Stephen Willats Multiple Clothing – Part 1
This discussion addresses artist Stephen Willats’s seminal project MULTIPLE CLOTHING 1965-98
Stephen Willats Multiple Clothing – Part 2
The project coincides with a panel discussion on the work. Anticipating much of the relational and socially-engaged art practices of the past decade, Willats’s projects centre on the relationships between individuals in society, often focusing on aspects of cognitive behaviour, the ways in which people encounter one another, and how they respond to their environment. Willats combines his rich knowledge of cybernetics, learning theory, and interactive, self-organising systems with a desire to operate in the fabric of everyday reality. Willats began MULTIPLE CLOTHING as a strategy to engage directly with the fabric of society, exploring clothing as a very basic externalisation of the self. Made up as kits, the clothing designs were created from many small units that zipped (or later Velcroed) together in various formations to make multiple garment types, including simple shift dresses and jackets. The self-determining nature of acquiring and assembling the kits to each wearer’s specification was essentially an amplification of the notion of self-organisation, a key principle that began to emerge in politics, philosophy, science and art in this era. In their clean, functional sense of modernity, the modish, primary-coloured panel forms of Willats’s first works in the MULTIPLE CLOTHING series recall the geometric stylistics displayed in early avant-garde ballet and theatre designs, as well as embodying the spirit of the 1960s through their use of contemporary synthetic fabrics. A defining element of Willats’s wearable art works was the thesaurus of words that were available to be inserted into the clear plastic pockets, either by the wearer, or by people that the wearer interacted with. The selection was chosen by the artist from words that describe human thought, mood and behaviour. Over subsequent decades Willats has developed and transformed the look and nature of his garment-based works into many alternative situations, including a key period in the early to mid 1980s when he made a series of collaborations with the subcultures of London’s thriving club scene. Performances involving the works have continued throughout the project’s lifetime.