Stephen Willats

The Twin Towers


Not on display

Stephen Willats born 1943
Ink and transfer lettering on paper
Support: 1018 × 757 mm
Purchased 2010


The Twin Towers 1977 is a drawing in ink with Letraset on paper. It consists of a schematic volumetric rendering of two minimalistic rectangular towers side by side, named by the artist ‘Towers of Ideological Consciousness’. Letraset has been used to label different parts of the diagram. Each tower is divided equally by ‘floors’ that represent a particular ‘concept frame’ of relationships. Points of contact and parallel existences are charted between the two towers. The two ‘ideological consciousnesses’ which the towers embody are described as a ‘predominate consciousness’ and a ‘counter consciousness’. Each concept frame is subject to the four axioms of code, behaviour, identity and value and the combination of these axioms provides Willats with his ‘Parameter Model of Social Relationships’, which appears at the bottom of the drawing and through which combinations of frame and context may be deployed. In a text at the bottom right of the drawing, Willats explained:

Each floor in the two towers represents one concept frame that views a social problem via four axioms. The tower on the left presents actually existing conditions, while the tower on the right prescribes possible conditions. All axiom points are paired, the ones on the right acting as a critical counter view to those on the left. Underpinning the whole structure is the parameter model which mediates between the twin towers to generate social problem situations.

Discussing this work, the critic Michael Archer pointed out: ‘The twin columns are the same tower, the same “reality” viewed in differing perspectives. The difference is between an arena of actuality, the existing and accepted state of affairs, and one of possibility, how one could live one’s life.’ (ICA 1986, pp.30–1.) For Willats, the image of the tower or tower block has remained a potent container for a network of ‘symbolisations’ that are expressive of the restrictive environments in which people live, and that contrast both with the enlightened modernist ideologies on which the ethos of such housing is founded and the urge to express a counter-consciousness to the social isolation such buildings have come to reflect.

Since 1962, when Willats attended Roy Ascott’s course at Ealing School of Art, drawing and the construction of diagrams has occupied a privileged position within his practice as an effective means to elaborate and conceptualise the context and purpose behind his work. The Twin Towers is a key diagrammatic work in this respect. It relates specifically to Willats’s project Vertical Living 1978, which is held in Tate’s archive collection (TGA8128). Another work by Willats that addresses the relationship between people, objects and buildings is Living with Practical Realities 1978 (Tate T03296). The drawing Organic Exercise No 3, Series No 2 (Tower Block Drawing) 1962 (Tate T04106) also provides an early articulation of the ideas later manifested in The Twin Towers.

Further reading
Stephen Willats: Concerning Our Present Way of Living, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1979.
Michael Archer, ‘Recent Project Works’, in Stephen Willats Three Essays, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1986, pp.30–1.
Stephen Willats, Beyond the Plan: The Transformation of Personal Space in Housing, Chichester 2001.

Andrew Wilson
May 2010

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