Martin Creed: Down Over Up

Martin Creed: Down Over Up (2010) Art Review, London, Issue 44 (October). P.145.

Fruitmarket Gallery

An art critic walks into a coffee shop.  (S)he asks for 1 large cappuccino and 1 small cappuccino and then goes to sit down.  When they are brought over in their respective size of cup (s)he asks, “which one is which?”

An art critic walks into Martin Creed’s Down Over Up.  There are sculptures made from small chairs sitting on slightly larger chairs sitting on slightly larger chairs sitting on slightly larger chairs, or in another sense, large chairs sitting under slightly smaller chairs etcetera (Work No. 925 2008 and Work No. 998 2009).  There is a sculpture made from Lego blocks, with the bigger pieces at the bottom and smaller ones near the top (Work No. 745 2007).  There are wooden panels on the central staircase of the gallery that compress to play an ascending scale when people walk up them and a descending scale when they walk down them (Work No. 1061 2010).

Eloquent arguments have been made that it is near impossible to attribute conventional meaning to Creed’s work.   As Germaine Greer put it, “He strives for utterances that will not yield an ulterior meaning to even the most dogged (mis)interpreter”.  Rather, this view holds, the work somehow just is.  This is why interviews make up a disproportionately large part of the literature surrounding Creed’s practice.

In interviews, Creed casually sketches out a world in which his art, whether object-based, video, music or now dance, is performative in the most elusive sense.  It is not a form, but forms part of experience.  To cite one of the many poignant passages from John Dewey’s famous Art As Experience (1934), which stimulated a generation of American and international artists in the 1960s to try to redefine art as something that just is, “Things are experienced but not in such a way that they are composed into an experience.  There is distraction and dispersion; what we observe and what we think, what we desire and what we get, are at odds with each other.”

In Creed’s statements rhythm emerges as a source of comfort, giving a sense, if not actual, of something repeating and structured within this fleeting reality.   Down Over Up is a particularly rhythmic exhibition, with every work – whether composed of sequenced chairs, tables, Lego bricks, wooden planks, nails, cacti or painted rectangles – offering an oscillating spectacle for the living viewer, who surveys them, up and down.

An art critic walks around Down Over Up.  (S)he recalls Creed talking about his music and noting the difference between the making of it and the listening to it: “when I’m performing, I’m being looked at like an object”.  It’s easy, and perhaps this has as much to do with contemporary institutional practice as with the artist, to objectify ‘Creed’, to feel at a distance from the performance, even as you walk up and down Work No. 1061.  The making has been more intrinsic to less object-based exhibitions.

An art critic walks into a coffee shop.


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