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MARTIN CREED WHAT’S THE POINT OF IT?


PUBLISHED ON THE OCCASION OF THE EXHIBITION

MARTIN CREED: WHAT’S THE POINT OF IT? Hayward Gallery, London 29 January – 27 April 2014 Exhibition curated by Dr Cliff Lauson Organised by Charu Vallabhbhai, Assistant Curator, with Antonia Shaw, Curatorial Assistant Supported by This exhibition has been made possible by the provision of insurance through the Government Indemnity Scheme. Hayward Gallery would like to thank HM Government for providing Government Indemnity and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England for arranging the indemnity. Published by Hayward Publishing Southbank Centre Belvedere Road London, SE1 8XX, UK www.southbankcentre.co.uk Art Publisher: Ben Fergusson Staff Editor: Catherine Gaffney Sales Officer: Alex Glen Press and Marketing Officer: Diana Adell Catalogue designed by Joe Ewart for Society Printed in Spain by Grafos S.A. © Southbank Centre 2014 Texts © the authors 2014 Artworks © the artist 2014 (unless otherwise stated) All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electrical, mechanical or otherwise, without first seeking the written permission of the copyright holders and of the publisher. The publisher has made every effort to contact all copyright holders. If proper acknowledgement has not been made, we ask copyright holders to contact the publisher. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: 978 1 85332 320 1 This catalogue is not intended to be used for authentication or related purposes. The Southbank Board Limited accepts no liability for any errors or omissions that the catalogue may inadvertently contain. Distributed in North America, Central America and South America by D.A.P. / Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., 155 Sixth Avenue, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10013 tel: +212 627 1999 fax: +212 627 9484 www.artbook.com Distributed in the UK and Europe, by Cornerhouse Publications 70 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 5NH tel: +44 (0)161 200 1503 fax: +44 (0)161 200 1504 www.cornerhouse.org/books

Cover: Work No. 88 A sheet of paper crumpled into a ball, 1995 Backcover: Work No. 1582 Self portrait, 2013 Endpapers (front): Work No. 329 Half the air in a given space, 2004 Endpapers (back): Work No. 247 Half the air in a given space, 2000


MARTIN CREED WHAT’S THE POINT OF IT?

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CONTENTS 5 Ralph Rugoff FOREWORD 41 Cliff Lauson FEELINGS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS 81 Paul Morley ANOTHER POP STAR IN A DIFFERENT KITCHEN 121 Joachim Pissarro THE INNUMERABLE MARTIN CREED 161 Bill Bailey I KNOW WHAT I LIKE 201 List of works 204 Biography Solo exhibitions and projects 205 Selected group exhibitions 207 Selected bibliography Discography 208 Acknowledgements Lenders

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FOREWORD Ralph Rugoff Martin Creed: What’s the point of it? is the first comprehensive survey of this brilliant artist’s work to be presented in Great Britain. It takes on the full range of his expansive art, spanning its most minimal moments – a crumpled ball of paper – to room-sized installations, large-scale kinetic sculptures and a major new outdoor commission. It also illuminates some of the key moments in Creed’s development over the past two decades into one of this country’s most ingenious, audacious and thought-provoking artists. Using an unpredictable array of familiar materials – masking tape, Blu-Tack, balloons and furniture, to name only a few – he has fashioned works that seem to grow out of basic propositions related to the objects and situations that he explores. Yet the results are never reductive. At once rigorous and playful, sharply defined and deeply ambiguous, his art continually surprises and overturns our expectations. It triggers our exuberance but also probes our ambivalence; among other things, it reflects on the unease we face in making choices, the comfort we find in repetition, the desire to control, and the inevitable losses of control that colour existence. Indeed, since he first began sequentially numbering each of his artworks over a quarter of a century ago, Creed has continuously devised new ways to connect the matter-of-fact existence of things to the feelings that animate our lives and most important actions. His work also embodies a distinctly democratic spirit, springing from a conception of art that sees it as being in, and of, the world. Martin Creed: What’s the point of it? is an important addition to the Hayward Gallery’s tradition of mounting monographic shows by leading British artists – a tradition that began in 1969 with an exhibition by the late Sir Antony Caro, and has continued through recent exhibitions by Jeremy Deller and David Shrigley. I wish to express our profound thanks to Martin for creating the inspiring artworks in this exhibition, for his generous imagination and integrity and for all his work on planning this show. The realisation of this exhibition has entailed assembling works from public and private collections across North America and Europe, and has required contributions and assistance from many individuals and institutions. We are all very grateful to the many lenders to this exhibition (a full list of lenders appears on p. 208). For their generous support and assistance, I wish to extend our deep gratitude to The Henry Moore Foundation, Hauser & Wirth, Gavin Brown’s enterprise, Galleria Lorcan O’Neill and the Rennie Collection. For all their help and support our thanks also go to Michael Lett, the architectural firm Haworth Tompkins, and Hannah James and the Martin Creed Studio. Hayward Curator Cliff Lauson has brought his intelligence and insight to every aspect of this project, while working closely with the artist on its development. Assistant Curator Charu Vallabhbhai, with help from Curatorial Assistant Antonia Shaw, brilliantly organised the countless logistics of the exhibition. Ben Fergusson, interim Art Publisher, skilfully supervised the production of this catalogue, while Joe Ewart created its elegant

