A Short Survey of CONTROL Magazine 1965–2017

In 1965 Stephen Willats was in touch with a group of artists, designers and art theoreticians to put together a new art magazine, which came to be called Control. It cost £67 to print, 450 copies were made and sold for 3/- each, as a not-for-profit magazine without adverts or any other commercial linkage, selling mostly through independent bookshops and, in addition, there was a small exhibition of the magazine at a book shop in Charing Cross Road. Issue One was anonymous, with no date and no Editor listed. However, by Issue 3 in 1967, both Stephen Willats as Editor and a date for the Issue were included as Willats had been told it was illegal to omit this information. The title Control was intended to be polemical, to state the difference between two radically different forms of control: not that one entity had control over another, but that control could be seen as a self-organising system that determines itself.

Issue One was almost a conceptual artwork in itself, the few texts are more like statements and the entire issue had a very graphical presentation. A young designer called Dean Bradley assisted Willats, producing the cover image and logo.
Texts such as that by Roy Ascott reinforced the magazine’s graphical aspect.

This first issues were aimed at bringing together and externalising ideas so as to create a network among artists that challenged and re-defined mainstream notions of art and its societal functions. All contributions to the magazine were to be original, not published elsewhere, and this policy has continued throughout all the issues. As the editorial in Issue Two stated ‘It is of vital importance that a platform exists outside of the old established mechanisms of the art hierarchy which allows for completely free discussion of concepts by the artist – this magazine is an attempt to provide this position.’

By Issue Three, the magazine was moving from the earlier philosophical statements towards more documenting of practice by artists. Willats would always write to invite artists to contribute to Control as in this letter to Peter Stroud in August 1966: ‘I am sending this information about your article …The third issue is on control operating in the art work, or in the control of an observer, this is just a platform which you are invited to use so that the issue has some direction. You could write about your relation to the object and the control exercised in it, or how your work relates to the observer and how you operate any controlled responses or both..’. Stroud wrote a short text about his constructions: ‘ The problem of control interests me mainly in terms of how the artist almost unconsciously organises constructions. The viewers’ reaction by his use of means and materials…’

Poem Blanc by John Sharkey Willats was always interested in moving away from straight text, as he wrote ‘the demonstration of an argument is wide open in terms of materials …if you wish to use other materials we could discuss the best way to do it.’ For Issue Three, Joe Tilson contributed a questionnaire, Noel Forster included three slides as Light Modulators inside an envelope that the viewer was invited to project and then superimpose the images and devise their own ways of using them. Peter Cook made a 2 page drawing titled Control or Choice, Peter Upward a hand made drawing, John Sharkey contributed Poem Blanc with its moveable card and text.

By 1968, the issue of control was also central to Issue Four, which was directed at pulling together a group of artists who were in some way or other trying to rethink the artist’s relation to society, and the controls available to them. As Willats wrote to Victor Burgin: ‘For this coming issue the platform the magazine will operate from is: ‘What hope has the artist got of any social control given this situation or any other’, one would not expect a contribution to be specifically about this but the area of Social Control would be essential to the contribution.’

By Issue Five, 1969, Willats is looking at ways of developing the content: ‘While Control Magazine will continue to explore conceptual models, the policy with earlier issues being that a platform was set up and artists from different, and perhaps opposed stances being asked to comment or operate from it, with this issue however it is made up of artists and theorists that are either thinking within the area that concerns the magazine or are operating within them. …While Control Magazine will continue to explore conceptual models and directions, what is felt is needed at the present time is hard information about the actual trialling of these models.’

After Issue Five, Willats was considering stopping Control Magazine, but the development of his new project, Cognition Control at the Midland Group Gallery in 1972, persuaded him he needed to make a new issue. Consequently, Issue Six resulted from the presentations and projects associated with this event.

Extract from Visual Meta Language Simulation – Stephen Willats – Control Issue Six, 1971 Issue Six was based on the various projects that had made up Willats’ Cognition Control Project at Midland Group Gallery including discussion of projects such as Man From The Twenty-First Century or Visual Meta Language Simulation by Willats, Jan Kopinski’s After-Image Game, Ernest Edmonds Communications Game, Jack Shotbolt’s Behavioural Maze Project No 1 or David Bugden’s Dissemobile.

In a similar way, Issue Seven,1973, reflected the activity that took place around The Centre for Behavioural Art (1972 – 3), that Willats had set up within Gallery House on Exhibition Road. Gallery House was initiated in 1973 by Ziggy Kraus and Rosetta Brooks in response to an invitation from the young German Cultural Attache for them to show new avant garde art in a building that was owned by the Goethe Institute. Rosetta Brooks gave Willats the use of the third floor and the artists in the magazine were those that were associated with the activities around the Centre for Behavioural Art. The Centre was concerned with developing purposeful frameworks for the artist which attempted to realize the relationships (possible and probable) between the social context, the function proposed by the artist, and the behaviour and language of the audience.

There is more of an emphasis on explanation, on cybernetics, information technology and art practice in texts in the Issues of the 1970s and this probably reflected the political atmosphere and social landscape of that time. Many contributors describe projects they carried out, for example, Kevin Lole’s Survey of Distance Models of Art or Peter Dunn and Loraine Lesson’s Adjusting Culture to Practical Function. But the other noticeable change is the introduction of contributions from European and American artists. By Issue 9 in 1975 there are texts from Dan Graham – New York, Herve Fischer – Paris and Landfried Schroeper – Heidelberg. Women artists are also represented with Loraine Leeson, Mary Kelly’s discussions of the Post-Partum Document and Femininity and writings by Jane Kelly and Fern Tiger.

