Have you ever been with a group of people and everybody is laughing at a joke you just don’t find as funny as they do? I’ve felt a bit like that about the Martin Creed exhibition just ended at the Hayward Gallery.
“What did you think of Martin Creed?”
“Oh I adored it – absolutely hilarious – just love his work.”
That it seems is the common reaction, at least among art students. The exhibition was due to close in April but so many people wanted to see it, the Hayward extended it until 5 May. So why was I not bowled over? I have not written about it before because I have been thinking about precisely that
It wasn’t that I hated it. There were good bits, but there was an awful lot that seemed not particularly good and even rather derivative. Apparently Martin Creed likes to avoid making judgements so he throws everything into the mix. But surely artists need to make judgements. I was once told that the public judge art by the piece they consider to be the worst. Perhaps that was what I was doing – perhaps that is wrong. (But what about those little watercolour portraits? They didn’t seem very good to me) No, I’m getting negative. Let’s look at the best.
I did like the Balloon Room. Half the Air in a Given Space. It comprised a room half filled with white balloons where you could get lost in a moment, and possibly discover an abandoned seven-year old. Partly claustrophobic, partly liberating, you are effectively invited to play. It was an unusual experience; there are not many exhibitions which make your hair literally stand on end (it’s the static electricity). Indeed along with the white balloons there seemed to be many wisps of differently coloured hair which had somehow become unattached from their rightful owners. Possibly the enjoyment was that more normally associated with the fairground than the art gallery, but none the worse for that. If so minded you could bang on about how it reminded you of the fragility of life, or at least of hair. But it is definitely an experience I will remember and that alone made it just about worth the entrance fee.
I also quite liked the 1,000 versions of the broccoli tree. Repetition in art proves itself to be effective time and time again. I begin to wonder whether if you repeat anything enough times it would begin to seem significant. Does sheer quantity of an image make it interesting? I am not sure. Try it with a random list of nouns. There are few, it seems, that if you strung enough together would not make a plausible work of art.
Strangely I liked the perfect little cube of Elastoplast and the display of different sorts of light bulbs though it did look as though it might have been lifted from a lighting shop. I really liked the boob-like sculptures that jutted out of one of the walls. These were interesting because it was so difficult to focus on what you were seeing.
There were the out of sync metronomes. The noise they made was undoubtedly irritating. Irritation is an emotion. I had an emotional response. I have seen clocks ticking at different times; I think that was Ian Breakwell; there have been others as well. There are even a number of similarly out of sync metronomes on show in the foyer of the University of Brighton at the moment.
Perhaps I have been to too many health and safety briefings but the revolving neon sign, Mothers worried me. It was very low; I could easily put my hand up and touch it. It was going round very fast. Did the very tall receive a personal health warning? Would it have magically stopped if it had sensed a head in the way? Would a flying head have been performance art?
I was similarly worried about the vomiting girl. This thankfully was a video not the real thing. The contrast between the vomiting and the starkness of the pure white backdrop was striking. But what was the mechanism by which she had been induced to vomit on cue? Was she well paid for her pains? I hope so. How did she feel afterwards? I did not wait for the defecating person. Really, if you have ever been around small children you do get quite a lot of experience of that kind of thing, though it is, of course, all an aspect of life.
The car – what about the car? This was given to me by a fellow student as an example of the hilarious. It is an ordinary enough looking car and then the doors and the boot opens, the lights come on, the radio sounds. It looks for all the world like an advertisement of – a car. According to the Hayward blurb it is a Ford Focus car – the UK’s best selling car.
Then there were the boxes; cube boxes piled up on top of each; and chairs – chairs also piled up. Indeed things piled up was a recurring theme; tables, other stuff, bricks, wood. I have already seen a lot of piled boxes. People have been piling things since Carl Andre started it with Equivalent VIII.
The exhibition was called What’s the Point of it ? I suppose rather than look at each work individually, it should rather be regarded as a whole installation. Perhaps the point is that there is no point – to what? to life? Things just happen. Is that enough of a point? At the time I felt not, but maybe. Life is unsatisfactory. But art, unlike life, can be edited, I know I would have rated it more highly if Creed had been more selective.
All the same, the balloons were good.