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design. For their utterly original and thoughtful contributions to this book, our thanks go to Bill Bailey, Paul Morley, Joachim Pissarro and Cliff Lauson.

Additional thanks are due to Hayward Operations Manager Ruth Pelopida and Senior Technician James Coney for their work in planning a technical and challenging installation; Assistant Registrar Vicky Skelding-Bloor for making sure all the work arrived safely and was properly looked after; Helen Luckett for her insightful exhibition guide and wall labels; and Hayward General Manager Sarah O’Reilly for solving numerous underlying organisational issues. As always, this exhibition would not have been possible without the enthusiastic support of Southbank Centre CEO Alan Bishop and Artistic Director Jude Kelly, as well as Southbank Centre’s Board of Trustees, and Arts Council England.


Self Portrait c. 1984

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Work No. 680 Work No. 682 Work No. 684 c. 1986

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Work No. 681 Work No. 683 Work No. 685 c. 1986


Work No. 686 Work No. 688 Work No. 690 c. 1986

Work No. 687 Work No. 689 Work No. 691 c. 1986

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Work No. 11 Two objects 1989

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Work No. 54 Four Paintings 1990–2000

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Work No. 78 As many 2.5 cm squares as are necessary cut from 2.5 cm Elastoplast tape and piled up, adhesive sides down, to form a 2.5 cm cubic stack 1993

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Work No. 79 Some Blu-Tack kneaded, rolled into a ball, and depressed against a wall 1993

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Work No. 271 On a tiled wall, in a useful place, a cubic stack of tiles built on top of one of the existing tiles 2001

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Work No. 112 Thirty-nine metronomes beating time, one at every speed 1995–2004

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Work No. 127 The lights going on and off 1995

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Work No. 175 Two drawings 1997

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Work No. 183 A sheet of paper torn up 1997

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Work No. 200 Half the air in a given space 1998

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Work No. 232 the whole world + the work = the whole world 2000

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Work No. 264 Two protrusions from a wall 2001

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Work No. 293 A sheet of paper crumpled into a ball 2003

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Work No. 295 Smiling people 2003

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FEELINGS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS Cliff Lauson

