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Stephen Willats

How the World Is and How It Could Be. Art Works 1968–2005

Stephen Willats (*1943, lives and works in London) is generally considered one of the first conceptual artists. During the 1960’s he fundamentally questioned the traditional object-oriented concept of art, thereby challenging the narrow institutional context art was bound to. It was during this period that he devoted himself to cybernetics, systems theory, and sociology.

Stephen Willats, Fifteen Feet by Eight Feet. And There are Two of us in Here, May-June/September 1980, Contemporary Collection, MGKSiegen, Courtesy the artist

In the manner of a sociologist he formed project teams and approached people not associated with the art world and interrogated them about their lives, environment, their life’s plans, their wishes and frustrations. Willats discovered the questionnaire as a means for his projects (as did Hans Haacke, Jochen Gerz and others during this period) and brought the language and issues of everyday life into the world of art with its supposedly acknowleged rules.

Since then Willats has motivated people in his projects to register and formulate their own perceptions.  His final aim and goal however is not the conclusive evaluation and analysis of data.  Rather, he endeavors to encourage people to take first steps towards actively changing their lives through exact observation and description of their living conditions.

The exhibition in the Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen offered the most comprehensive view of Stephen Willat’s art to then. Containing the first early phenomenological observations, the manifestos on the role of the artist, and the early cybernetic experiments, the exhibition delineated the development over four decades of playful and communicative strategies with serial photography and text works and larger projects.

The exhibition and the catalog were generously sponsored by the Henry Moore Foundation, the British Council, the DAAD Berlin Art Program, and the Friends of the Museum of Contemporary Art Siegen Society.

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