Magazine article Art Monthly

Stephen Willats

Magazine article Art Monthly

Stephen Willats

Article excerpt

Stephen Willats Victoria Miro Gallery London September 2 to 30

'From My Mind to Your Mind', the title of Stephen Willats' large-scale exhibition at Victoria Miro is, at best, somewhat problematic. If one were not aware that Willats is a highly-sophisticated, well-read artist one might think he was falling for the classic cliche of art as direct expression, an account based upon the erroneous idea that the work of art is a reliable medium for the accurate transmission of an artist's emotions and thoughts. This model presumes the possibility of an unhindered, unambiguous relay, as well as an essentially passive viewer. Something akin to a telepathic exchange is implied here, a utopian dream of pure correspondence between what is sent out and what is received. But since Willats is clearly no dimwit something else must be going on. Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to determine exactly what that might be.

Information overload is a major contributory factor to the problem of understanding here. Of the dozen works in the show eight involve the juxtaposition of individual panels, these in turn each containing a large number of photographs and texts. Superimposed upon these grids of postcard-sized pictures and texts are arrows indicating the direction of reading. The photographs show various couples apparently engaged in conversation and are printed in a range of muted tones--yellow, pink, blue, green--that make the overall look of the works quite attractive but which may be but one more level of interpretation with which the viewer has to grapple. Below the mounted panels are silver TV monitors and small speakers attached to old-fashioned cassette recorders. The monitors show urban street scenes, glimpses of shop signs, cars moving slowly, people drifting through shopping arcades unaware that they are being recorded. The images are mostly in black and white. From the speakers drift street sounds, conversations, the general hubbub of the contemporary metropolis.

This riot of signage, of cluttered commentary and audio-visual overlay may act as an analogue of actual experience, of 'a serial movement of disconnections, overlappings, variations' (to borrow a phrase from Roland Barthes' 1977 book Image-Music-Text), but as communicative structures designed to be deciphered in some meaningful way they leave a lot to be desired. In one sense there is too much going on here; in another, nothing like enough. …

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