, The Hornsey Sit-in and Alexander Trocchi’s Sigma Project, with new contributions from contemporary artists Adelita Husni-Bey & Park McArthur, Jakob Jakobsen, Sarah Pierce and Olivia Plender & Patrick Staff.

Institutionalised education and standardised pedagogical practices are principal activities of the Mental Furniture Industry* (MFI). Likewise, the tools of this trade – books and language – are the apparatus of learnt knowledge and received opinion. John Latham held a deep suspicion for the hierarchies and methodologies of educational institutions and was directly involved in each of the three public insurgences examined in this exhibition; as an alternative pedagogue (The Anti-University), a guest speaker and artist (The Hornsey Sit-in) as well as a skeptical interlocutor (sigma project). Alongside a small, accessible archive there will be selected works produced by the artists and writers involved in the collective activism.

Since the 1960s there has been a broader societal development where knowledge and research have become central to production. During this time, knowledge production and criticism of knowledge production have become significant concerns within art discourse, while research-led activities and discursive frameworks are now routinely employed within art practice. This exhibition narrates three examples of educational radicalism which initiated a shift of pedagogical parameters and, in some cases, a new approach to production.

At the back of the gallery, four artists propose contemporary projects of un-learning, obstruction to instruction and anti-knowledge through physical and performative interventions. The work of Olivia Plender & Patrick Staff, Adelita Husni-Bey & Park McArthur and Sarah Pierce follows the trajectory of educational activities from the late 60s to the present, exploring how alternative practices of communality and knowledge generation/distribution might act in an empowering capacity. As part of The Mental Furniture Industry, artist Jakob Jakobsen will be launching his new long-term project, Antiknow named after John Latham’s course at the Anti-University in 1968.

A publication to accompany the exhibition will be available with contributions from the exhibiting artists plus John Hill, Nina Power and Howard Slater. You can read a review of the show by George Vasey on This Is Tomorrow.

*This phrase first appears in the title of John Latham’s work MFI Bing (1975) as well as in correspondence dated 21 January 1974, referring to “a mental furniture design project”

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