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News and updates about Tom Phillips, posted by the artist himself

Tom Phillips - August 2013
Friday, 09 August 2013 12:06 Written by Tom Phillips

A Humument in Bloomsbury

A Humument USB

Had the culturati of the late Middle Ages possessed credit cards the piece of illuminated plastic that bears both Humument pictures and their spoken text would have been just the thing to slip into a wallet to while away their tres riches heures.

Nothing more elegant has been made under or in my name than the USB, with which Lucy trumped my original idea of having a video of selected pages, read out by their now croaky maker.

The recording was made many weeks before (at the very table on which the pages were created) with the help of Alice, plus an amazingly small microphone recommended by Tom Service. The furrowed days that followed were spent in the vain attempt to make the operation work on DVD with the deadline of the impending conference on A Humument at London University’s Birkbeck College.

But small is beautiful and a miniature son et lumière event that can slide in next to student ID card or old folks’ bus pass would have seemed unimaginatively futuristic in the kitchen scriptorium where the work was started in 1966.

It arrived on time, bang in the middle of Bloomsbury to be unveiled in the Keynes Library, no less, with the sun streaming in through open windows and people memorially smoking on the balcony. It was there I gave my own talk session to end an invigorating conference, which offered new insights, even to its subject (who was not made to feel the ghost at the feast). Papers were read, to my surprise, not by desiccated specialists in non-linear narrative but by young scholars, and to a largely youthful and cheerfully dressed audience. In the proper scheme of things these were punctuated by occasional updates of the score in the Ashes test. ‘Only connect’ shouted the room as I sat in view of Vanessa Bell’s portrait of E. M. Forster (See blog 28th August 2012) with, on my right, a painting by Duncan Grant who in his old age I once wheeled round a Royal Academy exhibition. Perhaps the USB should have been called, in memory of Virginia Woolf’s chosen brand of tobacco (she rolled her own), ‘My Mixture’.

A Humument conference poster

Birkbeck conference
A Humument conference at Birkbeck College, July 13th 2013.

Tom Phillips reads from A Humument USB drive is available to purchase in our online SHOP.

Tuesday, 06 August 2013 13:25 Written by Tom Phillips

Life's Work


A Humument
at MASS MoCA, 2013

Wonders of the world are sometimes to be found in tiny towns. North Adams barely registers on a map of the United States and is little more than an unassuming dot on that of Massachusetts. It houses nonetheless as large a museum of modern art as I have ever seen, almost as long as my street and twice as wide; the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA).

I visited it three of four years ago with my maverick friend and fellow artist Michael Oatman. He suggested that it would be just the right place to show A Humument. The idea grew with the encouragement of curator Denise Markonish. Eventually she suggested some dates for the showing of A Humument in its present entirety, the pages of Mallock’s novel accompanied by my two treatments.

When I arrived at the opening in April I had no idea what the display would actually be like. Coming into the huge hall which houses the show under the title Life’s Work I was stunned with delight at the beauty and simplicity of the installation that Denise Markonish had devised. Instead of my imagined walk around the walls of a room, I faced a huge rectangular block resembling the cast of an inner gallery, round whose outside were more than a thousand frames, like the serried portholes of an ocean liner anchored at an angle within a high hall.

Work energises work, and I have set about filling some of those remaining frames for Version II which, in anticipation, hold blank grey sheets. Half a dozen have already appeared with more to follow as the exhibition heads to its closing in January 2014. One such revised page features Peckham mud combined with that gathered from a nearby river in Massachusetts.

The show has provoked a gratifying amount of interest especially from those who have (often in search of other exhibits) chanced upon it. No reaction has been more wholeheartedly positive, however, than that of the Boston Globe’s chief art critic Samuel Smee.

A Human Document p2
A Human Document
, page 2 untreated.

A Humument p2 version 1

A Humument
page 2, first version 1973

A Humument page 2 version 2

A Humument
page 2, second version 2013.