Stephen Willats

Are you Good Enough for the Cha Cha Cha?


Not on display

Stephen Willats born 1943
Metal, plastic, fabric, glass, wood, paper and other materials
Object: 2540 × 4700 × 70 mm
Purchased 1983

Catalogue entry

T03795 Are you good enough for the Cha Cha Cha? 1982

Collage and assemblage on paper, three panels, each 58 × 32 × 2 3/4 (1473 × 813 × 70); overall dimensions when displayed 100 × 185 × 2 3/4 (2540 × 4700 × 70)
Inscribed ‘DO YOU THINK’ t.l., ‘YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH’ b. towards r. and ‘FOR THE CHA CHA CHA’ t. towards r.; also with numerous further inscriptions as part of the work

Purchased from Lisson Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1983

Exh: Inside the Night, Stephen Willats, Lisson Gallery, January 1983 (not numbered); Under Cover, Stephen Willats, Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, May–June 1983; New Art at the Tate Gallery, Tate Gallery, September–October 1983 (not numbered, repr.); Striking Back, Stephen Willats, Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, March–April 1986 (not numbered)
Lit: Christiane Bergob, ‘Sprechen Sie Cha Cha?’, Kunstforum, CXI, May 1983, pp.159–62, detail of panel repr. p.162; Stephen Willats, ‘Another City’, Studio International, CLXXXXVI, November 1983, p.30; Stephen Willats, Means of Escape, exhibition catalogue, Rochdale Art Gallery, 1984, p.6 (repr., detail of element of collage, photograph of figures); Richard Francis, ‘Stephen Willats’, Stephen Willats, Three Essays, ICA/Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, 1986, pp.8, 10–13 (repr. p.10, detail of each panel pp.11–13) Also repr: Stephen Willats, Cha Cha Cha, 1982, details, elements of collage, inscriptions and photographs of figures

This work is one of a group of four, shown together at the Lisson Gallery in an exhibition entitled Inside the Night in 1983, which were conceived and created with the founders of groups of ‘alternative’ people who met regularly in rented London venues. The other subjects included androgynous women, a group who met at Model Dwellings, an electronic futurist club, and a group of mohicans who met at the Anarchy Centre, a derelict ballroom in Hammersmith.

Willats had recently completed a work with a group of young people in West London (Pat Purdy and the glue sniffers' camp) where he had developed a conceptual model of the relationships between a normative and therefore dominant social group with specific behaviour patterns and an anarchic sub-group which maintained a partly ritualised segregation through habits or actions which were regarded as taboo. Willats recognised the creative potential in this second group and their need to establish a ‘capsule within a deterministic society’. He had begun to look for new symbols of this relationship and met, by chance, the two women who participated in ‘From the day into Night and the Night into the day’. Their club allowed them freedom to express their sensibilities, in this case their androgyny, a concept of life in the future which they called futurism. The work established an area of interest concerning their relationship between night and day and a working method.

Willats later met the main protagonists of the Cha Cha Club, Scarlet and Michael, by chance in the studio of a friend he was also working with. They introduced him to the matt-black painted railway arches in Hungerford Lane below Charing Cross station where on one night per week they operated a club with a strict admission policy typified by Scarlet's question ‘Are you good enough for the Cha Cha?’. Willats recalls this as a particularly exciting moment in the punk movement's establishment of its own cultural boundaries. Several such clubs existed; the Cha Cha was among the most well known and its visitors included George O'Dowd (Boy George, the leader of the popular music group, Culture Club). The club was observed in operation over several months, virtually its whole life. Willats began fearfully, sitting in the corner and observing, continued by explaining and then photographing the participants and completed the work by collecting the debris from the floor and taking it back to his studio.

He had decided to work with the founders of the club and to treat them as creators of a particular situation rather than portray the club itself. He therefore adopted his usual procedure of tape-recordings and discussions followed by a collaborative arrangement of material on the panels. The purpose of this arrangement is to create a work of art and this determines the topology of the relationship; it allows the person working with the artist to volunteer aspects of their life that they consider relevant to the making of the work. The organisation of materials on the panel tends towards what Willats calls the ‘democratic surface’ where no particular view of reality is suggested by the predominance of one element. In addition the layering of types of material such as handwriting, objects and photographs tends to direct the work towards a more ‘natural reality’, that is towards a varied and confused position. The collaborators guided the creation of the work and had the right of veto but Willats remains the artist in the relationship. The subjects, for example, at Willat's prompting, collected household rubbish and incorporated this where they thought it useful in their panels. The panels reflect both the home and club life of the subjects and the triptych arrangement suggests three different aspects of the club's organisation.

The work's presentation in the gallery reflects the moment of its creation, the ‘spontaneous tackiness’ of the remnants of punk culture. Thus the wall around the work is roughly painted yellow and matt black in two overlapping coats and the panels were made quickly and originally shown unframed. Willats has agreed to the design of the frames for museum display and storage.

This work was important in that it offered Willats the opportunity to embody the phenomenon of self-organisation in recent youth culture that had interested him for almost ten years in a purposeful way and it introduced him to the participants in his next series of work.

In a telephone conversation with the compiler (15 July 1986), the artist commented:

More than any other context that I had examined at the time it was a catalysis that embodied the sensibility of the moment which was influential in the whole post-punk movement. I used it to challenge the audience with the rawness of the moment which was spontaneous, tacky and black.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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