Waiting in line to enter the first room of Martin Creed’s (1968) exhibition “Say Cheese” felt like an experience I usually encounter while waiting for a rollercoaster ride. Laughter and exiting tension and instructions – yes indeed instructions– how to properly enter the first exhibition room. The first artwork Work No. 628 was a room of balloons you had to cross. Actually, to be specific: dark-blue balloons. Apparently, they ran out of dark blue balloons (a lot of balloons snap every day) so I had to settle for a multi-coloured version of the artwork. The practical side of exhibition making amuses me. I imagine a curator deciding which balloons are worthy enough substitutes for the dark coloured ones. Anyway, after the instruction, the rollercoaster ride began. Walking inside a room full of balloons is a fun experience if you aren’t claustrophobic and if you don’t care if it messes up your hair. I am not, and I do not mind. The balloons are not a mere expression of festivities. The work tries to assert an awareness of the body and the role of the body in this work. Your body makes the piece move. It makes you aware of the kind of space your body occupies. The air in a room is usually invisible, but the work – even though it’s strictly not making it visible – is making it noticeable through the latex.
When you exit this room, you immediately step into the next one where a mural with bright yellow stripes hits you right in the face. There are 39 metronomes – you know those ticking rhythm things – ticking at different times. There is a neon sign stating “Don’t Worry” attached on another bright patterned mural but this one is red. In a fun and accessible way, the work tackles different almost phenomenal aspects of life. Worrying, order, rhythm, speed, time, balance, rules, etc. Graphic patterns are usually associated with a logical order. But the bright colours tend to indicate something else. Emotions? When you look closely, the edges are not solid. What does this mean? Martin Creed intentionally entitles his works “Work. No.” and then a number. Therefore he doesn’t give a lot of clues or rules how to interpret the work. He enables us – the viewers – to interpret it any way we feel like. In the next room, there is a very, very awkward laughing selfie of the artist. This gesture puts his art more politically charged work in perspective. In the same room, the artist has arranged different cacti (plural for cactus) from very tiny to enormous. Whenever one cactus grows quicker than another, they have to change the order. It’s a metaphor for ehm what? Perhaps it’s a metaphor for the obsessive-compulsive need for society to order things? I don’t know but that’s its strength. You can interpret it any way you would like.
Another great work is right behind the cacti conga. It’s an enormous statue of 1275 (!!!) toilet rolls, again, neatly arranged in a pyramid form. Creed borrowed from Duchamp in his use of ready-mades: placing an already made object inside a museum, taking it outside its context and declaring it art. Again, the practical side of this amuses me. Imagine a curator going to the supermarket and purchasing 1275 toilet rolls with the company credit card. A highlight for me was the work Work No. 1000. Creed made stamps from at least 500 broccolis and made prints in 1000 different colours. The pieces were individually framed and neatly placed from floor to ceiling across the whole wall.
Another fun 21st century ready made is Work No. 2693. Three different Fiats are arranged in height in the three primary colours: green, red and blue. He placed different paintings in the trunks. The fiats are a personal reference for Creed, he has fond memories of the cars (he owns them). The pieces Work No. 2793 and Work No. 2794 is a concept of Creed, completed by the museum staff. The assignment was to trow big cans of paint on the canvas – without brushes – in vertical movements. There was as few as possible control on the result of the work. So the artwork has no definite message but it’s a fun experience!
The last two works I want to describe are two performance art pieces. The first one is Work No. 850 where fully dressed athletes in athletically attire are sprinting. They embody the minimal presence of the public and the artwork at once. They call it a poetical game of stillness and movement. Lastly, a walking fanfare parade is sliding through the museum galleries. Five musicians are interfering the usually respectfully quiet museum experience. It gets through all the barriers between art and the outside. After all, I think that his art is about this. It makes people aware that art is not a sacred thing. We don’t have to contemplate and have to rack our brains to get what the artist’s message could be. We can just enjoy the ride.
Martin Creed “Say Cheese” is on view until June 11.