Martin Creed, multi-disciplinary artist and Turner Prize winner, is currently exhibiting at The Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston. Curated by Clarissa Corfe, the show contains pieces donated by Creed to the ARTIST ROOMS touring programme alongside other works never seen before outside of London. His neon Work No. 203: ‘EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT’ (1999), installed on the Neo-Classical frontage of the building primes visitors for the visually and theoretically eclectic environment they are about to experience. Once inside the main space is immediately dominated by the black and white diagonal stripes of Work No. 1340 (2012), painted directly on to the gallery wall and providing a suitably dynamic backdrop to counterbalance the regimented row of graduated cacti of Work No. 960 (2008), arranged neatly in the centre of the space.
The neon yellow ‘DON’T WORRY’ of Work No. 890: ‘DON’T WORRY’ (2008) straddles a corner and diffuses a warm glow while close by a self-portrait shows a younger version of Creed someway between smiling and baring his teeth. The tension between chance and precision is present throughout; concepts manifest with an effortless approach to execution yet are often specifically arranged or stacked. In a separate room Work No. 227: ‘The lights go on and off’ (2000) is a meditative non-event that repeatedly re-focuses the attention in the now. At the opposite end of the gallery the video Work No. 1701: ‘Life can look like a Dance’ (2013) is brimming with positivity. Under blue skies, we watch various people make their way, one by one, over a zebra crossing accompanied by pop music written and performed by the artist.
The viewer might be distracted throughout the exhibition, however, by the sound of retching coming from the four screens that comprise Work No. 837 (2007). The piece presents four individuals being sick and gives an insight into Creed’s feelings about the creative process. The artist’s insecurities are further disclosed in Work No. 2797 (2017), written for the exhibition and printed as a hand out on A4 paper; ‘…because, although I sometimes think my work is super, I also often, or at one and the same time, think it’s embarrassing and it makes me want to vomit.’ Creed has a way with words, and through this textual conceit is able to foreground the viewer in his world. He reminds us that life, particularly his life, can be volatile and messy and this affiliation allows us as an audience to become implicit in the work’s meaning; according to Creed the outcome is ‘50% what I make and 50% about what other people make of it.’
The juxtaposition between containment and seepage of materials throughout implies an interstice where chaos and order can naturally co-exist and the appeal of this process reflects our current need to develop coping strategies for modernity. As a ‘cultural tenant’ in society Creed uses his status to fix the viewer in the present, presenting signs, objects, forms and gestures that neutralise the current information overload. The effect of this visual accountancy is cathartic, both for the artist and the viewer.
ARTIST ROOMS: Martin Creed, The Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston, 27 January – 3 June 2017.
Sam Pickett is an artist based in Preston.
Image: ARTIST ROOMS: Martin Creed installation shot, courtesy Artist Rooms, photograph by Fiona Haggerty.