The point of what?

Art, life, love, ….bodily functions!?

Last week I counted myself lucky enough to see Martin Creed’s latest exhibition, a retrospective at the Southbank Centre.

This exhibition brings together an enormous amount of his previous and current work, reflecting different thoughts, emotions and materials.  The themes flow wonderfully into each other, a feat of artistic creativity, and clever curation.  It had a sense of playfulness – drawing the viewer round it with a grinning smile, this smile sometimes mixed with laughter, reflection or disgust, sometimes all at the same time.

Repetition was the name of the game; 1000 prints of Broccolis, neatly arranged on the Hayward’s walls.  Looping videos – erections and defecation. A room entirely full of white balloons.  Example after example of single coloured drawings.  A door opening and closing.  A suddenly slamming piano and an endlessly rotating ‘mother’.

But why?  What was the point of all this?

For me, Creed’s work dealt with two things:

  •  Human Emotions – the guttural, unthinking reactions and expressions to which we are all a part.
  • Materiality – Whether that is ‘body’ or ‘object’.  How we react to space, place and ‘thing’.

He gave no answers to this tricky question though.  Why?  What’s the point? But then again, why should we expect any?  The exhibition, in its playfulness, imagination and its ambiguity was its own answer – in its childhood innocence, executed with class, it demonstrated just why art is so important. It made one see things differently.

Art is not a means to discover ‘truth’ or ‘solutions’ – it is of no use to those uninterested in lateral thinking or imaginative leaps.  As Creed comments on his Work no 670. (Dogs, 2007), ‘thinking is not going to get you anywhere… Don’t think about it.’ What art can do perhaps, is tell us things with no direct connection to mundane reality.  This is the ‘yes and no’, a state of affairs preferable to the ‘yes or no’; Creed is obsessed with ambiguity.  Franz Kafka, the king of modernist uncertainty (and my personal favourite author) once stated that, ‘Art [like a moth round the flame] flies round the truth, but is determined not to get burnt.  Its ability consists in finding a previously unsuspected place in the dark void where the ray of light can be unexpectedly and powerfully caught.’

So, to return to Martin Creed, did this exhibition, ‘catch the light’?

Yes, I think so.  To me, it made me aware of my own, innate physicality – my reactions to otherwise simple, unobserved things.  These reactions were intensified by their multiplication.  In a room full of balloons (Work no. 200, Half the air in a given space, 1998), the viewer seemed caught between a dilemma to run around, to leap and play, or to let the setting become overpowering, claustrophobic, frightening even. I vacillated between the two.  This was an installation made almost entirely of air; half the air in the room was contained in the balloons – the empty space we otherwise take for granted.  This air, an integral part of all our lives, was made extremely visible, perhaps inducing fun and joy, perhaps rumination or terror.  It aptly demonstrated that no space is ever empty – even the empty ones.

In other works, notably Sick and Shit, some viewers ran out of the room retching, some shook their heads in disbelief, some watched intently and others laughed with abashed giggles.  What’s the point of this?  Again, our reactions to body, to object are heightened – we are made powerfully aware of our own responses.

‘Living is a matter to trying to come to terms with what comes out of you.’ – Creed

To reverse this concept, coming to terms with what you came out of – Work no. 1092 (2011), MOTHERS, was one of the most thought provoking in the entire exhibition. ‘A monument to motherhood’, the massive structure confronts its audience as soon as they enter the gallery.  The neon letters, spelling out the word Mother, spun around and around, getting faster and faster, appearing dangerously out of control.  The bottom beam (12.5 metres long) was barely higher than people’s heads, resulting in a strange consciousness, almost a nausea at the constantly swinging lights.  At the outside of the spinning MOTHERS, it seemed to be moving far too fast, and the options – to either crouch, escape, or seek shelter in the centre, where things were calmer – seemed to perfectly represent the complicated matriarchal relationship.  For me, to come back to Kafka’s allegory, this was the ‘brightest’ of Creed’s works.

‘When you’re small, your mother is always really big.  So it seemed like a good reason for this to be big… and scary.’ – Creed

I don’t know what the point was, nor do I want to.  What I do know, is that I’d like to experience more.

 Featured Works


Exhibition closes 5th May, 2014.

For more information, see:  The Southbank Centre

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your comments!

5 thoughts on “What’s the point of it? – Martin Creed at Tate Britain

  1. Thoughts, emailed from a friend:

    Just read your blog post about art… Well written, touchy point though (for me at least). Sometimes I like art, it’s pretty and with certain styles can make a room look better etc. It’s a funny thing though, because it’s a bitch to pin point, if not impossible. As soon as It becomes functional it seems to be something else, architecture or what have you. It’s very rare that someone points to something as ‘art’, it’s a painting, or a portrait or a such and such.

    At the moment I don’t like art, in fact at the moment I feel like art is a bit of a scam. It’s everybody’s interpretation of the piece anyway, so as far as I can see everyone who attends should have their name appended to the display until it’s a ream of names like some old memorial.

    Anyone and anything is capable of creating a reaction, which seems to be what a lot of people fall back on.

    “Well it made you think at least didn’t it?”

    Yes of course it did, personally I think the artist who can create a piece that makes me not think is the one most worthy of praise, we think by default so people taking credit for my default is annoying.

    Say one was to purchase 5000 potatoes, lock them in a cage and put them in a room. Maybe with a nice ambiguous title like ‘Free market’ (or Ireland 1850…) Someones going to take it upon themselves to feel something strongly about the piece whatever it is.

    Some of the underlying sentiments to your piece seem to be about the experience around it, and this I can agree with. It’s an opportunity to experience something different, there was one piece (I can’t remember where) that was just a room and they turned off all the lights, so you were in complete mine shaft darkness with a bunch of strangers. That’s an experience, and that’s worth while… There’s always something about ‘art’ that f***’s me off a bit though and I’m not really clever enough to put my finger on it.

    In fact it annoys me that you’ve written this piece about this art which has catalyzed this email. argh!

    But I must say that it was written very nicely (your article). I couldn’t touch the subject with a barge pole (see above)


  2. I can’t call art the art (apparently it’s better to apply the term “imitation of art” here and there) if it promotes bad tastes by the ones with the ones. Once they mention the human emotions do the artists actually and namely have them when they make their works or they suppose so or suggest the viewers to have them? There’s no healthy criticism these days but there are really good artists these times who stand beyond the borders of the exhibitions. I see the sense in your article – it makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

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