Martin Creed: What’s the Point of It? The Hayward Gallery

11 April 2014 § 1 Comment

The knowing title of Martin Creed’s solo show at the Hayward, What’s the Point of It? offers an immediate hint at the content whilst also suggesting a potential response. This is undoubtedly an exhibition that will split the audience somewhere down the middle in a ‘Marmite’ reaction of love and hate.

A piece of blu-tac pressed against the wall, a screwed up ball of paper, cardboard boxes piled ziggurat-style and a row of nails are examples of some of Creed’s works, each carefully and sequentially numbered and to which the titular What’s the point? will clearly often be directed. One soon realises that Creed too is asking the same question of himself and life in general.

Work No 79 Martin Creed

My last encounter with Creed was at a lecture – the word ‘lecture ‘s this case being a very loose description of what took place. He decided to start with a song with his guitar. For twenty minutes, in true comic style, his hand frequently hovered over the strings of his battered instrument, before frustratingly moving away as he drifted off in to a random point, reminiscence or story. The song when it eventually arrived was short, minimalist and funny.

Martin Creed - Mothers sign

The exhibition is very much like the song and its build up: Creed’s has a hesitant and agonised interaction with a modern life that for him is simply too complex and disordered – he struggles to bring order to this troublesome chaos – and eventually produces something quite simple, thoughtful and often amusing.

Martin Creed at Hayward Gallery, London.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 26/1/2014.

This quest for order is the source of his numbering system too. Here’s what he – hesitatingly – had to say about that for the Tate Magazine:

Yeah… I started numbering the things I made… because I wasn’t happy with some of the titles that I’d used, and I just wanted a way for them all…and, aye, I didn’t want titled and I didn’t want untitled… I wanted a way to try to treat them all the same whether they were a big thing or a small thing or a piece of music or whatever…and I like numbers… It’s difficult to start, I mean it’s often difficult to begin things… and in that respect numbers can be very useful. I mean one, to me, is a good start, and to continue, two’s good too… but… aye, it was to try to treat things all the same and… eh, not worry about titles, not worry about words… I just, you know, the numbers, you know the numbers, I don’t think they’re a particularly important, eh, thing, because basically all… many… most things are numbered, you know, with catalogue numbers or serial numbers… (read the whole interview here)

Decision-making for Creed is similarly agonisingly difficult and behind each work is an extended process where he attempts to decide by ‘not deciding’, or selecting by ‘not selecting’.

Martin Creed Hayward HAlf the air in a given space

Piled boxes are stacked in decreasing sizes, nails in size order are hammered in the wall, a piano is played note by note up and down the keyboard in never ending arpeggios. Supermarket packets of brushes allow Creed to paint his trademark pyramids without the need for him to select brush sizes. For other artworks he picks every different size of ball, every colour of tape and a sequential array of cacti – each to avoid ‘choosing’.

Martin Creed The Hayward

The process brings its inevitable hits and misses. The best, seen upon entering the exhibition, is a vast and rapidly spinning neon. Spelling MOTHERS it is mounted on a huge iron girder as big as the room which threatens to decapitate anyone much over six foot tall. Mothers were of course dominating, protective and big in Creed’s childhood mind and the work here is equally intimidating. Another success is Half the air in a given space (work 360) – a room half filled with balloons is at the same time claustrophobic and exhilarating. I found a wall of hundreds of broccoli prints rather dull and am not sure that I learn much from watching film of people defecating but on the whole these are minor complaints.

Martin Creed at Hayward Gallery, London.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 26/1/2014.

As one would expect of an artist with a band and a cd release to coincide with the show there is plenty of sonic accompaniment too.  The ticking of dozens of metronomes each set at a different rhythm accompanies Mothers whilst there is the piano, random farting noises from a corner, ascending sounds in the lift and sniggering laughs outside the toilet.

This is effectively an all encompassing tour of Martin Creed’s singular mind – in sound, light, paint and experience – that is in turns thoughtful, amusing and provocative. Love it or hate it, this is a show that deserves to be seen.

