A State of Agreement - Southampton City Art Gallery
In Stephen Willats' work, people are his medium, together with diagrams which both instigate and analyse social relationships and perceptions.
It is hyper-contiuous in the multiplicity of these relationships and is about influencing the social fabric itself.
The participants are programmed to interact until they reach 'A State of Agreement', the title of Charlotte Ginsborg's film about Stephen Willats and his work. Ginsborg's film is a creative documentary which takes the form of an interview with Willats by Dr Andrew Wilson.
The screening was preceded with an introductory talk by Dr Stephanie Willats. In her talk she demonstrated the synergy between Willats and his subject-participants as they interact in works such as "Attitudes in Four Relationships" (1976). This synergy develops over time, with Willats drawing diagrams which complexify the behaviour in both a prescriptive and a responsive way.
The work is not fixed ideologically but palliative, and anticipates some forms of documentary as well as reality television. It is the type of reality that Willats wants to explore which makes the work superior in ideological terms.
Understanding how relationships work, the individual's relationship with their environment, and individual perception - unique from person to person - remind the viewer of all the interest their was in psychology in the 1960's and 70's. Willats' work is like a behavioural therapy.
Ginsborg's film documents Willats reflecting on his art language. The work is systematic and extends Systems art into behavioural programming and observation. It is generative, and, never sure where each work will take him, the unpredictable incorporation of the views of participants creates unexpected outcomes.
Willats' work has a avant-documentary style which fits very well with Ginsborg's direction. Ginsborg explores the landscape of Willats' work both visually and structurally. Works like "Brentford Towers" and "The West London Social Resource Project" (1972) provide part of this urban landscape.
Footage of the work 'Meta Filter' (2000) which is an 'interactive simulation between two people', is incorporated into the film. Anyone could operate Meta Filter, and as part of the 'basis of society', participants were asked what they thought certain images meant as well as other questions.
From 'Pat Purdy and the Glue Sniffers Camp' (1981) to 'Imaginary Journey' (2006), Willats talks about the importance of the journey as a trcae of human behaviour. At one point he says "What you imagine is happening is happening".
This film is available to download on: www.controlmagazine.org