Martin Creed is known for his minimalist-realist ideas and installations, such as his 2001 Turner Prize-winning Work No. 227, the Lights Going On and Off and his 2008 Work No. 850, in which volunteer runners sprinted across the Tate Britain gallery every 30 seconds. But he has also experimented with music, both in his installations — the 1999 Work No. 223, Three metronomes beating time, one quickly, one slowly, and one neither quickly nor slowly is a fine example — and with his unnamed on-again, off-again three-piece band, which has toured throughout Europe. In fact, the 41-year-old Glaswegian doesn’t see any difference between his visual and musical art. Marina Cashdan speaks with Creed about records versus installations, the process of music making, and his current show at the Common Guild, in Glasgow. Portrait by Marie Angeletti
Common Guild is in a Victorian town house. How did you use the special architecture of this space?
Because it’s a house, the idea is to make the works part of the house. Works are all part of the wall, [for example].
Are these works site-specific, or like most of your works, can they appear anyplace?
Aye, I’ve made a lot of works that become part of wherever they’re exhibited, but I don’t think of them as site-specific. Though they’re part of the architecture, they can be done anywhere. Like with the piece with the door opening and closing [Work No. 129], so as long as you have a door, you can do it. It doesn’t have to be a specific door. In fact, I don’t really like site-specific art in general.
I like that it can be anywhere, that one place is not more special than another place.
What came first, music or art?
I grew up with music and art, so both at the same time. I used to write music when I was a kid; then when I was at art school, I started doing things with a band.
How would you describe your music?
Well, I don’t know. I think it’s the same as my other work. I don’t know what it sounds like to people. Maybe some of it sounds like punk, but it’s not. I’ve been doing a lot of things with orchestral instruments. I’ve done two pieces for orchestra in the past year. One was played by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra [Work No. 955, on September 23], and another was done in Japan, by the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra [Works No. 955 and 994, on May 29].
How would you compare the process of making music to that of making visual art? I mean, music is art, too.
Exactly. Well, anything can be art, and art is a really difficult word to use. But thinking about the process is a big part of my work. The reason is that for me the process means the process of trying to live your life, in difficult circumstances or whatever it may be.
Yes, experience is a large part of your work. Would a listener to your music get an experience similar to that of viewing your artwork?
I don’t know. I find it really hard to think of what anyone gets from my work. I work to try to make my life better. That’s why I work. Each work is an attempt to try to make my life better. And maybe some of the works show the process of that trying. I made some sculptures at art school, and I remember thinking, "Aw, people only see the end result, after I’ve gone away." Then I thought that in a piece of music you could show the process — trying to do the thing. But the reason to try to show that — that I get excited about. When the thing’s left over at the end, it has to be gone for me. I can’t carry it around with me all the time.
Tell me about your band.
The band isn’t set exactly, but it’s mostly a three-piece band, and the most recent thing I’ve been working on is this performance with ballet dancers. It was done at Sadler’s Wells, but now it will be touring around.
Does the music inform the dancers, or do the dancers inform the music? Or is there no relation necessarily, as in a Merce Cunningham work?
One of the ideas was to make a dance that matches exactly with the music or vice versa. So I did all these simple dances that go through all the ballet positions. For each position there was a note. And there were some dances that were silent, and there were some that were to a metronome, and there were songs with the band interspersed and film and talking, so it’s a show with lots of bits and pieces in it.
If your artwork is considered realism to a certain degree, do you consider your music escapism?
I think they’re both the same. There’s a difference between making things and experiencing them. And I don’t know — the more I work, the more I think that the relationship between making something and experiencing it are very distant from one another. Music might lend itself more to an escapist experience. However, making music isn’t necessarily escapist, and writing it certainly isn’t. One big difference, I suppose, is if I’m playing my own music, because when I’m performing, I’m being looked at like an object.
Everyone experiences something different.
I read that you consider the museum a theater. As the creator of both music and art, do you consider experiencing both to be similar?
Maybe it’s not that different to look at a painting than it is to look at a band. When you’re looking at a painting, you are listening to something, which might just be the noise of people passing by. Also a band might be moving around, and a painting is fixed. But you’re moving around it, so the experience is always happening in movement. The lights might be on instead of being dimmed, but apart from that, there aren’t many differences.
Can you tell me a little bit about the show "Things," currently at Common Guild?
One of the things about the show at Common Guild that I’m trying to do is not have too much to do with it. I’ve been having quite a lot of shows lately, and one of the things I’ve been thinking about is the difference between recordings of songs and a painting or an installation. The recording of a song is quite compact, and it’s relatively easy to replicate. And I don’t see why it can’t be like that with installations and other works. For example, the lights going on and off [Work No. 227] is relatively easy to replicate. It’s always going to be different, but you could do it all over the world in different places at the same time. Sometimes when you have shows, you can get involved with always being there in your works, and that can just drive you crazy. It’s as if you were always there when your songs were being played on the radio. I do think it’s my business to look at my work, to go to the exhibition and see what it’s like, because I want to make it better. What I’m saying about not wanting to have to do too much with the show is that you can’t control the end; you can only control the start, so why try to control something that you cannot control? Also, often when other people install my work, I like it more, because they installed it doing something perhaps I would have never done. Maybe they put it really high up or something.
Then you’re entrusting your work, or your idea, to the installer/curator?
I am. If a work gets shown in a faraway land, it can be difficult to maintain any quality control. But in that sense, it’s quite like music. If a song is written down, then it can be played by someone faraway, and it’s his version of the song.
"Martin Creed" originally appeared in the March issue of Modern Painters. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Modern Painters' March 2010 Table of Contents.