Interview by Uscha Pohl, Inside Magazines, 2002

Interview by Uscha Pohl

Uscha Pohl “Control” as a title is provocative and has many associations. What did it mean for you, what was the main reason for this choice?

Stephen Willats Initially, the word “control” just seemed to be very modern, reflect the times very well whilst being nicely controversial at the same time. “Control” as a word, has been traditionally understood as one entity determining another. In the early ‘60s the idea came about that one could exist as a self-organising system that determines itself, its own parts. So art could move away from being “institutionalized.” Separate from the museums and galleries and white walls, artists could determine the rules for themselves in the fabric of life-hence taking “control.”
The word as a title is subversive, representing a self-empowering, a “mutiny” to the system, and in its polemic attracted a lot of attention, particularly in the ‘70s.

UP What spurred the idea of the creation of “Control?”

SW There was this feeling that visual art was finished. From being very specialist at the outset of the ‘60s, where there was no communication between disciplines such as mathematics, psychology, engineering and art at all, suddenly everything was meant to be one. The mid- ‘60s was an era of interdisciplinary ideas, the vanishing of boundaries between the domains of musicians, philosophers. Everyone thought of themselves “artists,” and everything could be art. What constituted the difference?
There was no single answer. “Control” was created out of the void of a platform for artists to express themselves, outside the traditional form of galleries/ museums.

UP Were there other magazines/ periodicals/ publications around at the time that you could reference?

SW The only “art periodicals” I recall around in London at the time, were “Craft” magazine (arts + crafts), “signals,” a journalistic magazine, “Studio” on English pottery. Control was the first artist manifesto set to disseminate ideas of artists.

UP 1967/68 saw the emergence of new art magazines looking at the art world from yet another angle: Parkett (Switzerland), Artforum (USA), Flashart (Italy), are some of the internationally leading art publications (still) today. Interview was started in 1969 and quickly became part of popular culture.
Are there other independent art magazines that you appreciate out there (apart from VERY, thanks)?

SW Smaller artist magazines have a tendency to come and go after a few issues. The subversive “Rat Catcher,” “Frameworks” and “Analytical Art” I liked very much, they were all UK-based and from the early ‘70s. “Inventory” is a recent one and still going.

UP Over the (almost) 40 years of its (16) publications, Control has changed only slightly in format (from larger to A4), stayed the same in type of contents but varied in the forms of expressions and matters expressed.

SW The first issue was a bit more like a conceptual artwork itself. When I started Control, we were caught in the middle of ‘60s ideas of modernism and simultaneously preparing for the ‘70s. Control went through a period of explanation in the ‘70s: cybernetics, information theory, art practice…. In the ‘80s it reflected the feeling of an artwork again, visual statements, with a text base. Artists like Anish Kapoor, Bill Woodrow, Tony Cragg, Tony Bevan were contributing.
The ‘90s started to deal with issues akin to the ‘70s again. But the language had changed, if you look at the texts of the ‘70s, they are sometimes barely readable, even unreadable, questioning the meaning of meaning, all the fundamentals. In the ‘90s the ways of message transmission had changed through the visual age of the ‘80s.
UP Ideas of consumption, marketing, packaging, global faster living and budding new technology had entered our lives.

SW I think the ‘90s saw a gradual gulf developing between -as well as a parallel existence of – the obvious commercial system and a more “aware” approach. People start again to look at art for different reasons, experimental ones. Outside the marketplace practice, there are people concerned with educational, social and psychological and community issues.

UP Talking about “interdisciplinary practice” and a “questioning of the system,” sounds very familiar to me. The ‘60s in that respect sound rather close in nature to what we have been experiencing lately. At the same time the upsurge of magazines in the ‘60s and the one in the late ‘90s are another parallel.

SW It’s 40 years since the ‘60s and at the time we maybe were looking for expressing individualism. Coming from a more structured society we had to first create a system that allowed for it. Philosophy then was in advance of technology.
Philosophy went quiet through the ‘80s. In the ‘90s, technology leapt forward, containing its own ideological message and shaping the world. Today I feel we are more connected to the ‘60s than any time since, exchanging formal structures with methods of self-organization and mutuality. Today the quest for individuality and self-expression is taken for granted. To characterize the societal situation of today, I would describe it as “informal networks in causality.”
An idea that for me was originated with the first issue of Control, is the idea of contextualization. “A local, individual truths model of culture, pluralistic rather than centralized.”

Inside Magazines, Pub: BIS, 2002