Research

  • The Socio-Spatial Practice of Artist Stephen Willats
  • GRANTEE
    Sharon Irish
    GRANT YEAR
    2011

Stephen Willats, Living with Practical Realities, panel one from set of three, 1978. Image courtesy of the artist and the Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

As part of a study on critical spatial practices, Sharon Irish examnied works by London-based artist Stephen Willats, who has been creating cybernetically informed projects since the 1960s. People's behaviors "take place," as geographers have noted, in the context of buildings, parks, and streets, in order to make meaning in a constantly fluctuating reality. In Nottingham, London, Edinburgh, Sheffield, and Liverpool, Willats created interactive systems that gave people the opportunity to learn about themselves in their communities. He aimed to create a "communication network" about socio-spatial environments among participants in his projects by using photographs, collages, questionnaires, computer networks, and face-to-face interactions to share information and find areas of agreement. Recognizing the social dynamics and power structures at play in the cities in which he worked, Willats inserted computing and multimedia innovations into social and physical realms in order to highlight class codes and behavior patterns in geographically distinct areas.

Sharon Irish is an art and architectural historian at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Author of the book, Suzanne Lacy: Spaces Between (2010), and articles on Anish Kapoor, Nek Chand Saini, and Stephen Willats, she is interested in the intersections of urban space and contemporary art. She has also published extensively on the architecture of Cass Gilbert. Committed to interdisciplinary dialogue, she has arranged for curator Aaron Levy and anthropologist Michel Laguerre to speak in sessions she chaired at the Society of Architectural Historians. She has coorganized reading groups for faculty and students, supported by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (Critical Spatial Practices and Law, Race, and Space), and another on Critical Studies of Whiteness, through the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society. As coordinator of the proposed Center for Digital Inclusion at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Irish is involved with information and communication technologies in geographically based communities.