Stephen Willats

Vertical Living, 1978

Vertical Living
Skeffington Court, Hayes, West London

This was the first project work that Willats made that focused on one building rather than an entire area or more than one area. Skeffington Court was an isolated tower block, surrounded by houses and lower rise housing blocks in suburban West London.
Willats explained:
Two principle factors determined how Vertical Living would relate to its audience:
1. Residents of the tower were directly invited to participate in a process of encoding themselves into the work’s fabric.
2. The work would be physically located in the tower
Having selected Skeffington Court as the tower to be used, seven residents agreed to co-operate in making the work. A series of tape recorded discussions and photographic documentations were made, the resulting transcribed texts and images being used in the development of Problem Displays. Each resident directed what photographs of personal objects and themselves were taken and defined one of the problem situations, later approving the final artwork for the Problem Display.*
Once the Problem Displays were completed, one of the group of Project Operators visited all the residents of the tower block and asked if they would like to participate in the interactive project. Participants received a Project File and every two days one of the Problem Displays was set up by the lift on one of the floors of the block, gradually reaching the thirteenth floor. The participants then recorded their own response to the problem situation defined by the Display Board and all the varying responses were shown together on the Register Boards by the lifts. Thus people could compare their responses to other people’s. The Displays evolved from problems around the isolation of individuals in the tower to more conceptual issues such as how they might establish their own organization to overcome the problems of life in the tower. This sequencing led participants from a descriptive analysis of their situation, to the transformative notion that they could re-order their lives as a community.
All the Display Boards were in place after 14 days, and remained there for a further week. At the end of the project a meeting was held with all the participants, project operators and the artist to discuss the project together.
*From The Counter Consciousness in Vertical Living, Stephen Willats, Control Magazine, Issue11, p. 5

Stephen Willats: Vertical Living

Display Board from Vertical Living

Stephen Willats: Vertical Living, Display Board from Vertical Living

Display Board from Vertical Living