I’ve never seen the Hayward so full of work. From the moment you walk in you are hit in the eye and ear and almost-but-not-quite the head. It made me smile straight off. Martin Creed’s work always does make me smile. There is a playful irreverence about his work, but he presents it to us all the same. I got the sense of him trying things out. The fact that he takes it seriously enough to stick at ideas gave the work an integrity which I found I didn’t get at all from a similarly irreverent David Shrigley at Hayward last year.
I couldn’t help comparing the shows in my mind as I walked around this one, but where Shrigley seemed determined to undermine his own work, which made me want to do the same after the first few pieces (you want me to take this body of work seriously? It makes me smile a bit, but seriously, how many one-liners can I take in one show?)
What’s the Point of It? is more of a stream of streams of thought, overlapping and repeating, which felt interesting to witness.
The work that almost-but-not-quite literally hits you when you first enter is the monumental revolving neon Mothers. The way it is shoehorned it into the space, sacrificing a walkway and giving you a squashy sofa to wimp out on is quite breathtaking. I prefer standing there and getting the hairs on the top of my head whisked up as it swoops past. When I first heard Creed talking about this work a couple of years ago, Creed said it had to be large, “because mothers always have to be bigger than you are” and because “it feels like mothers are the most important people in the world.” This stuck me as respectful rather than patronising: I think it’s the ‘s’ which opens it up for all of us. We can all personalise the tribute I suppose. Motherhood being such an lifelong status, with all the paradoxes it presents – illuminating, intimidating, amusing, liable to bonk you on the head if you grow a bit more…. I could spend a lot more time with these ideas.
I did get to spend a lot more time with a lot more of Creed’s ideas, sometimes wondering why I was being asked to spend time with more than one incarnation of some. The stacks of boxes and iron girders, for example. But not chairs or lengths of wood. The everyday verses the sourced? The crafted versus the ordered from stock? Was it even that deliberate? Those inconsistencies I think were interesting, but in the room where light featured wasn’t so successful: the lights turning on and off were great: I think that added to the broccoli prints, and to Mothers, enhancing the features of both; but there was a projection on one wall which came on and off with the lights which felt clumsy. It seemed coy amongst work which was delighting in being straightforward and observational. It seemed to be a decision governed by practicality and I couldn’t get past that. The bronze peony in an unappealing vase sitting next to it also seemed out of place, much more of a material experimentation (the very long lasting flower made immortal although it looked quite dead… Material pun?)
The material puns were continued with the tape on the wall upstairs. A huge wall was meticulously striped in all different tapes. They weren’t holding it together, but they could almost have held it up. Made me want to fix a few walls in my house like that. Such a simple gesture, yet the hours of sourcing and the painstaking perfection of the application gave it substance. This was true of the walls in general, which are all painted in various ways, but with different paints or rollers or brushes which gave it more intention than randomness.
All of this pondering is rounded off by a room behind a wall glazed with different sorts of glass. (Following the Scotsman Steps in Edinburgh made of different shades of marble, the wall of tape, even the rather forlorn wooden screen downstairs crafted from different types of wood, the uniform is made question by these explorations into material variations)
Behind the glass wall, the space is un-neatly divided in two: half the air there is in great big balloons (or possibly, slightly less than half- I think the static on my hair made one or two explode.) The megawatts of static might be an indication that I stayed in there a bit too long, but it was fun.
Fun, and unnerving too. Coming face to face with strangers you didn’t know were there. Laughing hysterically like a child at a birthday party fulfilling old fantasies of enough balloons to fill the lounge. Paying for it with a birds nest painful tangle on the top of my head. It brought to mind the immersion in Cildo Meireles’ Volátil talc room at Tate Modern a few years ago, or Miroslaw Balka’s How It Is in the Turbine Hall, the unsettling possibility that something might happen to you is never far from your mind. This foreboding gesture is echoed by the slamming piano lid earlier in the show, the stranded, animated car on a roof. This is a deliberate act, otherwise why not just fill half the room with one ballon?
The insistence of Creed to draw us into his way of seeing and exploring the world seems generous rather than imposing. The smiles and belly laughs balance the more reserved, quiet, reluctant moments. The bored looking pianist serenading us with every note on the keyboard over and over again seemed privately humiliated, yet he did it anyway ( I hope this performance style was in the job description).
Having enjoyed looking at Creed’s work ever since I was first introduced to it on my art foundation, I was really excited to see some pieces I’d only read about before. (I was so busy on the MA I didn’t make it to see Mothers at Hauser and Worth) I did miss any reference to the Bells from the cultural olympiad though. Hopefully this is due to it being ubiquitous now, what with so many of us taking part? Or maybe its just me who still has the ringtone on my phone?
The work feels like an ongoing process, rather than a fixed presentation, which I find really refreshing. As the 2 years of intensive fertilisation and replanting, which led to the agricultural show which was the end of MA show at Chelsea last year, start to really sink in, it’s heartening to be reminded that making art is a lifelong obsession in the wider world too. What’s the Point of It? Is more than just a title of a song, or a show, it’s a call to arms for making more work, to try and find out.