Stephen Willats, Control Magazine, Studio International, 1976

Stephen Willats

  1. Control Magazine is published and edited by Stephen Willats at 5 London Mews, London W2. The Magazine was started by myself in 1965, as an occasional journal that centred on the development of a socially relevant theory and practice in art. Right from the magazine’s inception it has been seen as a manifestation of the editorial standpoint for models of information associated with the concept of self-determinism. As an ideology the concept of self-determinism is considered to be embodied in the magazine’s title, Control, which was specially selected because of its polemical associations. Two primary uses of the word ‘control’ exist: 1) A system determines the behaviour of another, ie a state of social determinism. 2) a system determines its own behaviour, ie social self-determinism. The last example is the usage embodied in the title Control Magazine, which refers to the notion that the artist might himself determine the resources for his activity as extensions of the work. The magazine is intended to function as an agent of reform within the preoccupations of the art community, and ultimately – through its influence on art practice – on the functionality of art within society. Such a discussion among artists working in contexts removed from each other can be furthered if there is a resource such as Control Magazine, for the publication in unmediated form of their texts. This is an important step towards establishing coherent, articulated models, which extend the meaning of art within society. For such developments to occur the theoretical foundations of art will need to be self-determined by the artist, rather than being left, as in the past, to others. For example: the Art Historian.

  2. Control Magazine does not have any advertising, or any other source of support, other than from sales, either through bookshops or subscriptions. It pays its own costs.

  3. There are no permanent members of staff.

  4. Control Magazine appears approximately once a year, and the edition size of issues has averaged 650 copies. Back issues, Nos. 3 to 8, are available at 75p each plus postage. The current issue is £1, plus postage, and subscription rates which include postage are at present £4.80 for four issues. All issues can be obtained by post from the editorial address. The printing cost of the last issue was £230.

  5. No payment is made to writers.

  6. Within the resources available, the magazine attempts to present contributors’ texts as clearly as it can. The size of the magazine is 12 by 9 inches, and it is printed by offset litho on art paper. Generally there are 20 pages of text, photographs and line reproductions, plus a card cover.

  7. As previously stated Control Magazine is directed towards participating members of the art community, principally artists. As the contributions to Control Magazine are, except for the odd article, by artists about aspects of their own practice, the readership of the journal is potentially its contributors.

  8. The magazine has both a descriptive and prescriptive function, the two being interrelated. Therefore no separation is made between the critical intentions of contributors, and their informative ones. A critique of current practice is also considered to be informative; similarly a description of a work will inevitably entail the objectives of that work, which may well (as in the case of Control Magazine) involve a criticism of contemporary practice. The separation of roles into those that produce art, and those that articulate its theoretical constraints, is a product of cultural determinism and segregation. The conjoining of theory and practice, as part of the same territory of responsibility, is a natural consequence of the artist self-determining the criterion under which he chooses to operate.

9. Contributors to Control Magazine have included: Roy Ascott, Mark Boyle, Victor Burgin, Peter Cook, Stroud Cornock, Hervé Fischer, Noel Forster, Dan Graham, Gerald Laing, John Latham, Kevin Lole, Tom Phillips, Landfried Schroepfer, Peter Smith, John Sharkey, Alan Sondheim, John Stezaker, Joe Tilson, John A. Walker, Stephen Willats, Joe Wilson.

  1. Contributions are welcome from anyone whose concerns extend in a positive way the intended function of the magazine. In order to focus attention on the issues raised by the journal, the relationship of art to society has formed the parameter to each of the nine issues. The value of Control Magazine is that its specificity enables a defined area of attention to be pursued at a level that would not be possible in an all-embracing type of journal. The specificity of Control Magazine means that a related body of information has been collected together and published in its various issues, which can act as a ready source of reference for anyone pursuing its particular area of interest. While there has been a consistent area of attention throughout the magazine’s nine issues, the way in which it has been dealt with various considerably. A process of arguing art practice out of its past roles had to be undertaken before a new basis for operation could be articulated. Thus the speculative nature of the journal’s early issues has been replaced by descriptions of actually operating methodology.

    The view is fostered in Control Magazine that traditional methodology is an inadequate vehicle for extending the function of art within society. Thus many of the contributions have undertaken a pragmatic examination of an appropriate means of operating, and have presented as integral to their work models of communication derived from reference to the methodology of the social behavioural sciences. This has included reference to Cybernetics, Advertising, Learning Theory, etc. Such an extension of the magazine’s references outside what has traditionally been permissible in historical models of art, to involve areas of activity that can provide the tools for furthering a socially meaningful practice, reflects the tendency towards interaction between what were culturally segregated areas of information. So while the journal is concerned with a defined area of art activity, the territory of references dealt with is extensive and continually shifting. The changing nature of society itself must require the artist to accept the evolutionary nature of his own activity, and as a result for him to undertake a continual re-examination of its basis. This represents the future policy of this journal.

  2. Within any social grouping various mechanisms determine what is permissible as a function of its activities. In terms of the art community this is bound up with the problem of what constitutes legitimate practice, ie what is permissible as art. The power and role of the ‘media’ in determining states of consciousness has been written about extensively and is well-known. As a product of their intended informative function the ‘art magazine’, probably unintentionally in terms of editorial policy, acts as a consciousness-determining mechanism within the art community. The problem is far too complex to discuss here properly, but simply by attending to certain preoccupations, stating certain values, the ‘art magazine’ sets up stereotypes which, for no other reason than the social need to be seen to be correct, must exert pressure on the individual to conform. This leads to certain modes of practice predominating within the art community, which do not reflect the interests of a wider audience. However the increasing tendency towards a pluralist, contextual practice would seem to require the development of specific journals to deal adequately with the new situation. Such a proliferation of journals appears to be occurring. Ideally they should grow out of a particular group’s involvement in art, since a more socially rooted practice may thereby evolve. A function of large circulation art magazines, and one that would extend their information-embracing role, is to direct their readers’ attention to the journals that represent specific involvements.

  3. (a) See question 2. (b) Inevitably the art market and its presumed power must affect the concerns of contributors and reader response.

Studio International, Sept/Oct 1976