Martin Creed: Down Over Up - Edinburgh Art Festival
The Turner Prize winner on his Festival work
This article is from 2010.
Renaissance Man Martin Creed is on the Fringe and at the Book Festival as well as stirring up the art world this August. Rosalie Doubal hears from an artist who wants to fully explore the process of living
'I think that dying for a piss is one of the strongest experiences in life.’ Much like his works, Martin Creed’s words often tread a fine line between the exceedingly crass and the wincingly poetic. Although recognised for his unwavering interest in the ordering and re-ordering of the everyday, he has been criticised in the past for seemingly ‘conceptual’, ‘non-art’ presentations such as the Turner Prize winning on/off light, and the sick, shit and sex films. Yet no one can deny the arresting vitality of Creed’s practice.
Manipulating the stuff and things of our universal make-up, both inside and out, Creed is an artist who talks and works with both passion and reserve and, most ingeniously, is an artist who generates force from doubt. ‘I like doing things in different media or areas, because I don’t feel sure about what I do. Working is a means of trying to make your life better. So that means looking for excitement or beauty, and whether that’s in music or dance or marble steps, it’s no different.’
Every inch the Renaissance Man, Creed’s festival offerings include solo show Down Over Up at The Fruitmarket Gallery, a Sadler’s Wells production of his Ballet Work No. 1020 at the Traverse Theatre, an appearance at the Book Festival and the installation of a new major permanent public sculpture on the Scotsman Steps, his EAF Expo commission to be unveiled later in the year. Viewing his work in dance, sculpture and music as one and the same practice, Creed’s core interests remain the same. Further to broadening his audiences, working like this allows the artist to play with the immersive theatrical experience, the drop-in gallery-going effect, and the happened-upon occurrences of public sculpture.
From the insistent numerical titling of his works to the experimentation with differing levels of audience absorption, incremental impulses remain key to Creed’s Ballet Work No. 1020, a piece for five dancers with film and a live band featuring the artist, is based around the five positions in ballet and the notes of the musical scale. Similarly, Creed’s Fruitmarket exhibition focuses on progressions in size, height and tone. Chairs, boxes and series of paintings will crescendo, slide and swell, showing process, progress and flux.
‘I think it comes from a feeling that nothing is ever fixed,’ explains Creed. ‘Living is constantly changing. And so one of the ideas behind these works in which something gets bigger and bigger or works like the lights going on and off, was to try and make something that is happening, that makes itself live in front of you, and to show inside the work, a process of living.’
Returning audiences to his work with music, a highlight of Down Over Up will be a new commission in which Creed turns the gallery’s staircase into a synthesiser, with each step sounding a different note as visitors ascend and descend. Aware of the more unsavoury reputation of the Scotsman Steps, Creed’s plan for his public sculpture involves a more durable – and washable – solution, and will see the artist resurface the steps with different types of marble from all over the world.
‘One of the things that made me think of it was that those steps are just such a toilet,’ laughs Creed. ‘But I thought maybe if you put something really beautiful there, that might be the best thing to do. And it’s funny because marble is a material that is used traditionally in lavatories.’ Although the artist readily understands the humour of this work, there is seriousness here. The inability to reconcile the effect of certain feelings with the physical world around about him is a generative force within his practice.
‘Feeling sick, and all those kind of things, are important,’ muses Creed. ‘But I think it’s really hard to make a relationship between things outside of you and the feelings inside. For me, that’s what trying to make things is and it’s just like trying to make things rhyme or like finding someone to fall in love with.’
Down Over Up, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Market Street, 0131 225 2383, 30 Jul–31 Oct, free;
Edinburgh International Book Festival event, Charlotte Square Gardens, 0845 373 5888, 14 Aug, 8.30pm, £10 (£8);
Ballet Work No. 1020, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, 0131 228 1404, 8–15 Aug, various times, £17–£19 (£6–£13). Previews 3, 7 Aug, £12 (£6).