BRITART REVIEWS:
Martin Creed Works: Camden Arts Centre

Blu-Tack: Is Nothing Enough?

You enter this show past an area that's roped off for apparent health and safety reasons. One of the terracota tiles on the entrance floor is a cemented stack of tiles. You wander in and ponder further a show where the floor is littered with pieces of A4 paper crumpled into balls or torn into equal-sized pieces. Statements are being made, but, all things being equal, they're non-commital statements. In the background, a stuttering drum machine plays the self-descriptively titled: All the sounds on a drum machine played one after the other, in their given order, at a speed which makes the piece last for one minute (Work No. 177). So what criteria is in this work?

The interview with Creed in the video accompanying Creed Works is, it has to be said, entertaining. His central claim is that he has 'no criteria'. Everything he does is an attempt to do something insofar as it can be without decision-making. He professes how he can't even decide on his shirt colour in the morning. His talk about his work involves quasi-philosophical equations like 'the whole world plus the work equals the whole world' - as if nothing can be done. This equation is central to his schtick.

He says he wants to make things but at the same time he doesn't. He says he starts with nothing, adds something, then takes something away and leaves you with nothing more than something that's happened in the process. He comes up Some Blu-Tack kneaded, rolled into a ball, and depressed against a wall (Work No. 79) at  Martin Creed's Creedworks at Camden Arts Centrewith another equation: 'none plus one take one is none'. He chooses his words precisely and with total conviction. But his delivery is drier than a Sauvignon Blanc. He has an almost-smile that has you wondering how serious he is or conversely how seriously you aught to take him. Yet his indecisive logic works.

Take for example: Some Blu-Tack kneaded, rolled into a ball, and depressed against a wall (Work No. 79). This was a piece where he wanted to mount something on a wall but he couldn't decide what to mount. Nothing more than an attempt is made. Or is it? Is the kneading sculpting? Is the thumb-print the signature? Why add anything?

A piece of yellow neon spells out 'THINGS' in the middle of a wall. It is a brash and glitzy way of describing ... what? Something in the plural, evidently, but nothing in particular. This is a hilarious piece. There is something relieving about laughing out loud in the hushed and reverential confines of a gallery. You laugh. Other visitors laugh, relieved someone else has. Then they look again.

And perhaps this double-take is what Creed's works do do. A large piece of furniture partially obstructing a door (Work No. 253) has you wondering if it's bad etiquette to squeeze past it, when it looks like it could just be a boardroom table from the Arts Centre moved into a different position.

This is not minimalism about art. It makes you aware of your own self-consciousness in grappling with the abstraction that is nothing. A piece of neon that says nothing in particular is capable of making you laugh. Anyone thinking Creed is taking the piss is wrongly assuming that walking into a gallery necessitates always taking art so terribly seriously. If art reflects life it needs its tongue ambiguously in its cheek somtimes. And wheeling out the old 'is it art?' would be missing the point as usual. Creed is asking the eternal question 'What can I do?'

If there is an answer, it may be a short one, for in a world where so many man-hours of peace talks achieve so little peace, and so many lifetimes of research only mine the tiniest areas of knowledge, perhaps the little that can be done is Creed's minimalism. Isn't it better to laugh about this than cry?

Martin Creed Works is at Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road, London NW3 6DG until 14th January 2001 - Tel: 020 7435 2643/5224

Review and photography copyright Jeff Lee 2000.

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