By Issue Eleven in 1979 the magazine reflected Willats’ time in Berlin as a DAAD Fellow and the theme and sub-title of the Issue is Self Organisation – The Expression of Counter Consciousness. In particular the growth of producer’s galleries in Berlin, as alternatives to the market based gallery system, is recorded with Dieter Hacker’ text, The Artist’s Political Work Begins with his Work, Raimund Kummer and Hermann Pitz describe their Lutzowstrasse Situation along with the co-operative, Galerie in Friedrichstrasse’s The Association for Research in to the Full Employment of the Unnoticed.

Extract from The Artists’ Political Work Begins With His Work – Dieter Hacker – Issue Eleven.
In a letter to Dieter Hacker, Willats explained that ‘.. the contribution that I would like to get from you concerns the role of the gallery as work, its relation to content and to the audience. I want to bring together in the new issue a number of different practices that I consider to be counter to dominant stereotypes and are self-determined.’

By Issue Thirteen, 1982, the magazine again changes radically, Willats is writing to Tony Bevan saying, ‘I think the magazine will be a radical departure from the heavily theoretical issues of the 70s and will be more visually expressive.’
There was no editorial to this issue, but it was made up of works by artists – with the group of young sculptors around the Lisson Gallery predominant - produced specially for the magazine to reflect the changing cultural sensibilities of the time and the artists were asked to contribute visual and text statements about their practice. Many of the contributions were purely visual such as those by Bill Woodrow, Kate Blacker, Sue Arrowsmith and Tony Cragg and others featured some hand-made element such as the orange paint by Glenys Johnson or the blue plastic beetle made by Anish Kapoor. This beetle was then glued into the magazine and some blue dye scattered over it. It could lead to certain problems however, as Willats wrote to Kapoor: ‘A matter of some urgency! I have no more beetles, and a printer to pay and readership who want your project. Everyone really likes your page, so please some more beetles soon.’

The beetle used to create the artwork page made by Anish Kapoor in Issue Thirteen
Cover of Issue Thirteen Control Magazine frequently had an element of the hand made. The covers of Issues Six to Twelve were silkscreen printed at 5, London Mews by Willats with the assistance of various artist friends. Issue Thirteen had a red cross individually painted by Willats and this hand painted mark was repeated in the blue circle on the cover of Issue Fourteen.
It is worth noting that producing the magazine from Issue Eight in 1974, to Issue Twelve in 1981, was a very hands on affair with the layouts all being made in Willats’ studio by himself using this IBM Executive Typewriter with its very recognizable font. Usually 600 copies of each issue would be printed on a gloss art paper and good quality card in order to put the magazine on a par with larger circulation main stream art journals such as Art Forum.
London Mews, the editorial office

Issue Fourteen was created from the results of a weekend Symposium for Control held at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford. Called The International Artists’ Symposium – Art Creating Society, June 1st – 3rd 1990, participating artists were asked to take two pages of the magazine and express – in whatever way they found relevant to their own practice – the central issue of art creating society.

Performance by Endre Tot, Oxford Symposium Issues frequently resulted from Control events providing a social context, a way of creating an immediacy, a scenario for the magazine itself; in addition to the Oxford Symposium, Cognition Control and the Centre for Behavioural Art, three seminars were held at the New Serpentine Bookshop in Warren Street which became Issue Sixteen, 2001 and The Art Intervention Seminars held at the Vilma Gold gallery in 2003 which fed into Issue Seventeen. Earlier in the 1990s a one day symposium was held at the Poster Studio in the Charing Cross Road and in the 1970s a series was held at the premises of the London Music Collective. From 2009, evening launches for issues were held at Rokeby Gallery in Bloomsbury and at Vilma Gold and Kate McGarry Gallery in the East End. These launches featured work, presentations and events by the participating artists and for Issue Twenty, Laure Genillard Gallery had a month long exhibition of work, videos, radio broadcast and performances.

Since 2000, the magazine has continued to include a mix of texts and accounts of projects, from Vito Acconci's Proposal for Museum Lawn, Williams College, or Thomas Hirschorn's Presence and Production in Issue Eighteen, 2009 to Ross Taylor and Madalina Zaharia's Walls With Holes In or Ricardo Basbaum's Re-projecting (London) in Issue Nineteen, 2014 to Eliana Otta's A Few Thoughts About As Yet) Non-Existing Film to Stephen Willats' THISWAY in Issue Twenty, 2017.

For Stephen Willats, Control Magazine is a work in progress. He has said that it only comes out when there is a rationale to make a new Issue. 'At various points I was thinking that there would never be another issue of the magazine. After each issue I thought, well, that's it. But somehow it developed. It was always a very informal or casual affair.' The decades since 1965 show very different activity: 1965 to 1975, 8 issues; 1975 to 1985, 5 issues; 1985 to 2005, 3 issues; 2005 to 2017, 4 issues.

As the editor, Stephen Willats has always seen the magazine as reflecting a very particular direction for an art that is about society and community and that connects directly to his own work. The editorial for Issue Twenty continues to reinforce that approach which has been at the forefront of Control since 1965: Control Magazine is seen as a vehicle for creating networks between artists who are working with people, community and society; artists that are looking for a relevance, a meaning for their art practice within the contemporary social setting.