Keith Arnatt, Untitled from the series Notes from Jo, 1990-94
Curiosity about others is probably something we all share in one way or another. Whether it’s people-watching at a cafe window or trying to work out what the connection is between those people sitting over there on the bus, it’s hard not to wonder about other people. And the thing we never really know is how other people are at home. Keith Arnatt’s series of photographs Notes from Jo offers a kind of portrait of a marriage. These are notes left by Arnatt’s wife during the early 1990s and documented by him to become a series of photographs. The notes are usually funny, often bossy, sometimes exasperated, occasionally angry; seen together they offer what seems like a hugely affectionate portrait of a marriage with a real sense of two people who care about each one another muddling along together from day to day.
Keith Arnatt, from Pictures from a Rubbish Tip, 1988-89
That rubbish can be beautiful isn’t such a surprise, I suppose. We’ve all left things to go bad and noticed how lovely that white furry mold can be. (Or is that just me? It’s entirely possible I’ve just outed myself as something of a slattern.) But though decay can be rather lovely, most of us would draw the line at heading to a rubbish tip in search of the sublime. But Keith Arnatt did just that, with extraordinary results. The series Pictures from a Rubbish Tip, made by photographing on a local dump, seems to me to have a great deal in common with the sublime in painting.
Keith Arnatt, Self-Burial (Television Interfernce Project), 1969
At 8:15pm on 11 October 1969, just after the evening news, viewers of WDR3 – a German television channel – were shown a photograph of a man standing in a field. The image was on screen for two seconds. It wasn’t announced, explained or credited. This was the start of Keith Artnatt’s Self-Burial (Television Interference Project).
The work was shown over a period of eight nights with images shown straight after the evening news at 8:15pm and interrupting whatever programme was on at 9:15pm. As the work progressed the man – artist Keith Arnatt – seemed to disappear into the ground.