Martin Creed playing with his band at Troxy, London, 2012

Over the past 25 years, British artist Martin Creed has made work that is minimal and monumental, ephemeral and sculptural, rigorously logical and intuitively emotional. His wide-ranging practice takes on a multitude of forms – from sculptures, paintings, neons, films and installations, to music and performances – appearing both in the art gallery and in broader public circulation. Creed’s work for the London 2012 Olympics, Work No. 1197 All the bells in a country rung as quickly and loudly as possible for three minutes (2012), involved mass participation on an unprecedented scale. For the artist, visual art, performance and music smoothly integrate into a single practice; he spends equal amounts of time making objects as he does writing music and playing gigs. While Creed’s earliest works demonstrate a minimalist approach to art-making,1 he soon started to respond to the inherent ‘logic’ of everyday materials and objects. Often he deliberately chooses items for their familiarity or ubiquity – including furnishings, stationery, musical instruments, sheets of wood, household paintbrushes and even the air in a given space. It is the inherent material properties or availability of these objects that comprise the pre-existing conditions or limits Creed allows to define the parameters of his works. Thus, they often exhibit strongly ordered formal qualities, usually present in the form of hierarchies, series or sequences. He has even applied a formulaic logic to his own oeuvre, designating each work ‘Work No.’, followed by a unique and sequential number. 2 Key to Creed’s negotiation of these limits are instances of excess and transgression, the experiences of which are often witty and/or absurd. Balancing the organisational tendencies in Creed’s practice are equal amounts of creative freedom and expression. Impulsiveness and feelings govern much of the artist’s working process and accordingly viewers and participants often respond to its results in an intuitive manner. Music proves to be the single biggest influence in this regard, granting his works an experiential quality that varies wildly in presentation from being very explicit and ‘loud’ to subtle and ‘ambient’. Creed further broadens the category of fine art by relating to design and decoration, drawing influence from the art nouveau period during which time the two creative fields were intertwined. For this artist, the idea of making ‘work’ that takes on a multitude of shapes and forms, rather than object-based ‘artwork’, is what keeps his practice situated in, and often inseparable from, the wider world. Creed’s polymath attitude was present even in his student days at the Slade School of Art in London (1986-90). He recalls, ‘I did art because I thought that it had all the other things in it; it seemed like the field called art contained everything else.’ 3 While Creed studied in the painting department, his artistic explorations were very much around the idea of painting rather than the techniques and genres of painting itself. He wanted to sidestep the production of artwork that was positioned within a narrative or theoretical framework towards which he and his fellow students were being encouraged. Creed did this by using a minimal amount of materials and by conceptually turning the work of art in on itself. Work No. 54 (2000) comprises four small canvases that have brass hangers mounted on their fronts with the middles painted in. These are ‘paintings’ in the sense that their surfaces are painted, but they are made out of fixtures more normally used to hang paintings on the wall. In other works, such as Work No. 67 (1992), Creed uses adhesive tape, cut and

1

For example, he describes his first catalogued work, Work No. 3 Yellow painting (1986), as ‘a single swirly brushmark made with a big brush on a small canvas’. Martin Creed: Works (London: Thames & Hudson, 2010), p. 1015

2

This nomenclature also avoids the convention of titling artworks ‘Untitled’

3

Interview with Michael Craig-Martin, ‘The Oak Tree and the Lemon’ in Art Quarterly (Autumn 2013), p. 58

