Martin Creed: Words and Music, UCLan

An entertaining romp through the neuroses, feelings and thoughts of the 2001 Turner Prize Winner – a sort of rehearsed stream of consciousness with music. Although Micaela’s friend, Emma knew Creed’s music, Micaela and I were unsure what to expect. Having experienced his art work, Micaela said that the worst thing that could happen would be to find out that Creed didn’t have a sense of humour.  No worries on that score. His comedic persona is helped by the fact he strongly resembles Billy Connolly, but without the eye contact.

Martin Creed Words and Music, Harris Museum at the Media Building, UCLan

But there’s a more serious side to Creed that is not immediately evident in the playful, childlike nature of his visual art.  His feelings were the theme of the evening, and it seems that he is a victim of his feelings.  For him, there is a disjunction between words and feelings, for instance in the need to be polite, ‘I’ve only turned up this evening because I said I would.’  In fact, it becomes an area for internal conflict.  Talking about his 2016 neon installation, Understanding, in New York, he says he was inspired by the hippy slogan ‘Peace, Love, Understanding’.  Funding didn’t run to three words, so he had to choose one.

Martin Creed Understanding
Martin Creed 2016 Understanding NY – ‘you can stand under Understanding’

Interestingly, he says Peace was discounted because conflict is a part of life. Life is hard, he adds, which provides motivation for doing things – to get out of feeling bad. If we are happy there’s no motivation for doing anything. (He chose Understanding because it’s possible to understand people you don’t like, which isn’t the case with love).

His serious side continued with his engagement with refugees, with his lyrics to ‘let them in’, with has his signature stripes as bars:

Martin Creed Let Them In

And with his discussion of border controls. He says he hates borders as they are against human life:

Martin Creed Border Control

He swiftly side-steps from Border Controls to ‘borders’ in general. Drawing lines on paper are borders – against human life (I have to admit he lost me here).  ‘NO’ is a border, he says, whereas ‘YES’ is not.  He then plays with semantics and says ‘YES’ means NO borders, so NO is good.  The playful nature of his visual art is evident in his words and music. His interest in binary oppositions (on/off)  here manifests as ‘no/yes’.  His interest in groups is expressed in marked repetition and strings of banal rhyming words. His interest in progressive order is evident in the above video, Border Control, where he plays with meaning:

  1. It’s a border Control
  2. It’s a border Con
  3. It’s a Border
  4. It’s a Bore

And, of course, his humour is expressed in his music.  Music, he says, is feelings, so there is the same slippage between words and music as there is between words and feelings. His opening song attempted to unite the two: B(e) flat, B(e) sharp, B(e) natural, played/sung with excellent comedic timing to let the laughter build.

‘Things’ also appeared as a theme.  He says he wrote ‘I Like Things’ at the time he made the neon sculpture, ‘Everything is Going to be Alright’, currently adorning the Harris Art Gallery and Museum, Preston.

Work No. 203: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT 1999 by Martin Creed born 1968
Work No. 203: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT 1999 Martin Creed born 1968 Presented by Tate Patrons 2009

Very tongue in cheek.  ‘Of course it’s not going to be alright,’ he says, ‘you’re going to die!’ Then adds, ‘I wouldn’t want you to think I know what I’m talking about.’

A final word by Mr Creed on thoughts and feelings:

“If you’re feeling bad and your thoughts are sad …………… pass them on to someone else” (laughter).

Thank-you and goodnight.


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