Stephen Willats

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Stephen Willats
Secret Language The Code Breakers


Published by Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin, on the occasion of a solo exhibition of the same name in 2012, in an edition of 1,300 copies. Text by Astrid Wege in English and German.

Since the 1960s, Stephen Willats is counted as one of the most influential protagonists of international conceptual art in England. One of the main focuses of his work has always been the examination of urban realities by means of communication processes, network formation, and self-organising structures. Willats illustrates various systems of social interaction through an array of drawings, diagrams, photo-collages, computer-operated communication-devices, and animations. The artist works directly with people: their relationships to each other – be it in a private or professional environment – as well as their relationship to an omnipresent system of everyday symbols; from architectural structures to objects, materials, and sounds that surround us continually. Willats poses the question as to how the personal values and lebensraum of the individual are perceived within society, and how society defines and adopts them.

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Stephen Willats
Control - Work 1962-1969

This is the first survey of work by Stephen Willats from the sixties. Willats (born and lives in London) was introduced to art as a teenage gallery assistant in 1958 and by 1962 was producing advanced artwork. He embraced the transdiscipli­n­arity of the time, juggling the roles of social scientist, engineer, designer and artist, and developed an art about social interaction, using models derived from cybernetics, the hybrid post-war science of communication.

As well as the clothing and furniture made in 1965 when he briefly described himself as a ‘conceptual designer’, Willats’ earliest sculptural series of ‘Manual Variables’ is haptic and interactive. These will be shown alongside early issues of Control, the still-operating magazine he founded in the same period. Its title is a provocation, invoking the cybernetic idea that people can take control of their environments, thereby deflecting the controls of a dominant hierarchy.

In 1968 Willats made an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art Oxford in which he presented constructions involving movement and light – some wall-mounted, others large-scale environments – that were informed by his interest in contemporary theories: about probability and prediction, behavioural science, subliminal advertising, and colour in relation to motivation and learning. The display of these at Raven Row will be based on the darkened maze in which they were installed at Oxford, where they were proposed as experimental stimuli for ‘states of consciousness’.

Willats’ works on paper from this period elegantly combine cybernetic modelling, architectural graphics and constructivist geometries, and are consistent with his practice of today. However, he abandoned his dynamic constructions at the end of the sixties in pursuit of an art of social interaction beyond gallery and art object, for which he became well-known. This exhibition reconvenes this earlier work for the first time.

With texts by Antony Hudek, Emily Pethick, Christabel Stewart and Andrew Wilson.

 

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Stephen Willats
Conscious-Unconscious : In and Out the Reality Check

British artist Stephen Willats’ visually intense works explore the nature of human interaction, communication and connection between individuals and communities.

CONSCIOUS – UNCONSCIOUS the artist’s fourth exhibition at Modern Art Oxford, and continues a connection with the gallery which began in 1968. This latest exhibition examines social interaction, the influence of technology on daily life and the way we look at and think about our surroundings.

Unique to this exhibition is The Oxford Community Data Stream, a new commission that presents alternative and highly personal perspectives on life in Oxford through a collaboration with residents of Kennington and Blackbird Leys.

This catalogue includes an interview between Stephen Willats and Ute Meta Bauer.

Published on the occasion of the exhibition CONSCIOUS – UNCONSCIOUS: in and out the reality check at Modern Art Oxford, 27 April – 16 June 2013.

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Stephen Willats
World Without Objects

 

Stephen Willats extends his enquiry into the idea of the local through Signs and Messages (2013), which captures the visual language of a walk along two busy streets in Antwerp (two contrasting communities : Statiestraat Berchem and the shopping street of Antwerp axis De Keyzerlei – Meir).

World Without Objects includes a striking mural work, which reflects on architecture and urban living, depicting high rise tower blocks with oversized ceramic vases in primary colours.

Published by Annie Gentils Gallery, Antwerp, in an edition of 500 copies.

‘All art is a product of society, of relationships between people in which it is quite clear that the most important element in the network between the artist and society is the audience. For without two people there can be no work of art.’

Stephen Willats

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