Stephen Willats is a British artist and a pioneer of conceptual art. Since the early 1960s he has created work concerned with extending the territory in which art functions. His work has involved interdisciplinary processes and theory from sociology, systems analysis, cybernetics, semiotics and philosophy.
His multi-media projects often engage visitors to participate in creative social processes. Notable projects include Multiple Clothing, The West London Social Resource Project, and the book Art and Social Function: Three Projects. Willats considers Art and Social Function as a "kind of manual or tool that would be relevant to any artist thinking of enacting different paradigms for an art intervening in the fabric of society".
His development of concepts and models are related to perception of the function of the artist in relation to the world. Willats was conscious of the fact that the work he was proposing was going to be part of society. An initial observation was that artwork is completely dependent on its audience. One could almost say viewers are its reason for being, without them it doesn’t exist. It is essential for artists to realize they are somehow part of society. His next observation was that most art practice was describing existing values and beliefs, amplifying what was validated in existing society.
Then there was another smaller, much more difficult but ultimately more meaningful role, concerning transformation; the notion that the artist can transform existing values and provide a vision of the future, a different perception of the world and a language for that. Willats saw that practice was nothing more than a vehicle, embodying the language. One has got to have a model to represent reality, models are representations of an external, encountered or possible reality.
Since 1965 Willats has self-published Control magazine, a seminal forum for artists’ writings on art practice and social organization. With over 150 contributors throughout its 50-year run, Control has drawn on research from cybernetics, advertising theory, and behavioral science to develop models for how artworks operate in dialogue with an audience and society at large.
Cybernetics was famously defined by Norbert Wiener as “the scientific study of communication and control in the animal and the machine.” The models of feedback that cyberneticians developed were transdisciplinary from the outset, bridging the worlds of computation and engineering with those of design, art, and counterculture.
According to Anthony Hudek, “It is Control’s function as a self-determining information network, instead of its content, that makes it truly cybernetic”: while being about networks, the magazine also represents a network in itself. Willats’ choice of title, Control, signals this departure from traditional models of editorial authority, seeking instead to develop a conceptual practice determined by the networked relationships of coordinating agents. Artists’ publishing served as a key means of actualizing these ideas. The magazine has always been self-published, self-funded, and free of advertising, while also attaining a broadly international reach.
“a usable past” was coined by Van Wyck Brooks in the 1910s and has been often been closely associated with radical historians of the United States, who have looked to ideas and social movements from the American past as to guide their contemporaries, in various ways, toward a brighter future.
Lazar Markovich Lissitzky was a Russian artist, designer, photographer, typographer, polemicist and architect. He was an important figure of the Russian avant-garde, helping develop suprematism with his mentor, Kazimir Malevich, and designing numerous exhibition displays and propaganda works for the Soviet Union. His work greatly influenced the Bauhaus and constructivist movements, and he experimented with production techniques and stylistic devices that would go on to dominate 20th-century graphic design.
In his book he writes “I have produced the analogy [of “inventions of verbal traffic vs general traffic”] to prove that so long as the book remains a palpable object, i.e. so long as it is not replaced by auto-vocalizing and kino-vocalizing representations, one must look to the field of the manufacture of books for new basic innovations in the near future, so that the general level of the epoch can be reached in this field. There are signs at hand suggesting that this basic innovation is likely to come from the neighborhood of the collotype.
Here we have a machine which captures the subject matter on a film and a press which copies the negative of the material on to sensitive paper. Thus the frightful weight of the subject matter and the bucket of dye is omitted, so that once again we have dematerialization. The most important thing here is that the mode of production of words and pictures is included in the same process: photography. Up till now photography is that mode of expression which is most comprehensible.”
In Graham’s editorial note in Aspen No. 8, Published Fall-Winter 1970-71, he writes: “In reading - in fact a reader's mind's eye is changing: his position continually shifting. The signs on the page function simply as vectors: switching terminuses in the transaction between the activating authorial mover, the world out there and the activated moved reader who, finishing, left to shift for himself in another place - continues the transaction (in another time and space); reading isn't another order of time or experience apart. The information vector present would amount to re-directing the flow of this traffic (it wouldn't be the sum of my experience per se or add up to any ideas out of place) not by establishing points, but pointing directly to the outside world - to products to be played (maybe records) and services to be rendered (further in-forming the reader) as they in-form that in-formation being correlated with the previous in-formation which the user has read in magazine presentation. Then two in-formations would each function separately and relatedly at the same time rather than as one or a series of isolated points in time. My only relation to the subject matter of the in-formation would be in placing the vectors in operation.”
Wood cut at Platz Hardware in Ridgewood NY, opened in 1909 Black Fabric: 100% cotton duck – Reversible & hand printed in NY 18” x 6 3/4” x 14 1/2”