Saturday, 15 March 2014

What's The Point Of It?

At the Southbank Centre, London’s Hayward Gallery is staging ‘ What’s The Point Of It? ’, an expansive career retrospective of Martin Creed’s three decades of numbered works: all his ‘greatest hits’ are here and, to help muddy the critical waters, considerably more.

There’s his A4 sheet of white paper crumpled into a ball; a series of unsynchronized swinging metronomes; semi-erotic, eye-level football sized white protrusions seamlessly bulging from the wall - but everything has become more physically substantial with previously isolated works spilling into each others display space, overlapping; generally busying Creed’s previously reductive practice. 

In the first of the Hayward’s interconnecting gallery spaces, a thick wooden beam, acting as a base for large neon letters spelling out the word ‘Mothers’, rotates 360 degrees, horizontally, around and around and around. Although it is high enough to clear the head of any gallery visitor the sheer mass of the thing retains a threatening, oppressive potential for decapitation. It also acts as an early announcement that Creed’s previous predilection for isolating objects of formal and material simplicity is no longer a given, the space also containing a much reproduced photo of Creed grinning in an unreadably exaggerated manner and a wall hugging line of 39 clicking metronomes.

This leads through to walls decorated with colourful stripes, a large clumsy ‘x’ of paint, bright simple painting-drawings of stacked blocks of colour repeated in the adjacent tiered sculptural stack of random cardboard boxes.  

Although his restaging of his 1998 audience favourite Work 200: Half The Air In A Given Space - white balloons piled into a room and the audience permitted to enter the area for a Wacky Warehouse romp - remains a self-contained affair; Work 227: The Lights Going On And Off (still available to experience at Tate Britain) now happens in a functioning gallery space which just makes looking at the other works pointlessly irritating.

There’s two reconstructed old wall pieces, one an isolated bulge, the other two parallel lumps, something between pale smooth cysts and cartoon breasts, both insinuate tactility whilst denying it. The stand alone wall lump seems altogether more ambiguous and therefore more threatening - is the mass being absorbed into the vertical surface or protruding into real space before splitting and spilling its contents?

When it comes to the subject of spilling contents, Creed’s taken this to its obvious conclusion with projected DVDs of individuals wandering into a static framed studio shot and vomiting on the floor. Some manage it with a casual indifference, others battle their gag reflex which makes things a tad uncomfortable. Following these snippets with someone having a shit is, let’s face it, just a display from the other end of the tube. 

Speaking of the other end of the two ends of a tube, another ‘filmic’ projection, this time outdoors on one of the Hayward’s city viewing balconies, has a side shot of a human cock becoming erect then flaccid in a constant seamless series of cycles. A neighbouring balcony holds a tall diagonal stack of various strata of brick further resonating with the interplay between erect penis and London’s skyline. A glaring literalness can just be the hallmark of poor art but Creed’s exercises in stripping things down to physical and mechanical facts can be smart-stupid and entertainingly unsettling in equal measure. 

Everything somehow fits together like the cogs of a larger mechanism, the exception being a line of childishly crap portraits; Creed’s intuitively skillful in adopting the pose of the wide-eyed and childlike but childish isn’t the same thing at all and should be stamped out immediately.   

The new giddy carnivalesque Creed just about pulls it off here even if it is at the expense of crowding out the little Zen nuggets of yesteryear. What is new is that which Creed previously avoided, a tone of cynicism; simple mechanical processes used to be pleasurable enough in themselves in Creedworld but now they seem to be becoming less than satisfactory repetitions, repetitions without a confining duration, pure and mindless mechanical process.