ST AUGUSTINE wrote: "How many common things are trodden
underfoot which, if examined carefully, awaken our astonishment?"
Augustine clearly did not have Martin Creed's screwed sheet of
paper or lump of Blu-Tack stuck to a wall in view when he wrote
those words, and Creed would not choose a religious frame of
reference for his work; but there is, nevertheless, value in
relating Augustine's thought to Creed's work.
Creed revels in the freedom to make art from anything and
everything, which was originally granted to artists by Marcel
Duchamp, when he attempted in 1917 to exhibita urinal at an
exhibition in New York by the Society of Independent Artists.
Creed's work retains the playful subversion of expectation and
understanding which exemplified Duchamp's original action, and has,
as a result, been constantly subject to the same question, which
provides the title to this show: "What's the Point of It?"
Through his work, Creed draws attention to the beauty and
interest of common things that are regularly trodden underfoot, and
he uses the standard gallery techniques of isolating, framing, and
exhibiting objects to make us stop and look and examine them
carefully in the hope that our sense of astonishment will be
awakened. Whether exhibiting an unfolded sheet of paper, stripes of
coloured tape, stacks of boxes, or film of various bodily
functions, Creed's art transforms everyday materials and actions
into surprising meditations on existence, thereby asking us to
answer the question "What's the point of it?" In essence, he is
saying to us, with Augustine, "Where in all the varied movements of
creation is there any work of God which is not wonderful?"
Although the exhibition contains work that is intended to have
shock or surprise value (the Sick film or the active but static
Ford Focus, for example), the overriding impression of the works
included is of wonder. Half the Air in a Given Space,
Work No. 200 (the geek in Creed loves lists, sequences,
series, and patterns), is a room filled to head height with white
balloons. To create the work, the volume of the room was
calculated, and the exact number of balloons placed inside to
ensure that half of the air within the room was contained within
the balloons. When you enter the room to move through the balloons,
Creed's rules for the creation of the work simply provide the
opportunity for adults to enjoy playing as children do. Unless
claustrophobic (in which case, you should not enter), those who
plunge in are guaranteed to emerge with a smile on their face.
Equally fun, Work No. 1686 is a Ford Focus car (the
most ubiquitous model he could find), which, every few minutes,
comes automatically to life - engine starts, horn beeps, doors and
bonnet open, wipers start, and the radio plays - without ever
moving. Creed has said that "if work is any good, it should be able
to live on the street," and this is a work that would have
magnified impact in that setting rather than, as here, hidden away
on a balcony.
Creed had a Quaker upbringing, which, no doubt, played its
partin the quiet minimalism, the simplicity and humility of many of
the works included here, such as the understated beauty of
installations such as that created from 49 light bulbs (being all
the white bulbs made by one company), or a pyramid of stacked
toilet rolls. These, then, contrast with the bigger, bolder,
brasher works, such as the huge white neon of the word "Mothers",
which spins just above head height on a steel girder. Creed has a
multitude of tactics and techniques for making us stop and look and
look again, making the variety of work in this show as dizzying as
the spinning Mothers, Work No. 1092.
What's the point of it? Creed is showing us that art is
"anything used as art by people". Creed's work is often immersive
and interactive, as with Half the Air in a Given Space,
but its implication is more interactive still; life is art - you
and I are artists. What's the point of it? Creed's work suggests
that there is nothing - even those bodily functions that we
normally hide - that is not formed and, by being formed, is
wonderful. "How many common things are trodden underfoot which, if
examined carefully, awaken our astonishment?"
"What's the Point of It?" is atthe Hayward Gallery,
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1, until 27 April. Phone
020 7960 4200. www.southbankcentre.co.uk