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layered as thick as the tape is wide, to create small cubes that stick themselves to the wall. And well-known for its brazen simplicity, Work No. 79 (1993), a single blob of BluTack depressed against a wall, epitomises Creed’s economic approach using hanging and adhesive materials: condensing art down to a single spot. Taking his work a step further towards the ephemeral, Creed found that he could dispense with the wall-mounted object altogether by making a work out of the surface of the wall itself. Work No. 102 A protrusion from a wall (1994) is a seamless, curved protrusion that emerges from the surface of the gallery wall into three-dimensional space. Creed was attracted to the simplicity and elegance of this shape, but the design of the quasi-architectural feature is also pragmatic: the curve is large enough that one can easily paint it with a roller, as if it were merely a surface anomaly. It offers barely any visual resistance to the white wall; as art historian Briony Fer has observed, ‘if most artworks are designed to draw attention to themselves, these it would seem are meant to do the opposite: to blend into everything.’ 4 Creed’s own terms for this embeddedness in the world take the shape of a quasi-mathematical formula, the whole world + the work = the whole world (1996), which has appeared in the public realm as a billboard (Work No. 143b, 1998) and as a neon sign (Work No. 232, 2000). A similar wall-based piece, Work No. 106 An intrusion and a protrusion from a wall (1994), involves small bell-shapes made of brass and placed at opposite sides of a room, one as an intrusion and the other as a protrusion. These indicate the potential for interconnection, as if the exhibition space could fold up on itself, with one point nestling into the other as the gallery walls are drawn across the space. Creed has described these works as ‘collapsing’ the idea of the artwork, and certainly this thought also applies to the gallery as a whole. In another, Work No. 88 A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball (1995), the sheet of paper undergoes a more literal implosion, into a ball. It is paradoxically an act of destruction as well as creation.5 Having achieved a zero-degree of object-making – literally one gesture away from nothingness – Creed’s work from around the mid-1990s onwards became all-encompassing, integrating, as it were, with the wider world. His implosive minimalism led him to question how so-called artworks relate to the systems and limitations that surround us. One of the primary and most recognisable ways that Creed pursues the limits of things is by working serially and sequentially. Everyday objects, such as tables, chairs, plants and boxes, are brought together by the artist and organised into ascending or descending order of size. Floor tiles or plywood sheets are stacked as high as they are wide, forming evenly proportioned volumetric sculptures. These works all make apparent the choices made in response to a particular material; they negotiate the pre-defined limits of an object, whether inherent to the materials or determined by a manufacturer or stockist. One stackpiece in particular, Work No. 396 (2005) – a pyramid of wooden planks – gave Creed the idea to create a series of ‘pyramid’ paintings.6 These often colourful compositions are made using off-the-shelf multi-pack brush sets, the number and size of steps in each pyramid being defined by the number and size of brushes that come in a given package (each brush is used to paint a single step). Working with different brush sets and an infinite

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Briony Fer, ‘Ifs and Buts’, in Martin Creed exh. cat. (Vancouver: Rennie Collection, 2011), p. 9

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As an object, it also bears the traces of its transformation. As Creed has said: ‘This piece of paper shows the evidence of the work I’ve done. It’s trying to make the drawing a representation of the time [taken] to make the drawing… It’s more to do with trying to record the process.’

Ben Luke, ‘Martin Creed: Running at Life’, in Art World, No. 5 (June/July 2008), p. 36

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This ongoing series of paintings began with Work No. 585 (2006).


choice of paint colours, Creed developed a way to make visually simple paintings from seemingly endless combinations, incorporating some elements of decision-making while leaving others to chance. These are different ways of ‘filling a canvas’, if Creed’s process for making paintings can be likened to his contemporaneous scribbles, loops, and dashes on paper as ‘ways of filling a page’. A number of Creed’s works also oscillate between two opposed states. Work No. 228 All of the sculpture in a collection (2000) featured all of Southampton City Art Gallery’s sculpture wedged into a single room, filling it to capacity. This installation absurdly disrupted the conventions of museum display, but also made the institution’s entire collection visible for a brief moment. Work No. 127 The lights going on and off (1995) is perhaps the best example of a work that switches between two states, between illumination and darkness. And works such as Work No. 129 A door opening and closing (1995) and Work No. 990 (2009), an intervention with automated window curtains, add a more kinetic dimension to the transition between states. Likewise, a recent work, Work No. 1686 (2013), has an entire car come alive as it starts up and everything switches on, opens and activates, then 30 seconds later stops, shuts and powers down. Interestingly in these works, the ‘off ‘ or ‘closed’ position becomes as important as the ‘on’ in developing a rhythm or cadence to the action. Even Creed’s gigantic rotating ‘MOTHERS’ sign (Work No. 1092, 2011), which was fabricated to the maximum dimensions possible within the existing architecture where it was initially presented, has a motor that oscillates between its fastest and slowest speeds. Nor is Creed’s exploration of limits restricted to inanimate objects and systems – it also extends to the organic nature of the human body. Two series of films known as the Sick Films and the Shit Films (2006-7) present the processes of the body that are considered to be abject, yet are also entirely normal. On a white, featureless set, people walk out to the foreground, make themselves sick or defecate respectively, and walk off without saying a word. For the artist, these visual representations of reflexive bodily processes are not dissimilar to creative intuition. They are sometimes beyond the limits of conscious control as well as decorum. Recently, Creed has also started to explore the physical limitations of his own body. His series of ‘blind paintings’ are portraits made without having sight of the canvas, while the ‘jumping up paintings’ are made by hanging the canvas high up on the wall beyond reach so that the artist has to jump up to apply paint. Even Creed’s performances and artist talks involve a lot of pacing, awkward silences, and ‘ums’, ‘errrs’ and ‘ahems’… making apparent the limits of the artist’s physical comfort with regard to the pressures of live performance. While each of the above works results from a proposition determined by the artist in response to the nature of the materials, or a specific situation in which he places them, they demonstrate a taxonomic and almost obsessive quality through their repetition. This is an approach that Creed finds reassuring, both in terms of making and viewing: ‘I think I like repeating things. It’s familiar and comforting. The world is a difficult place to live in, so something that is reliably happening again and again is a comfort, like a protective fence or a handrail.’ 7 Creed’s work has a familiar quality to it not just because the objects are drawn from the everyday, but because the way in which they are used creates simple patterns or rhythms. There is a certain lightness and warmth to Creed’s work; a series of photographs 7

