Johannah Latchem’s work addresses themes of law, punishment and power. They intervene in the material culture of the courthouse to establish new rituals. Her art installations are sometimes installed in courtrooms and critique the symbolic materiality of law’s historical artefacts. Latchem creates new legal objects and explores their performative role in courtroom rituals, exposing new ways to convey revised messages to the public.

My Bloody Oar
(2017), a new courtroom object made by Latchem, is a reconfiguration of an Admiralty Silver Oar – the historic symbol of the Admiralty Court. Made in walnut, it lies on the steel table in the centre of the gallery. The Silver Oar was a well-understood symbol of British naval power and punishment throughout the British Empire. It originated in the 1360s, however copies are still processed at naval courtroom hearings today. The silver oar was processed publicly at executions of convicted pirates before their hanging. The plaque on the oar shows a poem by Latchem entitled The Message that introduces the woman’s voice in relation to naval impressment, using an object of the old order to carry a new message.

No Whole Truths
(2019) is a three-channel film and sound installation that addresses the multiplicity of ‘truths’ in legal spaces. On the central wall a video documentary plays of the artist’s 2018 public procession work, Carry the Woman You Forgot, during which My Bloody Oar was carried along Newcastle’s quayside by two uniformed naval servicemen. It left the seventeenth-century Guildhall Courtroom for Trinity House, the 500-year-old corporation that supports the important maritime community of Newcastle and beyond.

On the walls to the left and right of the large central video projection are a series of still images of the Newcastle Guildhall Court and a film of Newcastle Town Moor. All three films are carefully synchronised to a soundscape; the rhythmical creaking of the floorboards of the Guildhall courtroom and an insistent tempo maintained by the repetition of two key notes reflect a sense of time passing and the pressure to deliberate. Individuals who were convicted and sentenced to death at the Guildhall courtroom were conveyed to Newcastle Town Moor, the site of their public execution. Post execution dissection was more feared than death itself. The text ‘what will happen to my body?’ that appears over the film of the Moor, is a direct quote from a convicted Newcastle woman to her clergyman. Latchem makes the link between these two seemingly disparate locations and addresses legal space and its objects in relation to the body and the many perspectives on the ‘truth’ and power.

Thanks to: Trinity House Newcastle, Newcastle University, and Northumbria Wood Turners. Sound technical in collaboration with David de la Haye. Sound sample of floor recorded by Tim Shaw. Filming of oar procession by Alan Fentiman Film.

Johannah Latchem was born in Gloucester and lives in Newcastle upon Tyne. She received BA Hons Fine Art from Wimbledon School of Art in 1999, an MA from Goldsmiths College University of London in 2004 and is currently completing her PhD in Fine Art and Art History at Newcastle University. Recent solo shows include ‘Courting Power’, Newcastle Guildhall Courtroom, ‘Carry the Woman You Forgot’, Merchant Adventurers Hall, ‘Kiss the Wooden Lady’, Trinity House, Newcastle upon Tyne (2018). Latchem has lectured in art and design, published in the field of identity and museum education and directed an opera with Birmingham Opera Company and the BBC in 2013. She was the Research Fellow to the AHRC Commons Fellow from 2014 to 2017 at the University of Birmingham and then Newcastle University, and held posts for the previous twelve years in research and teaching positions in UK universities, including digital projects across business, academic and cultural sectors and research with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2014.