• Concerning Stephen Willats and the Social Function of Art: Experiments in Cybernetics and Society
    Sharon Irish
    Bloomsbury, 2021
    Sharon Irish

Skeffington Court, 1974, Hayes, London. Location of Stephen Willats’ "Vertical Living" (1978) and "Living with Practical Realities" (1978). Photo: Sharon Irish, 2014

Sharon Irish's book on Stephen Willats draws together key strands of his practice and threads them through histories of British cybernetics, experimental art, and urban design. For Willats, cybernetics—a cluster of concepts about control and feedback within living and machine systems—offered innovative means for making art relevant. Since the 1960s, Willats has built relationships through art with people in tower blocks and middle-class enclaves, in underground punk clubs and on loading docks, to investigate their current conditions and future possibilities. Insisting on the physicality of his sites, he integrated his projects into them. Irish's study demonstrates the power of Willats' art to both catalyze communication among participants and upend ideas about "audience" and "art." While Willats has been indefatigable in publishing his own work, these materials are hard to find. Irish's book is instrumental to navigating this complex corpus, and introduces his exceptional work to a broader audience.

Sharon Irish received her PhD from Northwestern University and is an architectural and art historian. Bloomsbury Academic just published her book, Concerning Stephen Willats and the Social Function of Art: Experiments in Cybernetics and Society (2021). She is a research affiliate in the School of Information Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on intersections of urban and architectural spaces with contemporary art. Previous publications include monographs on the artist Suzanne Lacy (2010) and the architect Cass Gilbert (1999) as well as essays on artists Anish Kapoor, Suzanne Lacy, Nek Chand Saini, and Stephen Willats. Her research has been funded by the Art Writers Grant Program of Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation (2015), the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (2015), and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts (2018 and 2011). She was involved in the feminist collective, FemTechNet, from 201318.