Interview with Phil Miller, ‘Restless Native: Turner Prize-winner Martin Creed’s art bewilders and seduces in equal measure’, in The Herald Magazine, 22 February 2010, p. 10

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Mel Bochner Measurement Room 1969

titled Work No. 295 Smiling people (2003) captures the faces of happy individuals. Perhaps nowhere is this feeling more apparent to gallery-goers than in Work No. 200 Half the air in a given space (1998), a room in which half the air is contained within thousands of balloons. Visitors wade through them, enjoying an immersive and often chaotic social experience. 8 Creed’s ongoing interest in the limits of things has often led to him being described as a conceptual artist. To a degree, it is true that his use of predefined formulae or imposed limitations, linguistic statements, sequences and series, and his (early) minimalist attitude mirror some of the strategies employed by artists throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Connections could be drawn to the logic-driven aspects of Mel Bochner’s wall measurements (above), On Kawara’s date paintings or Joseph Kosuth’s witty and selfreflexive neon signs. However, Creed is generally keen to emphasise that he is not interested in dematerialising objects or reducing his work to ideas, professing instead his fascination with, and dependence upon, objects, and an all-encompassing attitude toward feelings: I don’t think I make what is called ‘conceptual art’. I think ideas go into the work and maybe come out of it – but the work itself is made of colours and shapes and sizes and sounds. They

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This installation has been replicated as different site-specific works in different colours and in several locations, recently as Work No. 1562 at Documenta IX (2013)


Work No. 595 Choreographed dance for a talk, 2006 Performance at Old Boy’s Theatre, Christ’s College, Christchurch, New Zealand, 2006

are something to look at or listen to. I don’t believe in conceptual art. I don’t think it is possible to separate ideas and feelings... anyway it feels like everything has a lot more to do with feelings than with anything else. Ideas: maybe ideas are like a way to handle feelings, to keep them down or sort them out. 9

Most of Creed’s works elicit emotive responses in the viewer, triggering joy, laughter and sometimes unease – subjective aspects not usually associated with a rigorous or sombre conceptual art practice. To the contrary, he has even discussed his paintings as a form of expressionism. 10 But ultimately, Creed’s work is not so much conceptual as it is opposed to elevating art out of the world through ideas. The main way that the artist has brought creative balance to the more logical approaches in his work has little to do with visual art, but is instead the influence of music – his other passion since finishing art school. Considering Creed’s works over the past two decades, it is clear that visual art and music are very much intertwined. Four years after leaving the Slade in 1994, he formed the band Owada (now known as Martin Creed and His Band), and has developed a career as a musician, playing gigs, writing songs and recording albums. While many of his gallerybased works feature music or instruments, many of his songs are often self-reflexive conceits and have their own ‘Work No.’ designations. For example, the song ‘1234’ (Work No. 118) plays on the convention of counting to establish a rhythm amongst band members before a song starts; this song’s lyrics are only those numbers, sung repeatedly as the song itself. Similarly, Work No. 195 1–100 (1994-5) has Creed evenly counting his way through the numeric sequence, and ‘A–Z’ the alphabet. Like his visual work from the time, these songs short-circuit the conventions of their medium, both lyrically and structurally. But