Martin Creed: What is the Point of It at The Hayward, London until 27 April 2014

 

Top Ten UK – The Best Art Blogs

25 November 2013 § 2 Comments

When is a blog not a blog? Perhaps when it is an ‘online magazine‘ or ‘digital review’? So where do you start with any sort of ‘Blog’ review list? Who do you exclude? Should ‘true’ blogs just be individual or non-profit making? Perhaps not linked to larger organisations like the TATE gallery for example, where they act as promotional tools. It’s all a bigger issue than I was willing to address here, so my sole limitation was that the blog/mag/review should feature contemporary art at least regularly.

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I try to take a look around and see what my ‘competitors’ are up to in the blogosphere but find it hard to track down many good art blogs. Google ‘Top Art Blogs’, limited to the UK and the last 12 months, and you will find no collective listings. Zero.

Take off the restrictions and you will get a few from 2009/10. At least half are no longer operating or haven’t posted for at least six months. When I checked one of these ‘Top Ten’ lists it included blogs like Amelia’s Magazine. God bless Amelia – and her blog is probably very good at what it does – but I decided that if that’s a top ‘Art (and Design) Blog’ then it was time for a new top ten. So here goes…

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1. CONTEMPORARY ART BLOGS

The contemporary art blog of all blogs. Neatly designed, an ever changing up to date compilation of the best from 100 other blogs!

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2. THE ART NEWSPAPER

Not so much a blog, more an online version of the newspaper. But high quality content as you would expect!

Baxter, Chodzko

Baxter, Chodzko

3. CONTEMPORARY ART DAILY

International (although US based) including plenty of UK shows. An impressive selection of reviews  of contemporary art exhibitions updated daily. I like the ‘random exhibition’ button – this time I got IAIN BAXTER&, Adam Chodzko at Raven Row.

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4. AESTHETICA 

Another blog with significant backing, being tied to the important art & design publication of the same name.

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5. UK STREET ART

The only place for street art info. Great design, layout and well written. Categories include for example Street Art, Graffitt & Banksy!

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6. FRIEZE

As you would expect of the leading UK art magazine publisher and top art fair organiser their blog is clear an interesting. Wouldn’t you think they could manage more than a couple of posts a week though with all their resources?

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7. ART IN LIVERPOOL

Not much use unless you’re in Liverpool perhaps, but well designed, informative, wide ranging and well written.

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8. CRITICISMISM

Written by Mark Sheerin, this is the one of the only two blogs in the list written by an individual (the other is CELLOPHANELAND). I tried hard to find more but few have any longevity and/or quality. Varied content but includes many of his own interviews with top, mostly UK, artists like Jeremy Deller, Gavin Turk and Martin Creed.

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9. 1000 Words Magazine

Is it a blog or is it a magazine? This is really an ‘online’ magazine. It also runs masterclasses with notable photographers, has developed a wide and international following. Includes essays, reviews and interviews.

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10= CELLOPHANELAND

Julie Eagleton’s wide ranging arts, lifestyle and culture blog always has something interesting – even if art is not one of the main topics. Expect anything from interviews  (section currently being updated) from the likes of Francis Ford Coppola to the latest exhibition at the V&A.

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10= THE FLANEUR

Tenth equal with C-LAND just because they both are broad-ranging sites covering art, culture and more. What’s more the Art section here doesn’t always feature contemporary art. Nice blog though!

Agree/disagree? Know any more worthy of inclusion at the top of the pile? Then please let me know.

sound of silence

15 October 2010 § Leave a comment

I am not a big fan of Christmas. It is a big excuse for business and media to assault our eyes and ears every moment of the day – with promotions, sales, ‘opportunities’. The worst of the lot is the buzz around the possible Christmas ‘Number One’. Yawn. So here is a campaign that I can thoroughly approve of. A few minutes of silence could be at the top of the charts this Christmas with a big Facebook promotion having been started in favour of John Cage’s famous 4’33”. The American composer wrote Four Thirty-Three (as he said it) in 1952 for any instrument, or combination of instruments, the score instructing the performer not to play throughout the three movements of the piece.

