Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69
*23 January to 30 March 2014*
Opening: Wednesday 22 January, 6.30–8.30pm
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.
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated publication, with texts
by Antony Hudek, Emily Pethick, Christabel Stewart and Andrew Wilson. It
is curated by Alex Sainsbury.
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London E1 7LS
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