Stephen Willats

SECRET LANGUAGE THE CODE BREAKERS
September 15 − November 10, 2012

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 selforganising structures.

Willats illustrates various systems of social interaction through an array of drawings, diagrams, photocollages, computeroperated 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.

In the early 1960s,  Willats was one of the first artists to work with interactive methods, involving groups of people who were outside of the art world. He was particularly interested in the possibilities for independent action within a society characterised by a drive towards normative behaviour. In this, he focused on the possible manifestation of, what he defines as, “counter-consciousness.” For that reason, his works of the early 1980s focused on the London club-scene as a self-organising counter-culture. By the mid 1980s the scene lost its original force – having mutated to, what Willats described as, “commercial parody of itself.”

Here, he foresaw the dawning of a “new era of super-normality.” Astrid Wege writes: “Instead of focusing on London subcultures with their explicit, partially aggressive rejection of dominant culture, and thus challenging the beholder’s internalized notions of normality, Willats now increasingly turned to determinist surroundings as the epitome of such normality.”