Our passage through the everyday is smoothed by logic. There are conventions which decree that objects should come in certain shapes and sizes, that they should be placed in certain positions, that they should be flat or round, small or medium or large, that they should be fast or slow, quiet or loud. We expect the world to be this way; it is as natural and preordained as gravity. Martin Creed’s work operates within this universal system of the measurement and the metre of things. He answers the rational with an equally blunt sensibility, creating a parallel universe of ordinary matter that is as strange and unconsoling as our own. Creed presents us with a picture of quotidien life in the fourth dimension. It is a place as ordered and conventional as this world, but its rules are awkwardly and sometimes unobtrusively different. Since 1987, he has given each of his works a number, and it is apt that this numbering system has nothing to do with the logical numerical sequence convention dictates. Some numbers remain unascribed, but these aren’t gaps, rather elegant creations of palpable nothingness; somewhere they might have an abundant shape and presence, as suggested by the alternative title for Work no. 208: song (1999) - Nothing is Something.
Many of Creed’s sculptures look like a cold side order of facts based on highly formalised Minimalist aesthetics, but he warms the style up with a dreamy, metaphysical tenderness. His work often deals with expansion and contraction: Work no. 88: a sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball (1994), and Work no. 140: a sheet of A4 paper torn up (1995), are both exercises in seemingly insignificant metamorphoses. The office tantrum is turned into something akin to an alchemical transformation. It is pertinent that the paper is A4 - a standard dimension. Creed mutates this universal norm, folding the world in on itself, perfectly compacting space with the most economical of means.
But there is also an aggressive undertone to much of the work. Placing a doorstop so that the door can only be half opened (Work no. 115: a doorstop fixed to a floor to let a door open only 45 degrees, 1995-99) not only confounds our expectation of the way objects should function, but obviously acts as a minor impediment. It makes the most ordinary of actions awkward and slightly annoying, jarring the nerves of any self-respecting health and safety official. Similarly, Work no. 100: on a tiled floor, in an awkward space, a cubic stack of tiles built on top of one of the existing tiles (1994-99), installed in an apartment toilet in Amsterdam, allows the smallest intervention to take on a hostile significance. This loathsome presence redefines the space, dictating how you can move and locate yourself within it. Like the carelessly discarded shoe just waiting to be tripped over, or the step that is just a little higher than all the others, these pieces are co-ordinates in a clumsily balletic renegotiation of space.
Creed’s practice produces an intense awareness of our physical surroundings, pulling the world into a sharper focus with the crudest, most matter-of-fact devices. Work no. 102: a protrusion from a wall (1994) is a vaguely obscene bulbous projection from the expanse of a white gallery wall. It looks like part of the architecture, as if all walls had such lumps; utilitarian but decorative. You want to touch it, even caress it, as if it will give you some better understanding of the general nature of walls. In Work no. 79: some Blu-Tack, kneaded, rolled into a ball and depressed against a wall (1993), the coloured adhesive matter alludes to the wall’s function as a support and is itself supported by the wall. A door opening and closing and a light going on and off (Work no. 127: the lights going on and off, 1995) dumbly illustrates the functions of doors and lightbulbs. Each perform their prescribed tasks continuously and automatically; there is nothing mysterious, just things doing what comes naturally. Creed delights in the mechanics of the everyday; his work is a majestic and sentimental statement of the obvious, and through it one re-encounters the world in all its banal glory.
Work no. 200: half the air in a given space (1998) is reminiscent of a primary school physics experiment, an illustration of fundamental concepts. A room is filled almost to the ceiling with white balloons: fun containers of nothing, given form by compressed emptiness. The piece solidifies atmosphere, giving a concrete presence to thin air, capturing nothingness as an appreciable and beguiling substance. You wade through it, understand it, become elated, disorientated and even a little threatened by it. Over time, the balloons gradually deflate as their monumental, if unremarkable, cargo is released back into the world. Like all Creed’s art, this piece possesses a simple and joyous rationalism, a factuality made absurd by paradox.
If anything, this work began as an attempt to make something. The problem, according to Creed, was to establish, amongst other things, what material, shape and size something could be; how it could be constructed, situated, attached, positioned, displayed; how it could be portable, packaged, stored, certified, presented, made available for sale; what price it should be, and how many there could be, or should be, if any at all. 1 In an explanation of Work no. 78: as many 2.5 cm squares as are necessary cut from 2.5 cm Elastoplast tape and piled up, adhesive sides down, to form a 2.5 cm cubic stack (1993) the artist describes, as succinctly as it may be possible to, the impetus behind most of his art. A small stack of squares of Elastoplast cannot really be called anything but an indeterminate ‘something’, a soft and somehow satisfyingly dense little object with sticky sides, in a box or attached to a wall, as in Work no. 74 (1992), the masking tape version. This piece communicates the otherwise indescribable elements of just what makes an object sufficient to be able to join the endless catalogue of ‘somethings’. Being manufactured, perfect, small and not particularly interesting may go someway towards an explanation, but it doesn’t fall in to that once-fashionable category of art that looked like it might have some quasi-industrial function. Rather, it presents itself as substance that has no other purpose than to be a convincing and apparently familiar ‘thing’.
Creed’s work redefines the material nature of our surroundings through an art that nearly cancels itself out by being no more than the sum of its parts. He makes music with his art-rock band Owada, creating clankily catchy love songs devoted to logic. He makes neon signs that say things like ‘Everything is Going to be Alright’ (Work no. 203, 1999) or ‘Don’t Worry’ (Work no. 220, 1999); statements which carry a bright-eyed trust in an arbitrary world. The facade of Tate Britain will soon be adorned with his neon assertion that ‘The Whole World + The Work = The Whole World’ (Work no. 143B, 1999), concluding that art is as much the stuff of the everyday as everything else. With enthusiastic conviction, Creed exposes the intoxicating ecstasy of facts: a vivid summary of the connective tissue of the universe.
1. See Martin Creed, Martin Creed Works, Southampton City Art Gallery, 1999
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