Stephen Willats was born in London in 1943. From 1962 to 1963 he completed the Ground Course at the Ealing School of Art, taught by Roy Ascott, the pioneer of cybernetics. From 1965 to the present he has been editor and publisher of Control Magazine.
From 1972 to 1973 he was director of the Centre for Behavioural Art in London, an interdisciplinary research and discussion platform he established at Gallery House in London in 1972-73.
In 1979-80 he was awarded a D.A.A.D. fellowship to West Berlin, Germany. In 1990 he chaired the symposium "Art Creating Society," Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, UK. In 1991, the "Stephen Willats - Printed Archive" was established at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 2003 he led the seminar "Art Intervention" - Control Magazine at Vilma Gold, London and in 2006 the "Multiple Clothing" seminar and performance at Tate Modern, London. In 2011, Tate Modern, London, presented films by the artist.
Willats has participated in numerous major international and group exhibitions, including the 1982 Biennale di Venezia. Italy. Since the 1970s, renowned institutions have dedicated international solo exhibitions to the artist, including the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, in 1978; the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, in 1979; the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, in 1980; the Tate Gallery, London, in 1982; the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, 1986-87, Ghent, Belgium, 1991 the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, 1994 and 2018 the Tate Gallery, Liverpool, 2006 the Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen, Germany, 2008 the Westfälische Landesmuseum, Münster, Germany 2010 the Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany, 2019 the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, Switzerland. Stephen Willats' largest retrospective to date was shown by the Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen in 2007. Stephen Willats lives and works in London.
Stephen Willats became well known for his research of society, communications, and the city, and is considered one of Great Britain’s conceptual art pioneers. He has edited Control Magazine, published by his own press, since 1965. The magazine is used as a forum by artistic positions that grapple with contemporary societal developments. At the same time, it enables them to link up with other disciplines, such as social and computer sciences. Willats’ critical position with regard to the limitations of art institutions—in particular, their one-sided communication structures(among other things) —led him to the development of participatory projects, in which participants are motivated to actively confront their own living situations, perceptions, behavioral patterns, desires, and frustrations. In this, he consciously works with different groups within society, for example, in “Man from the Twenty First Century” (1969-1970) and “West London Social Resource Project” (1972-1973). In many of his works, the artist’s interest is on the relationship between inhabitants and the architectural context; primarily modernist high-rise complexes—such as those in West Berlin (for example, in “Wie ich entdecke, dass wir von anderen abhängig sind“, 1979-1980). Willats often uses interviews and surveys and asks the inhabitants of entire residential neighborhoods about their living environments. He frequently presents the results of these analytical works in the form of diagrammatical display boards, which points to the theoretical background of his work, anchored in issues from the fields of communication and system-theory. With regard to distinguishing his working methods from those of sociological studies, Willats emphasizes that his works do not aim at collecting data with regard to a pre-formulated research goal, but instead, at allowing participants to gain greater insight into themselves.read more read less