Yesterday evening my son and I caught sight of Martin Creed’s Work no 203: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT emblazoned across the front of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery’s Grade 1 listed exterior in half metre tall white neon letters. Bold, bright and uplifting the 13 metre long statement was the only invitation I needed to take a sneak peek at the Turner Prize winning artist’s exhibition tonight at the gallery.
The exhibition, which starts tomorrow and runs until 3rd June 2017, features sculpture, neon, painting, video and performance work. It includes several pieces on display outside London for the first time, which is all rather exciting really. Those pieces didn’t go to Manchester or Liverpool, they came here – to Preston. Thanks ARTIST ROOMS and the arty bods at the Harris! Creed has said that his work is “50% about what I make and 50% about what other people of it.” So with that statement in mind, and with my eleven year old side kick deposited at Scouts for the evening I breezed around the packed exhibition wondering what my dear mum would make of it all.
Swerving the wine, in case I toppled into Work No.960 (2008), an installation of 13 cactus plants, my attention was immediately turned to Work No. 1340 (2012): a large-scale painting of diagonal stripes applied directly onto the gallery wall. Well actually it wasn’t, I hadn’t read anything about the exhibition beforehand and thought it was just a backdrop to the rather striking neon letters of Work No. 890 DON’T WORRY (2008), I imagine that if my mum saw it she would nod sagely and simply say, ‘he’s right, life’s too short.’ At which point I would forget I was at an art gallery and start worrying about the thing that had been troubling me for the most part of the day. Pah!
Next door is a display of A4 sheets of paper, each in a different colour, framed in simple white frames. There are 21 in total, displayed along side each other. This, I discovered, is Work No 944 (2008) and upon closer inspection the paper is coloured in felt tip pen. Like the ones my son used to use when colouring in. I have read that Creed used every felt tip pen in a set of twenty-one. Felt pens always run out, some colours quicker than others, as every parent knows. So I wager that Creed went through more than one pack of pens. I try to imagine what my mum would say, “anyone could do that.” (comment also applied to Tracey Emin’s unmade bed) But they haven’t mum, that’s just it! Nobody has done that before, that’s why they’re artists and we aren’t! Ho, hum.
Side-stepping deeply conversing arty types and art students, I made my way over to what looked like an interesting concept. Lights going on and off. Thinking the cavernous room would hold another neon lovely (I do like Creed’s neon pieces), I was a touch disappointed. In fact I felt hoodwinked, I thought I could take a few sneaky photos on my rubbish camera phone and it was JUST a light going on and off, I noticed a slight smile from a hovering arty type outside. Was my disappointment so obvious? This, I later discovered was the Turner Prize winning Work No. 227: The lights going on and off (2000). I thought it had something to do with Creed’s rather controversial video installation of people vomiting on an art gallery floor, which is placed just outside the lights going on and off. Was it an invitation to empty the contents of my stomach on the empty gallery floor? I tried to imagine my mother’s reaction but thought better of it and left.
Would I go back? Oh yes. I might even take my mum, she’d have something to say, and I will definitely take my son. Kids have this crazy vision of the world, where anything can happen absolutely anywhere! My son is regularly fending off zombie attacks in the park. Somewhere along the line, those zany ideas stop, possibly when the drudgery of adulthood and responsibility gets it’s filthy, sludge filled hands onto you. Contemporary art opens your eyes again and clears your mind so it’s receptive to all sorts of possibilities, it gets those creative synapses firing again. Which can only be a good thing eh?
Martin Creed at Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston PR1 27 January – 3 June 2017. Free.