Contemporary artist Stephen Willats’ connection with Modern Art Oxford (MAO) began in 1967 and this, his fourth MAO exhibition externalises the idea of networks of people. Stephen says his fundamental aims involve exploring relationships between people and his idea that connections are fundamental to civilisation.

“Increase connections and culture is more mutualistic whereas object-based culture increases competition.” I was intrigued by his use of 1960s and ’70s ceramics. Stephen said that began with a project in Berlin. On display are images of the monolithic impersonal block of flats where he was involved in a community project culminating in In Two Minds in 2010.

“The apartment blocks separated people but I noticed that inside the flats carefully displayed vases looked like statements connecting the owners to the zeitgeist. People are often seen as objects but people can make objects personal.”

As well as presenting his new and recent work, he has orchestrated a unique Oxfordshire collaboration. The Oxford Community Data Stream brought together residents from Blackbird Leys with villagers from Kennington. The results are on show in MAO until June 16.

Do visit the exhibition but don’t go with the expectation of understanding the two communities and how they differ because Stephen’s aims concern connecting.

The village of Kennington grew out of an Elizabethan estate and is defined by its geography squeezed between the Thames and Bagley Woods. In the 19th century, work on the river preventing flooding enabled individual artisans to buy plots of land on which to build homes. But Stephen focused on a row of ’50s houses which related more in style to the homes in Blackbird Leys.

Blackbird Leys was created when the old working class district of St Ebbe’s was demolished to build the Westgate Centre and the population was involuntarily rehoused in a completely new development. Since then its residents have worked hard to reconnect and build a vibrant community.

Blackbird Leys has more facilities than Kennington but, to get a sense of how Kennington connects, watch village resident Philip Hind’s film at koa. In the picture you will see Peter Biggs who was chair of The Parish Council for 20 years photographing potholes which is a current Kennington obsession. Having explained what this project is not, let me describe what it is. Stephen’s inspired idea was to bring together people who have never met and may not think they have much in common, to give them the task of filming and photographing the detail of the contemporary landscape that is common to us all. The catalogue includes an interview with Ute Meta Bauer who acted as creative instigator in Blackbird Leys. Ute’s distinguished career includes being founding director of a program in art, culture, and technology at MIT. She believes art can be transformative in communities. Talking of the Facebook society, she says, “Missing are spaces of physical encounter…”

Sitting next to me, my partner from Blackbird Leys, was a warm and inspirational carer called Ann Jackson. We worked together to combine our images. Stephen and his team developed the images the 16 participants had made and brought the two groups together to merge the results and create works of art. Stephen said: “We had no fixed goal other than the desire to create an interface between two communities and initially, had no idea how we would present it but I’m pleased with the results.” The Oxford Community Data Stream dominates the ground floor and Stephen’s Conscious –Unconscious is in the upper galleries.”

There are also two channel video presentations in Kennington Village Centre and, in Blackbird Leys, at The Agnes Smith Advice Centre. In The Piper Gallery, there is another exhibition titled Archigram Beyond/ Architecture Remix 2013. Just as Stephen’s first contact with MAO was in 1967 a group of young architects called Archigram had their first MAO association in 1967. All three exhibitions run until June 16.

Museum of Modern Art Oxford Until June 16 Call 01865 01865 813800 or visit