Estates of the Nation
By Lynsey Hanley
The artist Stephen Willats first came to English council housing not as a tenant but as someone who believed that artworks should be anchored to the society in which they are made. In the introduction to this collection of over 500 photographs and short testimonies, he writes: “My feeling in the mid-1960s was that the artist and art practice had become divorced from the reality of most people’s lives”. His way of reconnecting art with its audience from the early 1970s to the mid-90s was to undertake collaborative projects on dozens of council estates, interviewing and photographing residents and their homes before compiling public display boards – often situated in stairwells and communal foyers – of their contributions. Only once this aspect of each project was completed would he then transform them into his characteristic pieces of geometric, abstract art.