Languages of Dissent
Stephen Willats

Stephen Willats / Multiple Clothing – New Directions, 1965

The work of the British conceptual artist Stephen Willats (b. London, 1943) interrogates structures of community life and social interaction. Exploring the modular architecture of social housing projects, he spotlights forms of individual creative adaptation that defy the uniformity and functionality of the spaces. Such dissent with normative parameters is especially Interesting to Willats because it is where individuality reveals itself and self-determination is articulated.

 

Stephen Willats / Camps – It Was a Way Out to Relieve Our Feelings, 1981

Stephen Willats / Corree Self-Organising Furniture, 1965 – 2014

Stephen Willats / Architectural Exercise in Colour and Form No. 3, 1962

Stephen Willats / Visual Transmitter No. 2, 1968

Stephen Willats / Vortex, 1984

He finds similar modes of nonconformist expression in London’s experimental underground club scene and in places on the urban periphery where teenagers seek escape from institutional or conformist pressures. His understanding of what art is and does is reflected in a collaborative and interdisciplinary practice that takes inspiration from sciences beyond the realm of art. Since the 1960s, his work has been influenced by cybernetics, the study of reciprocal relations in dynamic systems, which helps him think through autonomous forms of organization and their structures of control and communication. Providing him with both a method and an aesthetic vocabulary, it is fundamental to his redefinition of the social function and agency of art.

 

Stephen Willats / Taboo Housing Estate, 1982

Stephen Willats / Area Development Drawing No. 4, 1965

Stephen Willats / The Glue Sniffers, 1980

Since the early 1960s, the pioneering British conceptual artist Stephen Willats has seen his work as a social process, establishing an approach to art practice that has led him beyond the confines of studio, gallery, and institution and into social spaces outside the art context. Engaging different participants is central to his artistic work, redefining the relationships between artist and audience. This interactive approach has led him to realize projects in the actual settings where people’s lives are lived, focusing on creative and productive responses to social polemics. Modernist housing complexes of the postwar decades, the experimental underground club scene, or places on London’s urban periphery where teenagers find refuge from the pressures of their lives: these are the scenes where Willats explores creative behaviors that serve to recode society’s norms and conventions. Developing his participatory approach, he looked beyond art to find tools in other disciplines concerned with communication, looking at studies in the theory of semiotics, behavior and learning and then in cybernetics.

 

Stephen Willats / A to B, 1985

Stephen Willats / Meta Filter, 1975

Stephen Willats / Social Environment Modelling Project – State Change Structure & Heuristic Frame, 1973

Stephen Willats / Organic Exercise No. 1 – Manual Variable Construction, 1962/2019

Stephen Willats’ solo exhibition Languages of Dissent brings together key works from his practice since the 1960s to the present. Dissent or resistance as a creative strategy appears in Willats’ work in a variety of forms and motifs. As a signal trait of his art, it is also a personal stance: an unrelenting opposition to all that is established, standardized, linear. In a career that spans more than four decades, Willats teases out the implications of normative role models over and over again.

Curated by Heike Munder (director, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst), the exhibition is accompanied by a monograph with essays by Bronac Ferran, John Kelsey, Andrew Wilson, and Heike Munder.

 

Languages of Dissent / Stephen Willats
May 25 – August 18, 2019 / Migros Museum
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