PERFORMANCE—Martin Creed—tate Modern

I feel used.

And I can’t decide if Martin Creed is a ******1 or a genius. Possibly both.

I’ve left off posting till now about his tour of the Idea and Object wing of tate Modern last night, as I felt very angry about it last night and wanted to give myself time to settle down and reflect. They say you should sleep on things for a more balanced perspective, so I did, and although I think I can see why he did what he did, I still think that it was a very manipulative way to have treated his audience.

The event was announced in the following way:

Martin Creed is well known for grappling with the language of Minimalism to produce art installations that are witty and deadpan. Taking his own piece the whole world + the work = the whole world 2000 as a starting point, this talk is an audiovisual journey through the Idea and Object wing.

Which sounded interesting. I have no experience of Martin Creed as a person, but was always very excited by his work. My first experience of it was when I was doing my BA, possibly in 1993, Bernhard Starkmann put on a show of works from his (possibly the company’s) art collection in the offices in London, and he had a number of Creed’s masking tape cubes stuck to the wall along one corridor. The slight nature of these pieces just amused me, I think. They were very subtle, potentially labour intensive, objects that just sat there doing what they did best, i.e. sticking.

Since then I remember seeing the piece (Work #227: The lights going on and off) with which he won the Turner Prize in 2001 on various outraged news reports, although I was out of art at that point so didn’t realise he’d won until now.

I had also seen illustrations of Work #232: the whole world + the work = the whole world as well as seen part of it as I went up the escalators in tate Modern. And outside the room this was in was where the tour started.

The tate knew something special was about to happen because it laid on two cameras, one on a wheeled tripod and one roving through the audience as the tour progressed. Martin began his talk very hesitatingly, apparently not really knowing or having much to say to us, fidgeting a lot and generally making the audience very uncomfortable.

At least he made me very uncomfortable, maybe everyone else knew what to expect? In situations like that I get extremely nervous on behalf of the other person, it happens a lot in seminars or lectures at college if the speaker is looking for a response and not getting one, I feel almost obliged to say something.

So I, along with some other people, began to ask questions. To which Martin gave some good answers. And then suggested we move into the gallery and charged off. At that point I thought he’d had enough and run off, but I was mistaken, as he had stopped in the room with Sarah Lucas yellow urinal (The Old In Out 1998) and Jeff Koons floating basketballs (Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Two Dr J Silver Series, Spalding NBA Tip-Off) 1985), whereupon he talked some more, took some more questions, didn’t seem to be leading anywhere.

Some time later, a lady from the audience came over, unwrapped a bouquet of flowers she had been holding and gave them to Martin, who looked bemused, but continued to talk about whatever he was talking about. She then moved to stand behind him.

As Martin carried on talking about his art, and why he did it, it became apparent that she was mimicking his movements. And as we moved from there to the large room with all the minimal sculptures, she was there over to one side following whatever he did.

Once I realised this was happening, I stopped asking questions. I lost any feeling of empathy with Martin as he was obviously completely in control of the situation and his apparent awkwardness was pretty much an act to encourage people to participate, at which point he could introduce this new character into the proceedings.

The tour ended in the room with his Work #232. By now he had introduced the lady as his friend Jude (if I remember correctly). I can’t remember what prompted it but I asked how he felt the event had gone, he seemed to think it had gone well. He then took the flowers he had been holding all this time and whacked them on the floor in front of us, leaving just the stems lying there.

And then we had drinks.

This obviously makes you very unsure about what was real and what was performance.

I don’t claim to have any special insight, but I think it would be pointless for anything that happened to be anything other than for real – the nervousness, the lady, the flowers – Martin’s work is just about what it is.

During his talk he spoke about the paring down of the work to just the essential, at that point he was referring to his crumpled ball of paper I think (I’ll have to check this when the recording goes on the tate site), but it should equally apply to this event. By that I mean that I think he really is nervous, doesn’t really have a lot to say unless drawn by questions, at which point he can be quite eloquent about his work. The lady was just copying his movements, repeating him, recreating an artist presenting themselves. Smashing the flowers on the floor was just what it was.

It’s not about explaining himself either, it’s pared down to the point where the explanations are removed as extraneous. And meaning too, earlier on in the talk he was quite insistent on the artist having no control over the meanings of works, they’re created by the audience.

Aah, but it left me feeling used. I don’t like to think that my empathy has been abused. But, given what I said above, I guess I shouldn’t feel that, as it wasn’t really. I was just an integral part of the process. The piece was whatever naturally happened in the allotted time. So I shouldn’t feel bad.

  1. I just can’t bring myself to swear in public. But you get the idea.

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PERFORMANCE—Martin Creed—tate Modern by escdotdot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International