"I Feel Weird": Martin Creed Reflects on His Olympics-Opening Bell Ringing Performance

"I Feel Weird": Martin Creed Reflects on His Olympics-Opening Bell Ringing Performance
Martin Creed
(Chris Watts Photography)

LONDON — This morning at 8.12 am — exactly 12 hours before the Opening Ceremony — bells up and down the country sounded merrily to mark the first day of the Olympic Games. Brainchild of Turner Prize winner Martin Creed, "Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes" has gathered a fantastic amount of support. Big Ben chimed more than 40 times, striking outside its regular schedule for the first time since the funeral of King George VI in 1952. The Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary also contributed to the musical effort, as did the four parliaments in the UK, and thousands of enthusiasts registered on Creed's All The Bells Web site.

Small mishaps were not completely avoided: The hand bell of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt's became unhinged and almost hit a bystander — an episode that instantly went viral online. ARTINFO UK's neighbourhood was pretty quiet, but we also took part, enthusiastically playing the Martin Creed-designed bell ringtone on a loop. Immediately after the event, Creed spoke about the thought process behind his "Work No. 1197."

Now that you've completed "All the Bells," how do you feel?

I don't know. I feel weird — although I felt weird before it as well. I like working on things. When things happen, you know, you just have to let the dust settle, and see how you feel. It was just a little idea I had to do something like this. The reality of it was quite different from the idea of it, and it's hard to understand reality. I don't know what I feel about it exactly. I often get depressed after, when a show opens, or something comes out.

How did the idea come about?

The idea came from trying to make a public piece of music. I was thinking that bells are the loudest musical instruments, and therefore would be good to use to make a sound in public that can be heard from a distance. Then, when I started working on it, I thought: It's difficult to draw a line between the big bells that you can hear from miles around, and the smaller bells. So I decided to try and ring all the bells. I think of it is as a sort of piece of music for a special occasion. Just like I remember when I was a kid in the local church, when someone gets married, they ring all the bells in a frenetic way. In a way, it's an enlargement of that, an enlargement of bells ringing in a church — again extended to all bells, and to the whole country.

If you had to do it again, is there anything you would do differently?

No, because I've just been trying to do this, be true to myself, and [to do it] to the best of my ability. But also I didn't make it happen, I had the idea to do it and then the Olympics people wanted it to happen. It only happened because people themselves did it. In a way, I feel it's far away from me. If it has worked in some ways, it has worked because it works for people, right in themselves.

Did you expect to get Big Ben? That was quite a coup.

No, I didn't expect that. But also I've been amazed by … there's been a few things like that that were unexpected, like the involvement of the Navy ringing the ships' bells, and people doing it in outposts around the world. They've been doing it in Antarctica, in a Royal Navy station, and in all these countries. That was a surprise as well.

Is there anything that you are particularly looking forward to in these Olympics?

I kind of like the athletics on the tracks. The 1,500-metre and the 800-metre races, that are not too long and not too short.

A bit like your piece at Tate Britain, for which you had sprinters running in the Duveen Galleries every 30 seconds ["Work No. 850," (2008)].

Yes! I love watching people run. Sports, and life in general, is about moving your body, you move your body to live, you know. That's what sports people do, but I think I like the running because there's no equipment. It's just a person and their body trying to move as fast as they can. It's a really, really simplified form of sport, and maybe it's why I like it.

To see "All the Bells" in front of Big Ben, click on the video below:

To see culture secretary Jeremy Hunt's bell ringing fail, click on the video below: