Martin Creed Plays Chicago

On the 27th of July, at 8:12 am, London time, Martin Creed’s Work No. 1197: “All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes” will be realized as Londoners ring whatever bells they have as part of the celebration for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. You can see what bell events are planned and by whom (the Royal Navy is even participating) on the All the Bells website.

In celebration of the London 2012 Games and Martin Creed’s yearlong residency here at the MCA, and in a spirit of unity with those participants in the United Kingdom, the museum will also be ringing a bell simultaneously with our European counterparts—meaning we will be ringing a bell or two at the early hour of 2:12 am. We will document the ringing and post it at a later date, please continue to check this blog or follow us on Twitter for updates.

The MCA is also honored to be joined by other bell ringers in the city, including the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel.

You can also ring along with Martin Creed here in Chicago by ringing your bell at 2:12 am (CST) “as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes,” according to the instructions for the artwork. Add your event here, or check if there’s one near you.

 

Martin Creed: “Work No. 916,” 2008; Boxes; 78.7 x 24 x 24 in. (200 x 61 x 61 cm); Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York; Installation view, Martin Creed Plays Chicago, MCA Chicago, 2012; Photo: Scott Reinhard, © MCA Chicago.

Martin Creed has said, “I don’t want to be a wanker.” He’s self-conscious about that, not being a wanker. I’d say he succeeds about 50/50. That’s actually pretty common, close to the national average, which includes you and your family and friends—all wankers, some of the time. Anyway, it’s not all that bad. It’s a pretty good indication that you’re alive. You’re alive! And there are so many things to experience, so many sensations to be felt, that you’ve got to get your fill. Desire is a Hydra head; rub one out and two grow back.

Sometimes you buy yourself something real special, a special treat. You bring it home and take it out of its box. You put it on your entertainment center or your hutch or whatever, plug it in and turn it on, and it’s seamlessly integrated into your home and a real reflection of who you are right now. Step back to admire it, yeah. When you go to throw away the cardboard box it came in, you notice that the box is immediately occupied again—by your cat, who will defend his new castle to the death. That’s what Martin Creed’s art is about: having a play-date with yourself despite the other people in the room. Desire is a needy pet. Sometimes it’s that thing you have to feed.

Often there are folks standing around Martin Creed’s stacked-box sculpture (Work No. 916, 2008), pointing and laughing and waving over to their wives and sisters to laugh at it, too. Your comments would make the artist cringe except the artist would be the first to say, “I don’t know what art is.” (He has said that exactly.) Here’s an art history lesson: People often ask how much art costs. If it is made from gold, it will be more expensive. Empty cardboard boxes, perhaps less so. Old art means you encounter beauty. New art means you encounter thoughts. All the beautiful things you want to have. All the ugly things are important. All the stupid things are true.

Martin Creed: "Work No. 798" (2007) and "Work No. 1349" (2012); Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York

“That’s the thing about a rhythm; it’s reliable because it happens at predictable intervals, you know. But exactly the fact that it’s reliable helps you then to be in this big mess. You know, so those works that use repeated motifs or with intervals between them fulfill the function of giving me basically something like a handrail to hold onto on in constantly ever-changing world.” – Martin Creed

Ships slowly arrive at a harbor, dock, and unload. The sequence repeats. A ziggurat of boxes (perhaps unloaded from a ship), made of large to progressively smaller boxes, rises from the floor. Handmade squares checker a wall across from another wall, where stripes regularly divide the space. In the works by Martin Creed on view in the museum, the artist alludes to the way our lives are reliably regulated by day-to-day activity: transportation (Work No. 405), commerce (Work No. 916), and labor (Work No. 798 and Work No. 1349). The sum total of these actions, the titular work, allows things (a favorite word of Creed’s; see Work No. 845) to be brought from here to there, to be exchanged, to be made. It is this kind of stability and structure that the recent NATO protests in Chicago called into question. At whose expense does this stability come? Creed describes the world as a “big mess,” and his work reminds us of the importance of reliability.

Work No. 405 Ships coming in, 2005, installation view

Martin Creed: “Work No. 405 Ships coming in,” 2005; Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York

Two box televisions, encased and stacked like shipping crates, rest unobtrusively in the corner of the MCA’s third-floor landing. Work No. 405: Ships Coming In by Martin Creed appears at first to be screening the same shot twice: a blank sea. The ocean on the upper television is a deeper blue with an enigmatic and seemingly sourceless wake that V’s across the frame. Aside from that wake, there is nothing curious about the scenario we are faced with. This is a picture of the sea. In fact, the whole sequence of events that are about to unfold will prove themselves unremarkable. Precisely for that reason, the detail and difference between loops, the resonant gestures, out of sync but parallel, become sympathetic inside the camera’s gaze.

In the midst of this wake, the first ship appears, crossing the screen from left to right, almost parallel with the pier’s end. Below and shortly after, a second ship enters the lower television. This one also crosses the screen, ever behind the ship above. The ship above has already begun to veer its nose out to the horizon—it moves farther out to sea—before straightening to face the pier directly and resume its approach toward us, the camera, and the body of land on which the camera stands. These simple back and forth maneuvers, reminiscent of parallel parking, occupy the majority of this work. They would be banal and quick, save for the physics of water and its relationship to the buoyant ferry. Under these slowed conditions, abstract angles between ship and pier become points of interest. They could be sketches, paintings, or haikus. They could be illustrations for scientific hypotheses. Surprisingly both ships attain the same goal at almost exactly the same time—the ferry arrives! Its paired and simultaneous representation points not only to the minute differences between efforts, but also the ritual, repetition, and practice of this route. This ferry has berthed countless times.

An audience gathers on the lower pier to see the ship come in, waiting no doubt to attain something inside the boat. A tottering, small dog, all business and independence, trots through those witnesses, just before a compact truck comes scooting out from the lower ferry’s hull, honking its horn like a bleating lamb—full of life. The truck is smaller than the palm of my hand. The ship on the top television is not so well attended. When the compact truck exits, long after its lower twin, it does not honk, nor seem half as satisfied. One cannot help but wonder the differences—are these different times of day? Different days of the week? Different seasons altogether? The rhythm of the ship remains constant, though its cargo may change. And then, suddenly: the ships disappear. First the lower boat, then, the upper: gone, like ghosts, as though they never were. Accompanying piers empty as well, bare as they were in the beginning. All that remains is the sea—a veneer of stability—and the light.

Martin Creed, Work No. 916, 2008; Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York

“I feel like I’m trying to understand something that doesn’t have a point.”

“Is there a reason he chose these products?”

“Is there anything in them?”

“It kind of looks like a robot.”

“I wonder if this means something with brands, like capitalism.”

“I don’t know what he’s trying to do. Or maybe he isn’t trying to do anything at all.”

“It’s a tower.”

“I just realized this was a piece.”

“It makes me think of my credit card bills.”

“It looks like my house.”

Martin Creed: "Work No. 1020," 2009. Theatre show including ballet, talk, and music Shown in performance at Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK, 2009. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

“I don’t know what art is. It’s a magic thing because it’s to do with feelings people have when they see something. If the work is successful, it’s because of some magic quality it has,” Martin Creed (seen above, on right) remarked to the Guardian.

Read the whole Guardian profile of our 2012 artist in residence, Martin Creed, including his upcoming project for the London Olympics.

Martin Creed: Work No. 405 Ships coming in, 2005

Martin Creed, Work No. 405 Ships coming in, 2005; Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York

“It raises questions about time. I wonder what the time frame is, you know? Were these shot the same day? Or did these take place years apart? I think it also speaks to the banality of the everyday. It seems to be the same motions day to day, there’s very little variance. I think something like this makes you reflect on how depressingly repetitive and boring our lives really are.”

“It’s interesting because the videos are exactly the same but completely different. No matter how similar things are, there’s always something that makes each thing unique. There are small differences between the videos, but when you watch the videos together those things stand out because they’re not exactly the same.”

Martin Creed performed “I Like Things” on Saturday, February 11, 2012, at the lecture “Meet Martin Creed” at MCA Chicago.

I like things a lot.

I like things a lot.

I feel very well.

I feel very well.

I feel positive.

I like things a lot.

I like things.

I like things.

I like things.

I like things.

I like things.

I like things.

I like things.

I’m happy.

Happy.

Happy.

Liking.

Liking.

Things.

Things.

Yeah.

Yeah.

I like things a lot.

I like things a lot.

I feel very well.

I feel very well.

I feel positive.

I like things a lot.

I like things.

I like things.

I like things.

I like things.

I like things.

I like things.

I like things.

I’m happy.

Liking.

Liking.

Things like.

Things like.

Things.

Things.

No.

No.

Scott Reeder; Photo courtesy of the artist.

Every time I see a new Martin Creed piece I have a similar reaction:

Why didn’t I think of that? Creed’s work is so pithy, direct, and borderline obvious that you almost do a double take. It’s like noticing that you are standing on the ground.

I think the first time I saw THINGS was at a big art fair, which seemed especially appropriate—one artwork succinctly commenting on everything else around it. But somehow it pulled this off without projecting any kind of preachy tone or air of judgment, almost like it was saying, “Hey guys, I’m one too.”

For me, part of the beauty of THINGS is that it seems like it would be at home no matter where you put it—a desert island, a museum, a mall, or a space station. It’s like a mirror—but it doesn’t reflect people, it reflects everything else.

Naomi Beckwith

Naomi Beckwith; January 18, 2012; Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

This year, Martin Creed’s residency here at MCA Chicago brings an array of projects to the museum and the city of Chicago. Each month, Martin unveils a new installation in spaces that aren’t normally given over to art projects, like elevators, and spaces that aren’t traditional gallery sites, like lobbies—reinvigorating and expanding the function of such spaces. In addition to projects inside the MCA building, Martin is also going to be realizing some ambitious projects around the city of Chicago itself—including recording an album and presenting the American premiere of his ballet, Work no. 1020.

This residency pushes us at the MCA to redefine our general practice of making exhibitions. Working with an artist like Martin Creed—whose work extends well beyond traditional visual art objects and into the realms of performance, theater, dance, installation, and video—enables us to enliven our spaces in incredibly new and enriching ways.

This blog serves to document Martin’s residency, letting you know how his installations unfold one-by-one throughout the MCA and reminding you of his performances and events throughout the city. We will also feature contributions from museum visitors, students in the MCA’s Teen Creative Agency, and Chicagoans active in the arts and culture community.