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British artist Martin Creed explains his most controversial artworks

British artist Martin Creed explains his most controversial artworks

What's the point of it?

Text: Aravin Sandran


Image: Martin Creed

I thought your exhibition 'What's the point of it?' would be a great starting point for this conversation. I've listed a few of your artworks and I would love to hear your rationale for each of them. Let's start with the one here at National Gallery Singapore: "the lights going on and off". As far as I can recall, there are two versions: with and without the lamp.
There are different versions. There's also a different version that has to do with the length of time.

Is the thinking behind it the same? I've heard you say in previous interviews that the point of the one without the lamp is to exhibit an artwork without an object in the space. Without the lamp, does the thinking behind it change?
A little bit. Lights are objects. The reason why I used the lamps, in this case, has to do with problems with the lights. It had to do with technical problems when the lights go on and off, so we brought in another form of lighting. It does become more like a traditional sculpture. One of the original thinking behind the work was to include people in the work as well. When they get illuminated with light, they become part of the work too.

The artwork that struck me the most was the pooping video. I'm guessing it goes along with the sick film. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
You're right. One came after the other. Making the shit film was a bit of a joke after the sick film. The sick film featured some people I knew, some friends and students. They were paid for that. We had a party where we had a banquet with all kinds of food and drink that they wanted to eat for the sick film. When they were ready to vomit, they came down to film it.

For the shit film, it was different. We had a studio in Hollywood for two days. When the people were ready, they would come to the studio to try to do it. It was incredibly complicated. Also, the film studio did not know what we were doing. We didn't tell them because we thought they wouldn't let us do it. It was all secret. For me, both works are studies on life.

How about one of your more popular works, "half the space in a given space", which has toured the world?
In a way, it had the same thinking as "lights going on and off". I used air because air is everywhere. It fills all the spaces between people and we need it to live. Balloons were a simple way of packaging air. As a sculpture, it doesn't have a shape; it takes the shape around people and the room. The resulting balloon work can be a lot of fun but people found it a little bit claustrophobic as well.

The next work I would like to talk about is quite deceptive actually. It's called "Mothers" but it feels quite dangerous as it looms over the audience.
It moves and spins around. It feels very low, but in fact, it's seven feet. The work was in progress for many years. I make these other text-based neon works such as "Everything is going to be alright" but I have always felt unhappy. I wanted to make a neon work where the size of it was sort of an integral part. I've made another one that says "Small things" really, really big. "Mothers" came about partly because of that. One thing about mothers is that they must be bigger than their child. I made it as big as I possibly could inside the space. It's a monument to mothers. It's general, not just to do with my mother.

Let's talk about one of your songs, "Thinking/Not Thinking". I believe it only features two chords right?
Putting words with music seems impossible to me. This one uses two chords, one for thinking that's fast and one for not thinking that's slow. There's a gap in the middle so I can change from one chord to the other. If notes are too close to each other, there's no time to get there. When I write my own music, I make sure there's time to move around. I find it difficult to play, sing and do these things. Sometimes, the more simple song is, the more you have to practice.

How about the "blu-tack against the wall"? I believe it goes in line with the "crumpled ball of paper"?
I often feel the best experiences in life most definitely not in an art gallery. It might be on the train and you see something or you're with someone else. These artworks are just tiny details of life.

Two of British artist Martin Creed's works, "lights going on and off" and one-of-a-kind immersive cafe installation were part of National Gallery Singapore's uber-successful 'Minimalism: Space.Light.Object'. Creed also performed some of his quirky songs in the final week of the exhibition's run.

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