Martin Creed, What’s the point of it?

What’s the point of it? (Hayward Gallery, 29 January- 27 April 2014) is a satirical explosion and a profusion for the senses. The whole exhibition is a stimulation overload as Martin Creed fills the whole gallery space, including the three outside terraces, with colour, noise and movement. It’s an adult playground, where Creed plays with the viewers’ emotions by simultaneously shocking them, in a sadistic challenging format, and making them laugh, with just plain ridiculousness. The scrunched up piece of paper, the (life threatening) MOTHERS installation (seriously watch your head), and the echoing sound of someone blowing a raspberry cannot help but make the viewer laugh. It is as though Creed wants the exhibition to be just a matter of enjoyment; the frantic and at times disorganised kitsch that fills the gallery space stands as a formulation of Creed’s internal fantasies, and for the most part it is about the viewer interaction.

Martin Creed, Work No. 88 A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball. Photo: Hayward Gallery.

Martin Creed, Work No. 88 A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball. Photo: Hayward Gallery.

Work No. 142 is particularly amusing. It is quite simply a sofa partially blocking an entrance (which just so happens to be the entrance to the exhibition). This is a great piece that plays on the ever close distinction between art and gallery furniture. It is almost as though the gallery attendant’s chair has suddenly become part of the work; as well as seeing visitors growing increasingly annoyed with it blocking the entrance, it was equally as amusing seeing them use the couch as a place to rest their feet and not seeing it as Work No. 142. This theme of crossing boundaries is echoed throughout the exhibition and it brings the focus back to the title. The series of biro scribbles in particular invite the viewer to question, what is the point of it? Is Creed referring to art here, or to the institution it occupies? These mindless drawings challenge our own personal perceptions of art, perhaps at times mocking our ability to believe almost anything to be art.

Work No. 79, a piece of blue tac stuck on the wall (I wonder who’s fingerprint it is this time), epitomised these ideals. The work itself requires no particularly gifted skill but it’s unique and it belongs to Creed. It does not seem to matter who stuck it on the wall because its power lies in its conceptual identity as a work that has the ability to be a part of this exhibition. The large neon lights saying ‘don’t worry’ are similarly conceptual. The work itself is not something necessarily traditionally profound: it doesn’t refer to an ancient mythological story with an intricate moral reflection but it refers to something much simpler, the art gallery experience. For once the viewer is not forced to make complicated connections between what is displayed and the controversial  political discussions of the day, but they just experience what is around them.

Martin Creed, Work No. 1092 MOTHERS.

Martin Creed, Work No. 1092 MOTHERS.

It is also interesting to see that the entire exhibition space becomes the work of art. Creed explores this brilliantly by painting the walls with simple geometric shapes and by placing the work of art in the middle of the floor so that he can manipulate the movement of the viewer. The space itself is also manipulated in order to house the exhibition, for example in order to fit the huge installation of Work No. 1092, he has to cut down two concrete pillars. As soon as the viewer enters into the space (avoiding Work No. 142 of course) they become part of that space and thus the work as a totality. This just emphasises the point that the exhibition is for the viewer. As a result, participation becomes key to Creed’s work.

The epitome of Creed’s adult playground fantasy is played out in Work No. 200 Half the air in a given space. Walking amongst the balloons, getting lost amongst the white maze of latex, I could not help but think that a two-dimensional image of this work is just not the same. The exhibition is an experience that we as viewers have to participate in in order to fully embrace it. It is a tantalising experience, leaving tangible effects on the viewer (make sure you bring a hairbrush: my hair is still in knots from the static energy) that challenge the ritualised viewing demanded by a traditional gallery. It is a drastic alteration of space, the viewer is no longer confined behind a line but joins  and becomes essentially part of the work itself.

Martin Creed, Work No. 200 Half the air in a given space. Photo: Hayward Gallery.

Martin Creed, Work No. 200 Half the air in a given space. Photo: Hayward Gallery.

As well, of course, as a couple of knots in your hair, you take away from this exhibition a feeling of both bemusement and childhood nostalgia. The mezzanine floor is a clear continuation of the ‘childish’ perhaps naive theme that is reiterated throughout. Everyone who owned Lego blocks as a child would have challenged themselves to build the biggest tower, for example; Creed plays this is out in Work No. 793, rendering for the viewer feelings of slight nostalgia and again comedy value.

The final piece, as you exit through the projection room is the ‘sick and shit film’. The idea behind this work, Creed notes, is supposed to draw attention to the fact that “living is a matter of trying to come to terms with what comes out of you… that includes sick and shit and horrible feelings. The problem with horrible feelings is you can’t paint them. But horrible vomit-you can film that.” I cannot help but wonder, however, what is the point of this piece? It’s a sickening (pun not intended) reminder of a dark and sinister form of Creed’s work. You sit and watch as a series of people enter the white space in front of you and put their fingers down their throats and ‘spill their guts out’. The sound is of course a big component of this work, it echoes round the projection space, increasingly filling the viewer for the first time in this exhibition with feelings of disgust.  Despite this however the video was an important component of the exhibition, for as much as it left a bad taste in my mouth it did break down the exhibition by undermining a room filled with mindless images, videos and installations with a clever sinister ending.  It was even more amusing that they had the audacity to sell the video in the gift shop.

In all, once you finally get away from the incessantly annoying metronomes, Martin Creed’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, is a brilliant example of challenging institutional boundaries. As with Work No. 79, Creed takes something that is usually the supporting act, (blue tac supports poster, paper supports the writing on it, etc.) and draws it to the fore front of our focus and creates for the viewer a fascinating and unforgettable experience.

Antonia Hodges (BA History of Art student, 2012-)

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