STEPHEN WILLATS. JUST BETWEEN PEOPLE. 11.05.2007 – 23.06.2007 

Press Release
Exhibition Views

english / deutsch

Königstrasse—the shopping street in downtown Stuttgart—is crowded on a Saturday morning with an endless flow of passers-by. Stephen Willats (*1943) and his crew of camera and sound assistants, models and volunteers are filming and recording sights and sounds of the scene in an architectural landscape that could be anywhere in the world in 2007. Back in his London studio Willats composes the material gathered—choosing, cutting, pacing and mixing. The result is the twin panel and video central piece of the exhibition „Just Between People“ which opens at Galerie Reinhard Hauff on Friday, May 11th.

The piece brings the street with its noise into the gallery. In couples, people keep coming towards the visitor as he in turn can follow their passage past the shopfronts of Karstadt, Orsay and St.Oliver. Street signs, logos and flags are visual clues within this micro-territory which give the Stuttgart location away—if you look closely.
Willats does not offer artistic fastfood. He does challenge you to look closely and to make an effort to find out what is going on and what this set of inquisitive photo and text montages communicate.

The work is exemplary of
Willatsʼ artistic practice and the form he has consistently given it since inventing in the 1960ʼs a unique method for depicting „the realm of human interactions and its social context, thereby creating inter-subjective encounters that literally take place—in the artistʼs production of the work, or in the viewersʼ reception of it—or which exist hypothetically, as a potential outcome of our encounter with a given piece“ (Nicolas Bourriaud). The Stuttgart panels therefore serve to relate with the other works in the exhibition which spans 30 years of creative output by an artist credited with founding British Conceptualism.

A central theme in
Willatsʼ oeuvre is the human condition in todayʼs urban jungle – particularly the low-income end of it—people who are not at home in the art world. Willats is interested in the population strata for whom modern high rises and housing estates became ghettos of concrete—the big, anonymous mass confined there, and its capacity of individuation against all odds in an oppressing, dead-end everyday. („Symbols of Location“, 1976). Willats observes the process whereby these people are able to inhabit the world „In a better way“ because they manage by some collective effort to transform the perception of „not ideal“ into „normal“. Getting us—the viewers—involved in thinking about and discussing „how the world is and how it could be“ (the title of a recent Stephen Willats retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Siegen, Germany)—that is the bottom line.

The works in the show document the scope and coherence of
Willatsʼ probing into our collective mindset. He decodes (body) language and relationship dynamics in groups of mainly two or four—experimenting with visualizations of the sum-total of possible degrees of engagement open to his protagonists. He manages to compact complex sets of human interactive processes into the graphic equivalent of formulars in a sign language that translates the complex into simple. Thus in the 5 panel („Multi Channel Walk“, 1996) Willats proceeds from a start-out position where every participant is in close circuit alone with himself, to a new reality where everybody in what has become a group connects with each other. In another exercize to visualize opening oneʼs mind to chance Willats calculates the number of encounters potentially available to random people in the street. It turns out to be many more than meets the eye. („Random Moments In Simultaneous Encounters“, 2000/2001). Compositions like („Street Moments Amsterdam“, 2005) speculate on possible connections that get pulled apart before actually happening, while („Coming Nearer and Nearer and Nearer“, 2004) and the Stuttgart piece indicate the nature of various couplesʼ relationships and frames of mind.

To appreciate the precedence of
Stephen Willatsʼ position and body of work, suffice it to quote Nicolas Bourriaud who in a 1998 publication coins the term „Relational Aesthetics“ to the theory of form and content practiced so courageously by Willats since way before the notion of „art being an activity consisting in producing relationships with the world with signs, people, forms actions and objects“ became „new“ in the 90ʼs. It does not change what Willats has been the doing for 4 decades but it coins a term for his work which truly places it centrally within Art Now.