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feature martin creed
The works illustrating this article are by Martin Creed (b. 1968) and are courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth 1 Work No. 1065, 2010 Acrylic, enamel, ink, oil and watercolour on canvas, 30325.5cm © Martin Creed works seem to attack the viewer’s sensibilities, sometimes by restricting their freedom of movement, as in Work No. 115: A doorstop fixed to a floor to let a door open only 45 degrees (1995–99).
‘To me [that work is] not aggressive. It’s more like the experience of going to someone’s house and there being a funny doorknob on the bathroom door making it difficult to lock properly. It makes you feel uncomfortable. But those people who own the house have got used to it – they can live around it. Now is that door aggressive? I once heard someone describe the difference between the Germans and Italians in terms of the way both would deal with this sort of situation. Let’s say there is a cardboard box in the middle of the road. Well, the German would get out of the car and protest about it. Whereas the Italian would just drive around it.’
Nevertheless, there is a critical line of enquiry in the early work that persists in exposing the architectural and ideological framework of the white cube – and this renders these pieces somewhat dry and exacting. For the most part, Creed makes the viewer hyperaware of the specifics of the context in which they are experiencing his art. He achieves this by underlining different aspects of a given space’s character. Work No. 227: The lights going on and off (2000; Fig. 2), with which he won the Turner Prize in 2001, is the apotheosis of this technique.
With music becoming a crucial aspect of Creed’s work in the early 2000s, performance also began to play a central role. The act of performing a song opened out on to the broader act of framing a series of movements and gestures as a piece of art. In Work No. 850 from 2008, Creed set runners sprinting through the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain and, a year later, Work No. 1020 saw the artist choreographing a piece for classically trained dancers at Sadler’s Wells.
One of Creed’s first performance pieces occurred when he was asked to be a judge for Beck’s Futures in 2006. At the time, nobody was expecting Creed to reinterpret the presentation of the award. ‘They just asked
me to present [it],’ Creed recalls. ‘But to me the speech, making the presentation in front of the audience was a work too – in fact, just as much so as a sculpture or song.’ Creed turned his speech into a rhyming ad-lib. Two years later, in 2008, he followed this up with a performance for Calvin Klein. ‘It’s funny you mention [the Calvin Klein] and the Beck’s prize speech, because both those things were really important to me. They were important even though they were everyday things. Calvin Klein basically asked me to design a party for them. It was a commercial job, but I was really up for it. Doing things in different venues and contexts is important – whether it’s the theatre, dance, or the fashion world.’
128 apollo march 2011
FEATURE MARTIN CREED
2 Work No. 227: The lights going on and off, 2000 Installation at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2007 Dimensions variable; 5 seconds on / 5 seconds off © Martin Creed 3 Martin Creed (b. 1938),
photographed in his studio © Martin Creed Photo: Jason Schmidt 4 Installation view of ‘Mothers’ at Hauser & Wirth, London, showing Work No. 1092, 2011 White neon and steel 500125020cm © Martin Creed Photo: Hugo Glendinning 5 Work No. 683, c. 1986 Pencil, acrylic and masking tape on paper, 2129.7cm © Martin Creed Photo: Hugo Glendinning
As a result of the introduction of performance, Creed’s work heated up and started to become laced with humour and feeling. Earlier songs based on stark numbered sequences gave way to lyrical tunes like Work No. 215: You’re the one for me (1998–99), which had words with a strong emotional content:
I’m the one for you I’m your two You’re the one for me You’re my three.
When asked about this shift, Creed responds: ‘The warmer [songs] were a departure for me and they related to other works I was doing at the time, like the Everything is Going to be Alright [1999–2006] neon pieces. This series doesn’t fit with the earlier counting pieces or the lights going on and oﬀ installation…I find it diﬃcult to say why the more emotive pieces were made, whereas with the [earlier] pieces I find it is much easier – it is almost a scientific approach to making a work. One is more to do with thinking, and the other feeling.’ While there are anomalies, the development of Creed’s practice definitely carves out a clear trajectory towards performance and the emotive.
The expansion of Creed’s visual vocabulary continued between 2006 and the present, as he progressively opened up to new mediums. The introduction of video and photography into his œuvre led to artworks of people vomiting (Work No. 610 ); defecating (Work No. 609 ); playing piano in the gallery (Work No. 736 ); and Creed himself appearing in one video kicking a potted plant (Work No. 732 [2007; Fig. 7]). The net result is a body of work that is not only more expansive but more flexible in its approach and working practice. This is nowhere more present than in Work No. 1094 (2011), a photograph in which two dogs – the petite Orson and the larger and shaggy Sparky – are captured walking from one edge of the frame to another. This year also sees Creed’s use of neon return with Work No. 1092 (Fig. 4), which spells out the word ‘ ’ in
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