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Conversation with author, 17 Dec. 2013

10

See Lawrence Chiles, ‘Get Me?’, in Wonderland, No. 7 (Feb/Mar 2007), p. 100

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Creed’s relationship to music is also deeper and more profound than a simple ‘sound art’ linkage. In particular, the durational aspect of music encouraged him to think ‘musically’ about his gallery-based practice: ‘if you listen to a piece of music you’re listening to something being made, rather than just seeing what’s left over at the end.’ 11 One could think of this unfolding over time as the performative quality of some of Creed’s works. Like a rock concert, this can either be overtly staged and prominent, or, like music in a café or lobby, can recede into the background, barely noticeable. An early sound piece, Work No. 95 All the sounds amplified (1994), involved microphones attached to various behind-the-scenes objects in the gallery – such as the fax machine, toilet and telephone – and their sounds amplified and played in real time through a large speaker in the main gallery space. Here, the everyday background sounds of the office were brought to the fore for consideration. Musical pieces, such as Work No. 122 Drum machine (1995–2000) or Work No. 130 All the sounds on a synthesizer (1995), foreground sounds intended as electronic accompaniments, programmed to play through all of their rhythms and notes respectively. Work No. 112 Thirty-nine metronomes beating time, one at every speed (1995–98) creates a dynamic cacophony of sound that parallels the incessant rhythmic counting of the ‘1234’ song. Lastly, more recent works have used live musicians in the gallery – for example, Work No. 736 (2007) in which a pianist repeatedly plays the full chromatic scales of an upright piano or, Work No. 673 (2007), a performance by 18 musicians, playing through all of the notes on their respective instruments. In presentations of his work, Creed gives as much consideration to the look of things as to their sound. ‘You can’t look at something without listening to something. You can’t listen to something without looking at something. You can’t separate the senses.’ 12 In the multiplemusician work above, for example, the players are lined up according to the size of their that Creed often describes his visual work using the language of music; he refers to various aspects as arrangements, scores or amplification. In his live talks and performances, Creed has at least one and often many performers shadowing his movements and actions on stage, creating a visual form of amplification. While these works are overt in their inclusion of musical elements, thinking about his visual works in a musical way has also led Creed to consider their ambient qualities, or, how they could be situated within a perceptual tension between foreground and background. This idea of blending into the background was of course already present in Creed’s early work, for example in the anomalous bell-shaped wall piece, Work No. 102 A protrusion from a wall (1994). His well-known Work No. 127 The lights going on and off (1995) can be thought of in this way too, being an intervention into the existing lighting of a space. For a duration of thirty seconds, the lights are on, and then for another thirty they are off. 13 A viewer entering the otherwise empty gallery when the lights are on may not at first notice them, and even when they go off, he or she might think that there is a problem with the lighting system. It is only through the regularity of repetition that the viewer realises the subtlety of Creed’s intervention. Two recent works further illustrate the artist’s interest in the space between the

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Talk delivered at ‘Psychoanalysis and Artistic Process Symposium’, Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, 25 February 2012

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Interview with Paul Morley, ‘Paul Morley’s Showing Off… Martin Creed’, on theguardian.com, 30 January 2011

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In 2001 Creed won the Turner Prize for a version of this work (Work No. 227, 2000). Different variations use five, ten, or thirty-second intervals, and yet other versions use an individual lights such as a floor or desk lamp


