Category Archives: Martin Creed

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

Martin Creed and his 39 metronomes

39 Metronomes line-up, Photo By Loh Bi Ying.

by Loh Bi Ying

When the word ‘metronome’ is mentioned, we often would not think about something beautiful, let alone an art work. Yet Martin Creed has effortlessly blended metronomes with music and art. Setting this art work in a particularly interesting environment, he makes something simple stand out amongst the other forms of art work pertaining to music or some element of music in the space.

The uniqueness of the piece is accentuated by that fact that it creates a rustic sound produced by knobs and gears which makes it much more organic compared to an artificially produced sound through electric boards, wires and metals. At the other end of the exhibition space, is an artwork by Rubén Ramos Balsa – in another discrete area – which shows an orchestra of street musicians from different places playing their instruments on small MP3 players. And it really seemed quite empty. While an orchestra is supposed to resonate throughout the space, the notion of the MP3 players with videos doesn’t do justice to the majestic sound that an orchestra produces.

However, the simple sounds of the metronome actually echo throughout the space, and have a unique identity. The presence of the background ‘music’ fused with the surroundings of the Old Kallang Airport, so that one would not notice its existence, is what attracted me to this piece. It accentuates the surrounding sounds like the wind and leaves rustling so that I mistook it’s sound as being part of the natural environment.

It was only when I ventured further into that space and looked below eye level, that I noticed the metronomes, ticking in their own world, swaying in their own space, oblivious to their surroundings, ticking like a clock. As a group of metronomes, as a lone metronome – in different speeds but coming together. It may seem that the different speeds of the metronomes will be somewhat un-unified and initially come across to most visitors as a mass of sounds. Yet, the continuous pace of the ticking soon “dissolves” into a piece of sound that has its own identity – like a rhythm – with the intersection of the beats of a 130BPM metronome with a 50BPM one.

This intersection intrigues me: Sensitive to sounds and rhythm, I could hear the change in rhythm when some of the metronomes stopped ticking; the metal bar suspended in mid air seemed like someone had pressed a pause button. It happened often and especially to the ones with 200 BPM – ticking the fastest – and when the ‘bunch’ of the faster ones stop, it seems that the time around me slowed down. The only metronomes left ticking are the slower ones – each of their metal bars swaying from left to right slowly, tracing a slow semicircle arc. Surprisingly, the sound ‘melts’ in the atmosphere where it becomes much quieter – the slow tick-tock resonates in the atmosphere like a sharp sound as the metal bar ‘cuts’ through the air.

The thing about metronomes is that they need to be wound up often and the faster ones probably need to be would up every two hours. The slower ones can last as long as 5 hours. That is why most of the time the only tick-tock sounds left are the slow ones. The artwork requires constant winding and this reminded me of grandfather clocks or clockwork toys: time comes to a standstill when the clock stops. Toys stop moving and they seem to be frozen and stuck in a moment of time. The winding up of the metronomes also reminded me of the process of starting over –  accentuated with the action of it being picked up, wound and then put back down again where it ‘unfreezes’ and carries on like nothing happened. It’s also like taking something away from the environment, and giving it a new life. When it is put back down, the whole cycle starts again — but there is something different. The rhythm differs from before. The piece of sound will no longer be the same as what was heard previously.

There is something to look forward to every time the metronome is rewound. It is unpredictable, unexpected and contains an element of surprise that keeps me standing there, staring at the metronomes; expecting one to be suddenly brought to a halt by the mechanism so I can hear  another piece of the ‘composition’. During that moment, I felt compelled to take the metronomes up and reset all of them, just to see what kind of ‘music’ it will produce. Or perhaps, to alter the speed of them. Yet, I was struck with the idea to not disturb the ‘music’ that was created by accident.

Martin Creed probably created this artwork — or I should call it music – because of his past. As a musician, metronomes signify beats and constant pacing in life and it could mean something important to him as a lot of his artworks refer to his past experiences.

Perhaps the metronomes and their beats help us keep track of happenings in our life – like a conductor in a symphony, like a marker that reminds us of certain things that should happen at certain times. Or certain things that should not happen. It serves as a reminder of not losing track of time and oneself – but to be aware of our time, not to be stuck in a moment of time like clockwork, but to keep on moving – similar to the metronomes when they really try to ‘propel’ themselves when they are stuck – waiting for someone to rewind the mechanism to make them start. Perhaps, we just need a push by someone, a motivation to make sure we stay on the right track.

Then again, nobody knows. The point is not about really understanding the artwork, but about feeling it. And that is what Martin’s Creed and his 39 metronomes really gave me. There is something more about it than just an audio-visual artwork. It might sound like exaggeration, but Martin Creed breathes life into the metronomes.

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Filed under Artists in the News, Auditory, Martin Creed, Old Kallang Airport, Open House Notebook

When Words Spell Irony

By Nur’ Ain Farizan

Entering the room where Martin Creed’s art installation “Don’t Worry” is exhibited at the Singapore Biennale 2011, the audience is greeted by large, bright neon yellow words plastered on the white walls that scream DON’T WORRY. The minimalist way of presentation, which is a trademark of Creed’s style, makes the “message” of this artwork come across rather self-explanatory at first glance. Ah, Creed is encouraging the audience to quit worrying: A feel-good piece.

