Interview: Martin Creed
by Charissa Terranova
British artist Martin Creed has become internationally known for his artworks that challenge and delight through deceptively simple means. For the second iteration of the Nasher Sculpture Center’s exhibition series Sightings, Creed has created a body of new work that brings his prankster aesthetic to Dallas for the first time. Charissa Terranova spoke with Creed just before the opening of his show about feelings and (over)thinking.
Sightings: Martin Creed is on view through June 19th.
Charissa Terranova CT]: Do you consider the works in this show a kind of existential conceptualism?
Martin Creed [MC]: [laughs] No, because I’m not a conceptual artist. I don’t believe in conceptual art.
CT: Why not?
MC: Because I think you cannot, or rather, I cannot separate ideas from feelings. Most of the time I feel bad, but I want to feel better, and that’s why I work. Ideas are a way of coping with feelings.
CT: Your work tends to critique the institution, yet it is always institutional. Do you think about institutional critique?
MC: No, not really, not consciously…
CT: What about works like the lights (Work No. 227: The lights going on and off, 2000) and the runners through the gallery (Work No. 850, 2008)?
MC: To me, those works aren’t about the institution, although I could also see why you could view them like that. I want to make work that could work, whether in a toilet or on the street or in a museum. A museum is only a set of some nice rooms that are developed for the presentation of things to look at. It’s like a theatre, but it’s not art.
I think it’s good to show work in a lot of different places, including art fairs, where it’s quite a difficult environment. Hostile environments are a good test. It’s easy to make things look good in an art gallery, in a beautiful space. But whether it looks good or not…
CT: Is not your goal?
MC: Yeah. If someone thinks that my work looks good, to me, that’s great, but it’s not the goal. Because I can’t decide. I can’t say what does look good.
CT: You know this work with emulsion paint on the wall (Work No. 1189, 2011) looks good, though. And you know that installation of paintings (Work Nos. 1187, 1191 and 1192, all 2011) is beautiful.
MC: Yeah, I do, but I didn’t know it would be beautiful before I made it. I can’t say, “I’m going to make a beautiful painting.” How am I going to do that? I don’t know how to do that.
CT: Do you believe in intuition as a driving force in your work?
MC: Yeah. I think you always give yourself away in what you do. So the problem is to try not to get in the way of yourself too much, to try and work with yourself in a way that you don’t trust yourself too much. You need to be careful to stop yourself.
CT: Well, you have a good intuition, clearly. You must have a sense of that. You said that you feel like shit often. But you’re really funny. What about comedy? You must be making jokes about life’s shit?
MC: Things that make me laugh are, for me, some of the best things.
CT: Your work is funny. Like the lights going on and off, those are hilarious. You won the Turner Prize by making everybody laugh.
MC: That’s the same as something looking good. I don’t know how to make something that is funny, because something’s only funny if someone thinks it’s funny. The power is with the people who look at it.
CT: Did you intend for the Turner Prize project to be funny?
MC: I always thought it was quite funny. [both laugh]
It’s stupid. I think work should be more stupid. The problem for a lot of people, me included, is that they try to be too clever when they work. And that’s when thinking is a problem and when ideas are kind of a problem, when you’re trying to communicate an idea rather than just doing something that’s stupid like a child might do.
Charissa N. Terranova is Assistant Professor of Aesthetic Studies at The University of Texas at Dallas. A freelance curator and scholarly critic, she has recently completed a book-length manuscript entitled Automotive Prosthetic: The Car, Technological Mediation, and the Conceptual Turn in Art, 1951-Present.