Observant people may have already noticed some work from Conscious-Unconscious without having even passed a gallery.
Nestled discretely in seven storefronts in the town centre, small screens flicker with People and Diagrams, a series of films made around Oxford in the past year. These site-based works reflect Willats’ practice of systematizing our relationships with our surroundings, and in this latest solo show he has chosen to use the city and its inhabitants as his means to do this.
The most prominent piece in the exhibition is ‘The Oxford Community Data Stream’, which the artist developed over the last two years in conjunction with one group of residents from Kennington and one from Blackbird Leys. Participants were given super-8 cameras and asked to record their daily environment. The two sets of footage were then spliced together to create imaginary realities. For those who only think of Oxford as dreaming spires, the candid and gritty accounts of these neighbourhood’s is refreshing. Though the final cut is dull and prosaic, the participant’s films and photographs form touching portraits of the community.
Willats’ fixation on our interactions with the “hypernormal” emerges in Macro to Micro, composed of text, stills and video. In 1998, the artist instructed five actors to perform a series of “normal” events in an Uxbridge shopping parade and commissioned a team of people from media backgrounds to document what took place with complete subjectivity, again using the very evocative Super-8. Their focus on the details of the parade and the minutiae of the group’s actions successfully evokes our individualistic perspectives of the everyday, and pleasantly disorientates the viewer as we struggle to apply our objectivity.
The exhibition also looks at interpersonal relationships. In ‘How Others See Us and How We See Ourselves’, brightly tinted photographic prints show two young creatives in incredibly tasteful domestic setting, over which Willats has placed letraset buzzwords to describe the couple, such as, “Pacesetters, Consumers, Searching for the Attraction.” Though Willat’s work dignifies his pedestrian subject matter, the prints also parody their lifestyles and stimulate knowing middle-class chuckles.
The bold colours and designs of Willats’ prints have a 1970’s feel, which can makes his works appear conceived from an antiquated perspective. This is most obvious in the 2011 series ‘How the Future Looks From Here’, which shows a twenty-something Brooklynite couple at home. The prints are stamped with ideas about how new communication technology is shaping our relationships. The dated form made me inherently skeptical of their perspectives and suspect them of fogeyism.
Much of the work in the show does look like it was created much earlier than the captions claim, and it is a shame that Willats’ style has not developed to match the contemporary poignancy of his social analysis