Inside an Ocean, 1979
This project was also part of a one person exhibition –Concerning Our Present Way of Living – at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in the East End of London.It was made in co-operation with people living on the Ocean Estate near the Gallery and the Display Boards were exhibited in Dame Colet House within the estate so that people would visit both the exhibition in the Gallery and the project in the surrounding community, thus re-positioning the role of the Gallery into the locality.
A key element of this way of working was to establish trust between the participant and the artist, as Willats explained:
‘(The people) hadn’t worked with an artist, they’d never met an artist in that circumstance or situation and they didn’t really expect to….I pointed out that I was trying to make a connection with the world people actually lived in, and I wanted to do something to redefine the way the art gallery might operate.They understood what I meant, they’d never been to an art gallery, it never meant anything to them, it was a world of abstraction and academia, so they were only too interested to talk about how it could become different from their perspective.It was an act of mutuality, so those that did get involved were those that had an interest in the idea.I was always very open, as an artist I was coming to make this work and I explained the process…
The project was in three parts, the first part was descriptive, asking participants to describe their world as it is and went on over two weeks.Then the second part, again over two weeks, was to consider how things could be different, transformed.The third part was a presentation of the work for two weeks.The whole project was in situ for 6 weeks, but it took over a year to prepare for it..’
Willats interviewed by Nayia Yiakoumaki, Stephen Willats: Concerning Our Present Way of Living, Archive Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, 2014