Contrary to common belief, it is not however silence that Cage is actually giving us during these 273 seconds. The piece was instead written to highlight the ambient noise –  the ultimate extension of his Zen Buddhism beliefs and his work in experimental music. He wanted to show that it was possible to make music not only with instruments, but also using sound.

Robert Rauschenberg

 Interestingly Cage himself has said that his primary inspiration came from the visual arts with Robert Rauschenberg‘s White Paintings of 1950. As with 4’33” it was not the work itself but the external aspects that were most important – in this case the changing light that fell on to these ‘blank canvases’. Their importance is further indicated by the fact that they actually hung above the stage during the very first performance of the piece at Black Mountain College.

Here is the full orchestral version of Cage’s 4’33” as performed in the Barbican:

This is what Cage said about its first performance in New York:

They missed the point. There’s no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began patterning the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.

Cage was based at Black Mountain College where his he began teaching at his legendary New School classes. Hugely influential his students included for example pioneers of performance art Allan Kaprow, George Brecht, and Al Hansen. His influence was felt far and wide – would minimalism and fluxus have happened without him? Cage regarded 4’33” as his most important piece of work and these 273 seconds of  ‘silence’ have helped shape the visual arts (not even mentioning other arts) ever since.

Going farther space/absence is a big theme in modern and post-modern art – from Malevich‘s Suprematist Composition White on White  to Martin Creed’s The Lights Going On and Off. It is far to big to touch on now – but please take a look at previous posts that very briefly touched on some aspects with air in art and air in art – postscript.

boring conferences and boring art

8 October 2010 § Leave a comment

I could not resist posting details of an upcoming conference. Entitled Boring 2010 it is being organised by James Ward - a DVD distribution manager from Kingston upon Thames. Upon hearing that the London Interesting conference – one of a series on obscure esoteric topics – was being cancelled James decided to go ahead and organise his own somewhat less interesting one. 

Being touted as the world’s least interesting conference is however one very good way to make everyone stand up and take note. The Independent for example decided that it was actually so interesting that it set aside two whole pages of the 7 October 2010 issue to report the earth-shattering event. Of subjects reported to be featured this year my personal favourite is on the history of dust, with the reasons for draws in cricket coming in a close second, although to be fair Mr Ward actually aims to put forward the topics as sounding boring but actually that ‘turn out to be really interesting’.

It made me think that one of the artists featured at yesterday’s suitably mediocre private view of Transmission at the Haunch of Venison would be an appropriate candidate for the Boring conference. Katie Paterson was trying rather too hard to be very dull – one of her works for example was a slide archive of the history of darkness over the ages; a box full of black transparencies. Paterson has broadcast the sounds of a melting glacier, mapped all the dead stars, custom-made a light bulb to simulate the experience of moonlight, and buried a nano-sized grain of sand within the Sahara desert. She also laser-beamed the Moonlight Sonata to the moon and back and played the resulting melody back to us. Broken and occasionally distorted it was a rather touching and emotional record of time, distance and loss. Damn it – she was actually quite interesting in the end.

Picking over mind-numbingly dull subjects or the seemingly unimportant minutiae of  life has always of course provided rich pickings for many artists. In no particular order and without much thought, time or deep analysis (that would be way too dull of course) here are a few artists that it occurs to me have looked at the plain, boring or mundane and, at least in their minds, made it a little more interesting.

Duchamp (of course he gets a mention again usual) took the ordinary – a urinal, shoe rack, shovel or phial of air, and told us it was art. Malevich meanwhile reduced representation to a plain black, red or white canvas – his ‘zero of form’ , a reduction of representation to the absolute minimum. Many other later artists have created similar monochromes for differing reasons, for example for Robert Rauschenberg with Erased De Kooning it was the symbolic erasure of what the previous drawing represented that was interesting. Yves Klein, being French, used his own home-made blue for his quite interesting monchromes and took over a New York gallery in order to leave it empty (Le Vide). The minimalists reduced everything to the simplest forms to expose the essential – Carl Andre’s infamous Tate ‘pile of bricks’ (Equivalent VIII) perhaps being one example which proved too dull for many.

