Stephen Willats

Meta Filter, 1973-75

First shown at Gallery House in 1975, Meta Filter represented a new way for art to operate directly within society; rather than just looking at a work of art, it requires two people to construct a model of their own society in agreement with someone else.

Meta Filter is an interactive console, two participants sit on either side and look at a series of neutral images of people, people as individuals or people in relationship to others on the small screen in front of them. On their left is a thesaurus of almost 1, 000 descriptive words. Each image has a connected question, asking the participant to choose a word from the thesaurus which best describes how they perceive the problem projected onto the screen and to enter their response in their copy of the Problem Book

The two participants can compare their responses and work towards finding a mutually acceptable way of describing the situation. There is no right or wrong answer, the purpose of the work is the processes the two participants go through to understand each other’s perceptions and to work together to find a state of agreement. All the images and problems connect to easily recognisable, everyday situations.

Meta Filter takes participants through a series of twelve problem areas which focus on different issues around interpersonal relationships. For example, the first area is that of the individual in several differing situations and the subsequent themes move forwards, gradually becoming more and more complex. Once the two participants have reached agreement within a problem area, Meta Filter moves them on to a new set of problems. However, if they are unable to reach agreement then Meta Filter presents them with a new problem from the same territory.

The participants enter all their responses into their copy of the Problem Book and duplicates are also made. These duplicate sheets are then pinned on to a large display panel which shows all the responses other participants have made to the same questions so that everyone can compare their interpretations and review the many different perceptions people have a the same inter-personal situation.

For further discussion of this work see:

Stephen Willats, Art and Social Function, Latimer New Dimensions, London 1976 and republished by Ellipsis 2000

Richard Cork, Everything Seemed Possible, Art in the 1970’s, Yale University Press, pp 128 - 131

Stephen Willats: Meta Filter

Painted wood, Perspex, computer, slide projector and problem book. Collection of Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris

Stephen Willats: Meta Filter, Metafilter at Whitechapel Art Gallery, 2000

Metafilter at Whitechapel Art Gallery, 2000

Stephen Willats: Meta Filter
Stephen Willats: Meta Filter