Martin Creed’s major retrospective: ‘What’s the point of it?’ occupies the entire Hayward Gallery. Through this extensive body of work, the Scottish artist reflects an approach to art that is self-evaluating, inviting the onlooker to ask the same questions with him. The intriguing part of this is that the artist leaves many of these questions unanswered; indeed the title of the exhibition itself is self-questioning. In many ways, Creed is an artist of irresolution; devoted for decades to his ideas, but never quite resolving them.
In an ever-changing and unpredictable world, Creed finds ‘comfort and reliability’ in repetition, a recurring theme of the exhibition. As a musician, he also depends on rhythm in his parallel practice; “its like putting up a ruler, or a grid, against the world, so that the changing world, as messy as it is, can be made into a pattern – like looking at the wilderness through a fence.” Fragments of this musical influence can be heard within the gallery, along with intermittent crashes that unnerve and interrupt the visitor’s viewing.
Amongst this colourful exhibition, the artist leaves many unanswered questions and even more unfinished artworks that he appears to approach as separate tasks to be considered in isolation. However, when brought together, the sheer variety of materials and number of objects used is enough to send anyone into a head spin.
The unavoidable ‘Mothers’ or Work No. 1092 is a dizzying neon sign spinning at variable speeds and seemingly out of control. Creed’s monument to motherhood is dominating, hypnotising and unnervingly close to your head. The message of the piece is clear, the huge presence that should be scary is also intriguing.
However from this dramatic introduction to the exhibition, the second room diverts to a more traditional and painterly approach. Creed’s early paintings show his skill as a colourist and his ability to capture expression and emotion with often only a few brushstrokes.
Labelled with another deadpan title; Work No. 200 Half the air in a given space (1998) is another notable highlight. In Creed’s balloon room, air is packaged and made visible by measuring and capturing precisely half the air in seven thousand balloons. This scripted space of squeaky (and slightly hairy) white balloons turns the passive visitor into an active participant where social and cultural norms are thrown out the window as we become engulfed in a balloon maze of childishness and giggling. In this simple concept Creed strips away the unnecessary but preserves the wit, humour and surprise.
After this high of physical activity and breathlessness, however, inevitably the rest of the exhibition seems to lose pace and energy. For the many who have to queue for this popular room, the exhibition turns into a grown-up theme park of art attractions, games and nudity.
The artist tenuously describes his famous Sick Film and Shit Film as the purest form of painting using human excretions, even going as far to say that shit is ‘’the first solid thing that any of us makes – is sculpture.” This I thought was taking it a bit far, not only was it painful to watch, but rather oddly positioned just before the exit, meaning it remained branded on your mind for the afternoon.
A comparison I could not help but to make was to David Shrigley’s 2012 exhibition, ‘Brain Activity’. In the same space, Shrigley packaged his silliness with statements rather than questions. The gallery structure was built around the work which unveiled unexpected surprises through its curatorial approach. In Creed’s show however, blank areas and slightly dead rooms dispelled the joy of previous ones.
Creed’s successes in the show are moments that play on visitors reactions; that of shock, awe, excitement and a little (or a lot) of disgust in this adult theme park of art that attempts to deconstruct the colourful blocks of the human condition.
Martin Creed, What’s the Point of it? Hayward Gallery, extended until 5th May 2014.