I just sent the email below to a bunch of people, but thought I would post this query here too:
As many of you know, I have been writing a book on Stephen Willats for a good many years now. A couple of publishers have not worked out, but I now have a nibble and I need to indicate to them what level of interest there might be in North America for a monograph on Stephen, as in: “who would buy this book?” (I think we have a good sense of the UK.)
I write to ask you to let me know of upcoming North American exhibits, symposia, or ongoing conversations around the following KEY WORDS: anarchism, architectural interventions, British modernism, computer arts, conceptualism, critical information studies, cybernetics, mutualism, participatory art, self-organizing, or social practice (or variants on that phrase).
Stephen Willats, Artist as Instigator is my third book and examines Willats’ social practice art using archival sources, primary literature, and interviews with the artist and some of his collaborators, informed by science and technology studies (STS) and contemporary art criticism. London-based artist Stephen Willats (b. 1943) has spanned many disciplines and media in his 50+-year career. My book has two foci: the relationships between artist and audience, and between Willats’ art and physical and conceptual systems. Historians of technology and feminist STS scholars are crucial to my study: Jane Bennett, Geoff Bowker and S. Leigh Star, Barbara Hanson, Donna Haraway, Andrew Pickering, and John Staudenmaier have provided concepts and models that shaped my research. Claire Bishop and Grant Kester, together with Rosalyn Deutsche, Shannon Jackson, Suzanne Lacy, Edward Shanken, and John A. Walker, have done foundational work on theory and practice in socially-engaged, media-rich art. Finally, the philosophy of Félix Guattari, particularly as expressed in Chaosmosis (1995 translation, 1992), has shaped how I think about social practice in the cultural field. We must take into account the roles that material processes perform in the environment, society, and subjectivity in order to fully constitute an “ethico-aesthetic paradigm,” in Guattari’s phrasing. I use Willats’ image of the homeostat as a metaphor for material, aesthetic and ideological inputs that recalibrate the shifting art canon. Linking Willats’ work to that of architect-planners and other contemporary artists clarifies the political underpinnings of his art and transforms our perceptions about social practice in the U.K., as well as helps to enact the paradigm that Guattari outlined.
I first began researching Willats’ work in 2003, and have published three articles on his project works. Since 2010, I have studied extensively in archives and museums around the U.K., also visiting Willats at his London and Rye homes to interview him and view his art and archives located there. I received funding from the Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program and additional funding from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. While Willats himself has been thorough in documenting his work through self-publication and interviews, and while there are numerous short essays about him available in art publications, very few of these analyze his ambitious projects in depth or link Willats’ work to the social, political, and cultural histories in which he worked. Willats unequivocally declared in 1986: “The place of intervention itself is perceived as one of the mediums of the work.” Without the details regarding his art and its context, it is difficult to integrate Willats into the history of social practice art, in which he has been a pioneer and a key figure.
At the recent Erasing Boundaries symposium, there were so many sessions with fascinating case studies of people’s engagements. (See “Spaces of Connection” post below for more information on this symposium.)
- Jocelyn Zanzot (Auburn) spoke about the Rural Landscape Studio in Macon County, Alabama, in which she and her students worked with the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church to represent painful and deep histories. Shiloh was one location where people were selected for the Tuskegee Syphilis Study; there is also a cemetery from the 1860s and a school that was created out of the partnership of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington.
- Sujata Shetty (University of Toledo) spoke about her challenging inter-institutional work with Bowling Green State’s architecture students and her own planning students to address Toledo’s “shrinking.” Others spoke about the ways in which federal regulations limit what can be done with residents of public housing, but pointed to alternative management and ownership that is being tried in the Bronx, and participatory budgeting that has some legs in Chicago.
- Irma Ramirez (CalPoly-Pomona) spoke about “Transnational Borders and their Role in Architectural Education.” She sought out non-profit organizations in Tijuana, and challenged students to collaborate across cultures and languages over the past six years. Tijuana has 1.5 million people! She stressed looking for assets, such as incredible resourcefulness. Cal Poly-Familia Corazon developed a sustainable housing prototype, working across campus, and also built a model on campus. She noted that her work gained respect from her colleagues after it was co-awarded the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards’ Grand Prize for sustainable housing in Tijuana, Mexico. New project types are now in progress. Another project was to address deteriorating neighborhood announcement boards. Students designed and built twenty Infostructures; these have become multi-functional artifacts.
- Abby Harmon closed out the last session of the second day with a thoughtful reflection on teaching a course five times at the University of Illinois that is intended to “engage” students in the College of Fine and Applied Arts with issues of social justice. Abby quoted powerful writers, such as Patricia Collins Hill, and spoke about her efforts with the students to break down a “static sense of self” and critique the “helping” idea harbored by a number of us.