Stephen Willats: Person to Person; People to People


26 May - 8 July 2007

Since the early 1960s British artist Stephen Willats has been making socially engaged, multi-media art projects in areas and communities as diverse as tennis clubs, housing estates, tower blocks, art galleries and night clubs. This exhibition featured one of his most ambitious commissions, Person to Person, People to People. The exhibition provided an opportunity to engage with the breadth and integrity of Willats’ practice and to recognise the remarkable influence his practice has had on a subsequent generation of artists.

At the heart of Willats’ practice is the encouragement of the active participation in a work of art by collaborators and viewers, in order to stimulate an engagement in their own creative processes. Examples seen at Milton Keynes included New Visions (2006) made for the Barbican Centre in London, where viewers could explore the different ways three philosophers might have viewed certain environments and encounters, and From My Mind to Your Mind (2006) and Imaginary Journey (2006) where viewers could experience the surroundings of typical suburban outer London towns.

For Milton Keynes Gallery Willats made a new work, People to People, Person to Person by collaborating with eleven residents from the Netherfield estate, Milton Keynes. Each of the residents used Super 8 film and instant cameras to record their differing observations on the same walk around the estate. The results of the project were displayed in multi-channel wall mosaics and DVDs, both at the gallery and in a space on the estate, inviting viewers to construct their own meaning from the information presented, as if they too were participating in the walk.

To accompany these works, a number of Willats’ drawings were on display. Willats employs the methods of cybernetic and philosophical models, information theory, systems analysis and semiotics in making his work, and a number of his working drawings were shown. Alongside these could be seen drawings of modernist domestic objects, which bridge the gap between people’s domestic realities and the social organisational structures in which they live.

The exhibition catalogue includes contributions from Emily Pethick, Director of Casco Projects, Utrecht, and Chris Hammonds, Director of MOT, together with a conversation between Stephen Willats and Milton Keynes Gallery Director, Michael Stanley.

Stephen Willats was born in London in 1943. Solo exhibitions include From my mind to your mind, Victoria Miro Gallery, 2006; Messages from the Polemical City, Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin, 2004; Changing Everything, South London Art Gallery, 1998; Museum Mosaic, Tate Liverpool, 1994; MetaFilter and Related Works, Tate Gallery London, 1982; and 4 Inseln, in Berlin, National Gallery, Berlin, 1980. Group exhibitions include Art & The 60’s: This Was Tomorrow, Tate Britain, 2004, The Gap Show, Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, 2002; Protest and Survive, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 2000. His seminal work, Multiple Clothing, was re-presented at Tate Modern in April 2006.

Milton Keynes was formally designated as a new town on 23 January 1967, and celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007. The town is made up of a number of districts covering an area of 34 square miles and early developments were designed by acclaimed architects including Richard MacCormac, Norman Foster and Henning Larsen. The Netherfield housing estate was originally devised as a temporary housing solution, and built in1972-77. It was the earliest completed housing estate in Milton Keynes.

Exhibition supported by Arts Council England Grants for the Arts and

Milton Keynes Community Foundation

Press Release