On Martin Creed and his two pieces in Singapore Biennale

By Li Wenjin

I went to the old Kallang airport site with great anticipation. After seeing the first mjor space-occupier by Michael Beutler, I was slightly discouraged. Then I saw Martin Creed’s Work 112 (YES, he names all his works as numbers) . I have heard about him being a Turner prizewinner creating the utter minimal and conceptual piece Work 127 (The lights going on and off). Which is literally a piece about lights going on and off alternatively every 15 seconds in an empty room. Here the work is slightly richer in its material content. We see 39 identical looking mechanical metronomes spaced evenly and aligned perfectly on concrete floor, spread across the window wall of a room in the Old Airport. As the subtitle of the piece indicates, “Thirty-nine metronomes beating time, one at every speed”.

Work 112, Martin Creed Photo courtesy of Loh Bi Ying

Work 112 engages two senses, the visual and the aural. To some installations playing with the same senses, there are usually a priority or a time lag between the engagement of the senses. Here, there is almost no time lag between the arousal of these two senses. That is probably because of the in-built quality of the objects being used (‘ready-mades’ without alterations).  Upon seeing the 39 metronomes, the visual automatically gives you the” image” of the sound.  So without great effort to make the connection, one can get easily immersed in the work.

That to me is the most precious quality of this piece. Amongst often obscure and fragmented contemporary pieces. This is like a fresh breeze through the gallery.

Despite the immediacy of the connection between the visual and the audio, that does not mean the two are coherent. In fact, there is a displacement between the two senses. That is probably why many have felt anxiety from the rather mesmerising looking piece.

Work 112 was first conceptualized by Creed in 1995, what is new here is the number of metronomes chosen. 39 of them, evenly covers the whole north-south spread of the entire room. Because of the totality of the use of space, it limits the possible positions one can take to view the work. In fact, viewers can only see it from up-front.

And then the choice of placement. In a sunshine-filled room rather than a more blank gallery place away from windows. To me personally is not a very crucial decision. The immersive capacity of the work overwhelms you before you can think of the space around it.

His other piece in the same venue is a yellow neon sign that says “Don’t worry” displayed in a relatively darker room (not entirely blackened). Hanging at a corner spread over two walls, placed above eye-level but it does not quite touch the ceiling. More explicitly evoking anxiety than the previous piece. Pranklishly and smartly, Creed once again makes a piece that irritates people.  And at the same time it would probably make you laugh, depending on how serious you are. I’m not particularly a big fan of conceptual works, nevertheless, I find Creed extremely likable. Unlike his Turner prize winning piece, which is pushing conceptual art/minimal art to an extreme by letting the material value of the artwork be nothing. Both of the two pieces here, are at least something.

Don't-worry, Photo courtesy of Nur’ Ain Farizan

 

After a good laugh, or probably some outrage, what is left with you from these two pieces?

That is a question i think even Creed himself asks. He likes to impose questions, but never provides any answer, or even a clue of the answer. Same case here, audiences were confronted by questions, sometimes it can be rather intimidating, and they have no choice but to leave with the questions unsolved. How long it takes for you to let go of the question and stop searching for an answer depends on how much you are disturbed by the artwork.  A bit like a child playing hide and seek with his friends, after his friends are all probably hidden  he then goes home to have dinner. Creed is the child, creating an artwork and leaving it with us with endless possibilities for interpretation, and he knows at some point we will find all those interpretations were pretty useless (like what I am doing now) and give up eventually.  In any case, feel free to have light-hearted interpretations of his two works here, whimsical interpretations are more welcomed than elsewhere.

About the placement of the second piece Work No.291.  When that piece was first shown in 2003, the exhibition space was decorated to make it look more domestic. There was a square table with four chairs, viewers were encouraged to take a seat and let the worrying effects of the sign disturb them a bit longer. However, in the Kallang airport, it was just an empty room with empty walls. Viewers spent a good 10 seconds reading the sign and left (supposing you don’t have dyslexia), and moreover the room does not have a door, thus a number of viewers were just glimpsing it and passing by. Well, one could certainly argue that is the artist’s intention to make even the room as minimal as possible, and thus do not make the viewers feel compelled.

However, to me, in a big show like the Biennale where there are just too many things going on demanding your attention. It is good to have a strategise about your space, to maximize people’s time spent with your artwork.

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Filed under Martin Creed, Open House Notebook

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