Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69

23 January to 30 March 2014

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 are 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.

 

Exhibition view

Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith

Exhibition view

Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith

 

Control magazine. Issues 1–5

Archive of Control; Private collection; Chelsea College of Arts Library, University of the Arts London

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Exhibition view

Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith

 

Foreground left:

Architectural Exercise in Colour and Form No. 1, 1962

Private collection

Foreground right:

Maze Drawing No. 2, 1967

Jane Kelly, London

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Left to right:

Area Development Drawing No. 1A, 1965

Unit Drawing No. 6, 1965

Architectural Structure in Colour and Form, 1962

Drawing for a Project No. 18, 1966

Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London; Collection of the artist; Jane Kelly, London

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Left to right:

Area Development No. 10, 1966

Area Development Drawing No. 8, 1965

Collection Nicholas Logsdail; Paul C. Caffell

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

Visual Automatic No. 1, 1964–5

Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London 

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith

Visual Automatic No. 2, 1965

Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London 

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

Right:

Visual Automatic No. 2, 1965

Background:

Visual Field Automatic No. 1, 1964

Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London; Tate: Purchased from funds provided by the Knapping Fund 2004

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Shift Box No. 1, 1964

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

Exhibition view

Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69

Foreground left:

Visual Automatic No. 4, 1965

Collection Nicholas Logsdail

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Left:

Visual Automatic No. 5, 1965

Right:

Visual Automatic No. 4, 1965

Tate. Purchased from funds provided by the Knapping Fund 2004;  Collection Nicholas Logsdail

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

Visual Automatic No. 5, 1965

Tate. Purchased from funds provided by the Knapping Fund 2004

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

Visual Transmitter No. 1, 1965–66

Private collection, London

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Visual Transmitter No. 2, 1968

Private collection, London

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Left to right:

Variable Sheets, 1965

Design for a Helmet,  [two drawings], 1965

Victoria and Albert Museum

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Exhibition view

Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Exhibition view

Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith

 

Exhibition view

Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith

 

Optical Shift Drawing No. 1, Series 1, 1963

Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Exhibition view

Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith

 

Exhibition view

Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Left to right:

Manual Variable No. 2, 1963

Optical Shift Construction, 1964

Manual Variable No. 1, 1963

Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London; Private collection, Düsseldorf

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

Exhibition view

Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith

 

Environmental Box, 1962/2014

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Foreground:

Colour Variable No. 3, 1963

Private collection, Bremen, Germany

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

 

Variable Shift Machine No. 1, 1963

Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith 

Exhibition view

Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69

Photograph by Marcus J. Leith