Willats Chapter 5

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S.W. This is too short an interview to get into all the details of these various works but once we might just talk about a little bit. This one here is the »Social Research Project for tennis clubs«. In that work I wanted to demonstrate that the work of art could operate anywhere with anybody – if the artist engaged in a kind of exchange with the audience in the development of the work. In this particular case there were four tennis clubs in Nottingham who were socially, economically, physically separate from each other, they didn't play each other, they had no connection, but they were in the same city. My idea was that these four members of these clubs would remodel the game of tennis around what they really felt were their clubs' needs. When people were joining these clubs they weren't necessarily joining it to play tennis; there were all sorts of other reasons to join in these clubs. The idea really was that this work would focus on remodelling the game of tennis, there was going to be a tournament where this game was played, the new game... But to get to that process I had to engage people in the acts of remodelling. Initially, what I did, I went around the neighbourhoods where these members lived and the tennis club environments and photographed all kinds of familiar signs and objects, things that people would know about and I then developed a series of posters and booklets which asked questions about what the meaning of these things was that were on these posters; I also asked people to make connections between posters, it wasn't just simply: »what is this?« It's also: «make a connection and what comes out of it?« The first book was called »Tennis Club manual«, and this was where people described how things existed in their different tennis club environments. The second book was the »Tennis ____«, a remodelling book, people were asked to change, they transform the meaning of these things. We made displays in the local clubs, and these were things that people developed in booklets very actively, drawings, models and writings. These were then displayed in the club environments. The members of the clubs met to discuss possible ways of developing a game of tennis. We had then a tournament where these four different games were played out for a cup, the Willats Cup it was called. This was very humorous. This work took me quite a long time to develop. What's interesting about that: on the one hand you had a conceptual model, the desire of the artist to demonstrate that another model of society and also demonstrated art practice could itself externalize itself from the existing institutional structure which was authoritative and transmissional and based on notions of certainty, and could operate to transform those things into models of exchange which I thought were richer than transmissional models, transmissional models like a radio, you are just a receiver, you don't really connect with the origination of the message you're obviously going to interpretate it but you're encoding the position that you are in. What I'm interested in was the site of exchange, that the receiver is both transmitter and the transmitter is receiver. So that you are able to ask questions. And questions seem to me fundamental to exchange in social relationships, because when you ask a question you denote that you have an incomplete model of reality, you are uncertain, and in replying you are trying to build up a model of certainty, you are trying to reduce that gap in reality. We are talking about agreement, about states of agreement. Agreement is build out of mutuality. To me this is a parameter of society. All these works were underpinning that as notions of agreement. So now we can... [leafs through book] I should talk about »Metafilter«. picks up different book] »Metafilter« was one of a series of simulation, projects that I developed through the 60s, 70s and still developing to this very day, where social ideas are represented in a kind of closed, simulated environment. In »Metafilter«, the idea was that two people were set up in an active exchange, they built a model of society between them. »Metafilter« was completely open-ended. There was no »right« or »wrong«, »good« or »bad« associated with it. But two people sat on each side of a counter and looked at representations of other people in social situations, and then were asked a question about – which was again very difficult, sometimes quite difficult questions, philosophical questions – interpretating the relationship between these people in terms of ideologies – ideologies of competition... of cooperation, different kinds of statements. They had a thesaurus to develop responses and ultimately solutions to these questions. The idea was to find agreement; and when they agreed, »Metafilter« then took you to another state based on your agreement. If you couldn't agree, it searched around the same sort of territory presenting you a lot of questions which might enable you to agree. Though you had this simulated situation, what it was doing, was structuring the relationship between two people into a mode of exchange... The idea was that this work would be taken to different environments, advertised in different kinds of magazines, took it to different places and involved different kinds of audiences; anybody could come to Metafilter and operate it. It's different from the tennis project: I used the language that existed in the tennis environment, in »Metafilter« you acquire the language of »Metafilter«. Consequently the idea here was, that people could come from quite diverse backgrounds to operate it. Okay?

Stephen Willats »