Sunday, 16 February 2014

Martin Creed at the Hayward: What's the point of a penis?

I don't know how long you have to do something for it to qualify as an old tradition in these electronic times. This is my third nod to Valentine's Day, therefore I am conscious of something almost historically long term about this blog. The first post waMending Broken Hearts, the second was Hearts of Florence but this, unlike those two, is a review of a resolutely mainstream show. However to reference the first blog post, I introduced it with a rantette about the commercialism of Valentine's Day, when actually all you'd rather do is spend more time with a lover; 'to simply hold hands in a park, giggle in a gallery, or something far more intimate'.

Having listened to some of the terribly middle class reviews of Martin Creed at the Hayward I happily booked two Saturday tickets for the most gigglesome show in town. The weekend hadn't started well romantically speaking. Despite several cocktails and a fabulously cheesy evening of Love Classics at the Barbican [note to self, like bad sex, Bolero should only last 3 mins], I actually felt really rough with an ill timed migraine attack. Still, by 3pm on the Saturday with a restorative river journey behind us, I was ready for any artistic nonsense that Creed could throw at me.

The show, 'What's the point of it?' is the first retrospective of his work and takes over the entire Hayward gallery, terraces, toilets, and lift. Some of the works of art are as small as the space is vast. The entrance which is cunningly obstructed by a sofa overwhelms with metronome clatter and a massive rotating MOTHERS in steel and neon. The usual route through the Hayward space is disturbed and so the mezzanine level becomes a treat for later. The massive room two opens out with a colourful mixture of paint, neon, sound, and fun. The meaningless cardboard boxes, the pointless paper and terrible daublike paintings await your critical response, whilst the small gilded in-and-out dimples lie in wait to catch your fun fair/hall of mirrors reflection. And then the piano starts playing...a slow scale of all the notes from low to high; like the smile now playing at the corners of your mouth, your cheeks rise higher.

We spent a while in this long room, I think we went round it twice. The recorded sound of the artist blowing a raspberry appealed to my inner child and the torn up A4 paper made my inner art historian blow a raspberry right back. 'Don't Worry' said the sunshine yellow neon and the perky cacti on the piano merely looked prickly. Harsh; everyone's a critic. Being a huge fan of his singing elevator in the Royal Festival Hall, I was keen to listen to the exquisite work for Harmonica and Elevator here. Personally I still prefer the other one but it was a rare moment of intimacy in the pandemonium of the Hayward. I could have gone up and down all day in there.

The upper levels ramped up the ridiculous but with the same themes of repetition; collections of boxes, loo roll, metal girders, nails, bricks, cacti all beautifully ordered and presented with a sigh of relief in a disordered world. The queue for the balloon room 'Work No 200 Half the Air in a Given Space' by rights should have been organised by the artist by height, age, sex, colour of jacket, giving the snaking line an artistic purpose. This must have been the intention of the artist; to throw the orderly collection of 'stuff' into relief against the disorderly crowd. We took the advice of the queue sign to go and enjoy the rest of the exhibition. I chuckled at the blue tack, guffawed at the beautifully framed and presented typed page of A4 saying 'Fuck Off' and soaked up the sunny beauty of London reflected in the gallery window on the terrace.

We meandered back past the increasingly large queue via the other terraces; an alarming Ford Focus, a hysterical door stop and a hugely entertaining and intriguing filmed erection. The penis alternately went up and down and I could have watched that all day. Other people weren't as enamoured but I felt that this was at the heart of the show. We'd been encouraged to laugh at 'things' but I felt that this is where the exhibition shifted and now we were being asked to laugh at ourselves, our drives and our bodies. To take what is private and exhibit it outside like a piece of architecture, I thought was genius. It reminded me of the time lapsed crane shots of the city, rising and falling with the buildings going up and down.

We headed back downstairs where we were baffled by broccoli, balls and lego. We imagined what a small person would make of this and decided that the lights going on and off should have provided enough dark cover to rearrange the exhibits. We stood and chatted quietly by the ramp which normally leads down to room one. Suspicious, a security guard came over and so we moved on. By this point we were receptive to anything that Creed's view of life could throw at us. This is where the dark heart of the exhibition really manifested itself; the penis had prepared us for the film room.

The film room showed footage of people variously pooing and vomiting. With sound effects. Not heart warming raspberries but the City on a Friday night. With no loo roll, wiping, or any kind of order in sight. Just the human body in all its glorious disorder. As you leave the dark, carpeted room the final wall you see is a large black upside down teardrop. From the yellow happiness of stuff, you are left with some seriously dark unpleasant shit and a nasty sound ringing in your ears. Is this a warning, a premonition or just a reminder to look beneath the superficial once in a while? Or is it just the story of a day in the life of an office worker; organise your day, work through your in tray, laugh and have fun, then deal with your bodily functions and walk into the blackness?

So from non mawkish art, to metal and stone hearts,to this year's love in an elevator and shitting in a film room, my ability to chose topics for Valentine's never fails to disappoint.

Martin Creed continues at the Hayward Gallery, London until 27 April 2014.  

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