In one of the most moving documentations of work you could wish to see, Murdo Macdonald reveals his photographic recording of John Latham’s ‘Niddrie Woman’ with the artist himself often appearing in situ. Nominated by the artist as ‘Process sculptures’ which are, in effect, monuments to a people and a territory blighted by the industrial revolution, Latham insisted that these four bings –waste from shale extraction process beside the town of Winchburgh in West Lothian be preserved as an art work. The bings would probably otherwise have been removed –with help of EU money – as something designated an unsightly and uncomfortable reminder of a difficult past. As part of the Artists Placement Group work of which he was a founding member, Latham’s work was a defining moment of their ‘the context is half the work’ ethos. As Craig Richardson puts it in his article for the Tate (link by Macdonald) where the archive for this work is kept –‘Niddrie Woman remains an intrinsically unclassifiable artwork: part scheduled monument, part site of biological diversity, part disappearing.’ Macdonald returns some twenty odd years later with some colour shots of a memorial service for Latham on the desolate lunar landscape of his work.
I was introduced to John Latham by Peter Kravitz in the mid 1980s. John needed somewhere to stay in Edinburgh, and I think Peter must have just moved to Glasgow at that point. We kept in touch and I had one absolutely memorable day (maybe 1990) walking the Niddrie Woman shale bings with him, the visual account of which follows this note. Information on the detail of this aspect of John’s work is can be found in Craig Richardson’s Tate Papers no. 17, Waste to Monument: John Latham’s Niddrie Woman. https://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/17/waste-to-monument-john-lathams-niddrie-woman.
After John’s death in early 2006 David Harding got in touch to tell me that it was John’s wish that his ashes should be scattered on ‘The Heart’ one of the bings that comprise the totality of Niddrie Woman. David asked me to accompany him to scout out possible locations, so that John’s wife and co-founder of the Artists Placement Group, Barbara Steveni could visit and carry out John’s wish. (I note with sadness that Barbara herself died earlier this year). David and I duly found an appropriate location and got permission (it remains an industrial location), and the scattering of John’s ashes took place on The Heart on 5 June 2006. It was a moving procession of a few family and friends led, at John’s wish, by a piper.
Murdo Macdonald, August 2020.