Artist biography

English conceptual artist and sculptor. He studied at Ealing School of Art (1962–3), began editing and publishing Control Magazine in 1965 and in 1972–3 was Director of the Centre for Behavioural Art in London. Consistently interested in art as an intervention in social patterns and identities, Willats frequently grounded his work in research-based projects. His early art, however, was more object-based. Light Modulator No. 2 (1962; see 1979–80 exh. cat., p. 13), for example, was a project for an outdoor public sculpture made of moving vertical panels, perspex and painted wood, through which people would pass and interact. Willats soon developed these more phenomenological and behavioural concerns into sets of problems concerned with social interaction and cognition. Another early work, Meta Filter (1973; Lyon, Mus. St Pierre A. Contemp.), demonstrates this: a very large installation organised around a large computer, it invites two participants to seek agreement over the meanings of a set of images and statements. Willats continued to design similar interactive projects aimed at encapsulating problems of social conflict. Often his exhibitions evolved out of complex research-based initiatives and extensive collaboration with the public. The Social Resource Project for Tennis Clubs (1972; exh. London, Whitechapel, A.G., 1999) involved just such an effort: Willats developed a series of questionnaires for clubs in Nottingham aimed ultimately at redesigning the game of tennis to reflect more accurately what participants hoped to derive from their visits. In later years Willats continued to work on a variety of similar projects.

Steven Willats: Concerning Our Present Way of Living (exh. cat., essays M. Compton and M. Rewcastle, London, Whitechapel A.G.; Eindhoven, Stedel. Van Abbemus.; 1979–80) [with writings by Willats]
Steven Willats: Buildings and People, Berlin 1979–1993 (exh. cat., essay H. Kurnitzky and M. Jura, Berlin, Berlin. Gal.; London, Goethe-Inst.; 1993) [with writings by Willats]
Stephen Willats: Random Encounter (exh. cat., essay G. Worsdale, Southampton, C. A. G., 1998) [with writings by Willats]
Live in Your Head: Concept and Experiment in Britain 1965–75 (exh. cat., essays C. Phillpot, A. Tarsia, M. Archer and R. Brooks, London, Whitechapel A.G., 1999)

10 December 2000

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