Usually, us mere mortals feel somewhat comforted when confronted with encouraging words that are aimed at making us feel better about our situation. After all, it is only human nature to seek some form of acceptance or understanding from others. Words of encouragement give us a glimpse of hope when the way forward looks bleak. They are like the sun peeking out from behind the clouds after a storm, showering warm rays of hope while illuminating our paths; very much like how Creed’s yellow neon “Don’t Worry” sign illuminates and casts a bright yellow sheen onto the room and its audiences.

My initial response to Creed’s “Don’t Worry” was sheer delight. Being the ardent optimist, I was pleasantly surprised at the (seemingly) apparent lack of cynicism in this artwork. Furthermore, as a student guilty of procrastination, I found myself happily looking up at the “Don’t Worry” sign, imagining an omnipresent Martin Creed whispering sweet words of encouragement into my ear. These brightly lit words by a stranger had the power to arouse a sense of confidence within me. It was as if a bond had been forged between the artiste and this particular audience member. Martin Creed and I are now acquainted!

When something makes us feel good, we tend to spend more time around it. True enough, I spent almost twenty minutes lingering around the room containing Creed’s “Don’t Worry.” This is a rather substantial amount of time considering the simplicity of this artwork. This simplicity factor also proved to be a point of deliberation that kept me in the room for much longer than expected. It brought about an issue to ponder over, which eventually leads to the age-old question: Is this art?

Nevertheless, the act of lingering around a confined area for a prolonged period of time forces one to pay closer attention to the space itself. The fact that Creed’s “Don’t Worry” is the only artwork exhibited in the room only serves to magnify the impulse to pay closer attention to the space, as there are no distractions around to divert our attention to. Furthermore, the minimalist style of the artwork itself invites the audience to explore their surroundings. Perhaps paying closer attention to the space where the artwork is exhibited could provide clues to better understand it? Surely, there must be more to this work of art than just a simple feel-good message!

One of the standout features of the room is its apparent “boxiness.” This “boxiness” is perpetuated by the square dimensions of the room and accentuated by its small size. The fact that there are no windows in the room only serves to emphasize this notion. It felt as if the audience is packed into a box along with an art installation that urges them to not worry. This comes across very ironic because the phrase “Don’t Worry” brings about a sense of freedom and flight, whereas the situation of being packed inside a box certainly does not share this sentiment. On the contrary, it gives off a sense of isolation and confinement.

Incidentally, the fact that there are no windows also give rise to another pertinent issue that inhabitants of the room will quickly come to recognize: ventilation, or the lack thereof. No form of ventilation system was employed in the room to improve its thermal comfort, despite the fact that there are no windows to provide natural ventilation. As a matter of fact, the room is actually equipped with an air-conditioning system that is not being utilized. Therefore, one can conclude that the stuffy atmosphere in the room is probably intentional. Being enveloped in a small, contained space without any form of proper ventilation only works to magnify a hundred folds the sweltering heat that is the humid tropical climate of Singapore. My initial impression of feeling comforted by the words was being gradually and ceremoniously replaced with an obvious dis-comfort.

Other than ventilation problems, the absence of windows also means that natural lighting would not be able to seep into the room. As such, artificial lighting will have to be used to improve visibility within the room. However, the only source of lighting in the room emits from the yellow neon “Don’t Worry” sign. The yellow sheen it casts onto the room, which was compared to the warm rays of the sun earlier on, no longer seem so inviting all of a sudden. On the contrary, the absence of other light sources only serve to heighten its artificiality, giving the room a dingy, eerie quality.

The still air, stuffy environment, dingy setting, confined space and the fact that I was alone lends an isolated and lifeless ambience to the room, causing the atmosphere to turn claustrophobic. Needless to say, I wanted out. Assuming that the two doors positioned right next to the artwork was the way out, I made my way towards it.

However, upon closer inspection, I realized that of the two doors, one had a “No Entry” sign, whereas the other one was locked. This heightened my anxiety and claustrophobia, I felt trapped! Suddenly, Martin Creed’s omnipresent voice of a Saint whispering “sweet words of encouragement” is given a whole new evil twist. With the stifling heat making its presence felt by the minute, it was as if Satan has finally bared his true colors, seducing one into the depths of Hell with his sultry words.

Evidently, I managed to leave the room unscathed (by going out from where I came in). Nonetheless, I went through a range of emotions in that room: from the initial sense of calm and liberation, gradually shifting into claustrophobic calamity. This makes the experience exhilarating and special. Just about anybody can enter the room, sneer at the artwork, question its artistic value, proclaim “Even I can do this” and leave in a matter of minutes. The issue that Creed’s “Don’t Worry” subtly highlights is the importance of interaction between an artwork and its audience, in order for any concrete understanding to come about. Rather than being too quick to judge, why not take time to explore the artwork and see if you can make any resonant meaning out of it? Only when a connection is forged can appreciation or the ability to critique an artwork occur, and sometimes it takes awhile for this connection to take place.

As for me, these are the thoughts that I took away from the experience: Words are empty vessels, context is important and action is character.

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Filed under Martin Creed, Old Kallang Airport, Open House Notebook