Stephen Willats

Life Codes - Behaviour Parameters, 1974

The establishment of formal relationships between people is fundamental to coherence in the fabric of any social organization and results in the evolution of interpersonal behaviour norms or conventions that provide criteria to facilitate interaction. As such, interpersonal behaviour conventions form a parameter that underlies a social organization, and from which derives the structure of behaviour between persons. The form that behaviour conventions take reflects the aspirations, motivations and level of organization of the social context they are operative within, and they are reinforced through their externalization into coded structures that provide a basis for interaction. In this sense the way a person codes his or her home can reflect a desired or actual position within a community. As these coded structures are externalized as a manifestation of a person’s social history I have called them Life Codes. The basis of interpersonal behaviour is considered to be largely conditioned by the internal models people construct of each other from their coding displays which affect their perception of the other, and thus subsequent interaction between them. I have used the word model here to refer to the mental orderings of a structure of some kind made by an individual, formalized by that individual into coded representations that have themselves been formed into a structure, the features of which correspond with the former structure. Thus in forming a perceptual response to another person, reference is made to an implicitly held structure of representations of the codings that have been externalized by that person as contextual manifestations of behaviour parameters. As an area of attention the aforementioned was seen as pertinent to the question of the prescriptive function of art practice within the pluralistic nature of the social setting, in that it involves the underlying parameters of social behaviour, and as such has an implicative structure that extends into our societal state.

Person A

Person A was conceived as an artwork that forwarded a relationship between the models a person constructs of another person from the latter’s externalized codings, and their actual state of behaviour. The work is structured as a discreet learning system that involves the audience in making a number of decisions concerning their perception of a symbolically coded person, i.e. Person A. Each of the decisions formalizes in an explicit fashion the processes by which a person, in this case a member of the audience, constructs implicit models of other people.

The work does not legislate to the audience an evaluative criteria of right or wrong in the way in which they construct their model, but rather each state in the learning sequence consists of a number of variables, people selecting the ones they find personally meaningful. In this sense the work attempts to embrace the problem of relativism in people’s cognition (what is meaningful to one person might not be so for the next.) a context-dependent standpoint being adopted.

The learning system is structured into six states that are presented as two rows of sheets displayed on a wall, each one centring on a photograph of Person A within a coded situation, and which involves the audience in making two or three decisions concerning the depicted context. The first of these decisions concerns the state of behaviour of Person A, and the audience is asked to select from a list of short sentences describing the possible behaviour parameters, one they consider appropriate to their perception of Person A in the photograph. If a member of the audience selects a behaviour parameter that implies a change in the actions of Person A, he or she goes to one of the sheets in the bottom row, to be presented with a list of alternative future actions, and having selected one of these, according to the one selected progresses to one of the other states in the system. On the other hand, if the behaviour parameter that has been selected implies a continuance in Person A’s actions, the participant goes to a sheet in the bottom row to be presented with a list of words used to describe the perception of a person’s characteristics. One of these words is selected as appropriate to that person’s perception of Person A and recorded in a separate form provided to construct a model with. After the entry is made on the form, the participant is then instructed to go to a sheet of future actions and thus taken on into the system. Every state in the system has its own list of person perception words, each one concerning different attributes of Person A. There are six lists of words, which range from the physical appearance of Person A, to mental states, social states, etc. As members of the audience construct their models of their perception of Person A’s characteristics the words they chosen will infer the next selection. If for example they select ‘warm’ they might find it easier to select ‘generous’ than if they had initially selected ‘cold’. However as they progress in the learning system they are also making decisions about states of behaviour, and obtaining a more general picture of Person A’s life codings than would be contained in an individual state. Thus there could well appear a gap between the inferences the audience makes through their models drawn from the coded contexts, and their decisions concerning the state of behaviour and actions of Person A. There is no set terminating goal provided in the work; the audience can cycle through the process again and again, for the model constructed each time is likely to be different, though inferred from the previous one. However, the relationships made by the audience between the parameters that underlie social behaviour, and their externalization in coded structures made as a result of progressing through the learning system, graduate their access into the potential conflicts between the two, the analogies they are able to make with their own perceptual behaviour forming the function of the work

Life Codes - Behaviour Parameters 1974