Installation view, Martin Creed at sketch, sketch, London, 2012

background and foreground. In the gallery, Work No. 570 Runners (2006) involves people sprinting through the exhibition space at regular intervals. In the first version of the work, realised at the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in Milan, the runners were dressed in plain clothes, causing surprise and even confusion amongst visitors as they flew past. The work was visible for only a brief moment, reversing normal viewing conditions in which the visitor is in motion while the artwork remains static. 14 The second example is located outside of the gallery: Work No. 1343 (2012), a project at sketch restaurant in London, in which no two pieces of furniture, cutlery or tableware are the same. There is not an object or performance per se to view or hear, but instead a fully designed and decorated, functional dining room. Every object inside the restaurant is different, making for a visual cacophony of styles and decorative combinations that paradoxically feels somewhat harmonious in its randomness.15 For Creed, a functional project like the sketch restaurant achieves something of the task set out in his early formula, the whole world + the work = the whole world, in which the work is indistinguishable from the world. The work simply is part of the world. This and

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Creed got the idea for the work after having to run through the catacombs of the Capuchin monks in Palermo minutes before closing time, attempting to take in the various displays as he rushed past them. See text for Work No. 577 Alicudi (2006)

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The Sketch installation includes a marble floor in which each tile is a different kind of marble, and also a wall-painting. For Creed, design and art are very similar disciplines. See interview with Sam Hecht, ‘Conversation. Hecht/Creed’, in Icon (December 2008), pp. 59–63

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other more pragmatic commissions such as Work No. 1059 (The Scotsman steps, 2011),16 p. 125, or a number of large geometric wall-paintings, or the marbled toilets of the London Library, relate to a little-acknowledged point of influence for the artist: the intertwining of design and ‘high art’ in the art nouveau movement around the turn of the last century. Creed grew up in Glasgow and was inevitably exposed to the design and architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, not least through his father, an artist who taught at the Mackintosh-designed Glasgow School of Art. In 1986, he also spent a long break in Vienna in the summer before starting art school, getting to know the works of artists associated with the Secession movement, in particular Gustav Klimt and his protégé Egon Schiele. While it is clear that Creed does not mimic the ornate style embraced by these artists, his work does relate to the underlying spirit of art nouveau, the idea that the decorative arts should not be valued any less than the so-called fine arts – that a tearoom, for example, is as valid a creative proposition as an exhibition in a national gallery.17 Moreover, Creed’s work actually reflects the schism of central European modernism in the late nineteenth century: ‘the seemingly conflicted aesthetic philosophies found in both the visual and technical arts that were directed simultaneously at reduction and clarity, and at ornamental complexity.’18 There was not a singularly dominant aesthetic within art nouveau, but rather a generalised blurring of the boundaries between fine and applied arts that crossed over differing aesthetic styles. Perhaps surprisingly, Creed’s decorative sensibilities, as well as his minimal and logical approaches, find common ground in this historical period.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, House for an Art Lover, Glasgow, 1901 (built 1989–96)

Martin Creed’s practice is as rich and varied as the world that surrounds him. His work asks us to reconsider things we take for granted, seeing them re-presented or reordered according to a logic that is familiar yet unexpected. In their new forms or contexts, objects take on a witty and often absurd character. But rather than say that Creed draws from the world – implying the separation of fine art from the world – instead, his practice levels such distinctions. From a long-standing musical career to subtle public commissions, many of Creed’s best works operate through the world, seamlessly meshing with everyday life, its feelings and its things. 19

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Public art commissioned by the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. Creed made a flight of steps in different marbles from around the world

17

Creed has said, ‘I think my work is decorative, in the sense of being in the background to people.’ Intwerview with Craig-Martin, ‘The Oak Tree and the Lemon’, p. 59

18

Debra Schafter, The Order of Ornament, The Structure of Style: Theoretical Foundations of Modern Art and Architecture (Cambridge, 2003), pp. 11–12

19

The title of this essay ‘Feelings are the most important things’ is a paradoxical phrase frequently used by Creed in his public talks as a way of refuting the assumed opposition between feelings and things


Work No. 299 Self portrait smiling 2003

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Martin Creed: What's the point of it?  

Martin Creed: What's the point of it? is the most comprehensive collection of Creed’s work, spanning his entire career, including never-befo...

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