John Cage’s 4′33″ of course created another big 1950’s landmark for ‘nothingness’ in art – a period of ‘silence’ where a solo pianist played asolutely nothing at all. Warhol was of course a master of repetition and the mundane – eight hours of someone sleeping, in the 1964 film Sleep, probably the most provocatively boring, whilst the pinnacle of his musical dullness was with the band Velvet Underground playing The Nothing Song whilst people did nothing much on film.

In the sixties Fluxus artists like Kaprow and, of course, Lennon (happy birthday) and Ono inspired by the Dadaists held happenings where nothing in particular actually really  happened or arranged gatherings where the actual act meeting was the art. Ed Ruscha produced photobooks featuring, for example, seemingly random gasoline stations or parking lots. From this period onwards there is almost too much to mention. Many photographers, like Nan Goldin, have recorded the most mundane aspects of peoples lives – and private lives. Gerhard Richter created paintings that were devoid of any colour, copying mundane photographs or composed of random sweeps of paint. Richard Long walked up and down making marks, Bruce Nauman walked in circles and filmed it or made casts of empty and uninteresting spaces,  Joseph Beuys did nothing much at all. Perhaps the ultimate boredom in art prize might go to Martin Creed who won the Turner Prize with a light turning on and off in an empty room.

As far as all of this dull, nothingness goes a lot of people have found it exceedingly interesting. There is actually much more to nothing than there first appears. Any artists will for example know that it is often best to draw the ‘spaces’ of ‘nothing’ than the object itself. Books have been written on it, galleries stuffed with it an even the Pompidou last year ‘filled’ a floor with empty rooms for a retrospective of ‘nothing’. I will quickly conclude, before I get too boring, with some very appropriate Tom Lubbock comments on the Pompidou show from The Independent last year:

Having arrived at emptiness, fill her up again – with meanings. Sometimes the emphasis is on absence, on contemplating nothingness. Sometimes it’s on noticing what you might have overlooked. Perhaps you should notice all the gallery background noises you ignore. Perhaps you should see that art has its environment, which crucially conditions our experience of it. Or perhaps you should be looking at the only exhibits that remain in your empty gallery – yourselves. The empties are always going to be full of something. The art consists of working out what.

Perhaps I will go to Boring 2010 after all….

air in art – postscript

7 September 2010 § Leave a comment

Following yesterdays post a couple more thoughts. Courtesy of the Critcismism blog we have Martin Creed‘s Half the Air in a Given Space. Here he calculates exactly half the air that should normally occupy the room and measures the equivalent into balloons. He translates something intangible in to something real. One walks through the room and becomes aware of the normally invisible/ignored air around you. 

Air naturally is also a life-giving force. Invisible yet essential. Catharine D’Ignazio, otherwise known as Kanarinka is a US-based collaborative performance artist. In a project called It Takes 154,000 Breaths to Evacuate Boston in 2007/8 she ‘ran the entire evacuation route system in Boston and attempted to measure the distance in human breath.’  Post 9/11 this was Breath as a measurement of time, distance and fear. 

Kanarinka - Breath Archive 2008

The project also involved a podcast and a sculptural installation of  ‘the archive of tens of thousands of breaths.’ The archive comprises a series of jars, each with the sound of the breath used to fill it. Very neat! Wolf Vostell did something similar in 1972 broadcasting live the sound of gallery visitors chewing gum presented to them. Here it was the Fluxus doctrine of art=life=art connecting the visitor directly with the art. 

Clearly any discussion of air in art ends up largely as essentially an examination of what effects the air has on other objects, what  ‘contains the air’ or what ‘the air contains’ rather than the air itself. An imaginary thesis perhaps could translate this as air 1/ in the context of the natural environment 2/ as a life-giving force and a concept 3/ as a container for other matter and 4/ as an object to be contained and used? 

Ultimately the problem of course is that it is essentially invisible and only conceptual art, such as that of  Duchamp and Creed, seems to address this with even partial success. I will however leave any deeper analysis to others more talented and knowledgeable – perhaps the guy at Barcelona University who is doing a thesis on art and breath! Visit his Art & Breath Blog here. 

Enough from me – I have art funds to analyse. Now there is a source for a lot of hot air in art! New post coming soon!! 

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