Stephen Willats at MOT
For his solo show at the M.O.T. Gallery, London, Stephen Willats has chosen to present a work from 1997: 'Going Home'. This second version had been roughly revised. In fact the artist has allowed himself to rethink and modify his work, far from the ideas of emergency or exclusive events that run the contemporary art world. It also confronts us to our use of recent art history, to a long practice and to documents that, strangely, could have been produced yesterday, in spite of a 10-years interval.
Going Home is an installation mostly composed of 4 large and square wall collages connected to each other by straight black lines. They are all divided into 9 equal squares. One of these 9 squares contains a written philosophical proposition or, more precisely, a phenomenological type question, imitated from Plato, Descartes, Wittgenstein and Mac Luhan's concerns such as “What are the facts and their possibilities contained in this logical space that enable you to form propositions that show what is the case and what is not ?” or “What new role is created for you in the media massage being applied to all your sense perceptions, through the creation of this environmental wrapping ?”.7 of the squares left show 4 photographs each, when the central square shows a general view of the situation. All the pictures are stills taken from a Super8 Cine film. And ahead of each 4 panels, we can indeed see a TV monitor showing a short Super8 film.One faces a play of methodical repetitions. The artwork multiplies itself, like Russian dolls, by dividing itself in equal parts which are divided themselves.The four panels present 4 different moments/places of the Bond Street Tube Station in London, in the 5pm rush hour, during a normal week. Respectively, these moments/places refer to a part of the journey of someone going home after a day of work : the entrance of the tube station, the booking hall, the escalator going down to the platforms, and the platforms.The pictures had been taken by a group of 7 participants with 7 initial themes such as 'Facial expression', 'people and objects' or 'environmental context'. Finally the pictures, quickly taken, in a banal situation and with old fashioned cameras, look a bit alike, but, in the same way, become a bit timeless.
The common denominators of Willats' practice are in the show: collective production, importance of the process, experimental survey or research inspired by scientific methods, a taste for sociological and philosophical concerns, focus on the everyday life, documentary and diagrammatic aspects... However and at that point, we can also be interested by the way he displays his work in the gallery to create a new environment, with the aim of putting the viewer in a kind of metaphysical experience, with only text and banal, almost blurred, pictures.
Actually, the viewer gaze is quite controlled. It has to follow numerous obvious lines which are the frames of each picture and that link different parts to the others on each level of the installation, as if the structure of the artwork, showing at the same time its process, was more important than the pictures contained. Moreover, one can consider that the preparatory or explanatory sketches in the first room of the exhibition participate to the persistence of the process.In a way, we can say that Willats employs those lines on a metaphorical level that refers to the Tube environment, and, more generally, to an urban environment: signals, maps and plans, diagrams, stimulating writings. Our thoughts are also highly encouraged by a sizeable material to read and consider. We're surrounded by an artwork which exhibits its own discourse structure but which also, at the same time, sets discursive and temporal gaps up.
De facto some unknown appears on several moments of the equation, some indirect spaces are revealed between the different elements: what happens between the 4 stages of the journey ? How can one link a phenomenological problem to documents related to the London tube? What is Willats' exact intervention?
The viewer subjectivity, memory, process of deduction can at least be absorbed in these gaps. They can slide from pictures to metaphysical questionings and phenomenological issues, from, quoting Willats, percept to concept. Then the logical simplicity of a formalization perhaps becomes the origin of the new interpretations and is no more an orientation system.Viewing the artwork lacks and its structure clearly and with all the playing cards in hand, the viewer assumes his/her independence and leaves the cold and didactic aspect of the installation behind him/her.
Willats points out, finally, how much a display can, with links, series, repetitions, tags, planned breaks, direct the viewer and maybe his/her subjectivity and behaviour. To open a new debate, he probably reminds us also that the urban condition is as managed by speed and movement than by breaks, useless moments, an active or inactive immobility that would question our presence and behaviours.
Going Home / Stephen Willats / 4 November – 9 December 2006
MOT / Unit 54 Regents Studios / 8 Andrews Road / London E8 4QN