Interview: Martin Creed
He might not call himself an artist, but Martin Creed is very much an ideas man. He sent the tabloids into a frenzy with his 2001 Turner Prize-winning exhibit “Work Number 227, The Lights Going On And Off” and is currently behind Olympics-celebrating “Work No 1197: All the Bells In A Country Rung As Quickly And As Loudly As Possible For Three Minutes,” scheduled for 8:12 a.m. on the day of the opening ceremony. Less grandiose — although grand in all the right ways — is Love To You, an album of collapsible guitars and post-punk game-playing co-produced by Nick McCarthy of Franz Ferdinand and Johnny Marr And The Healers’ Andrew Knowles. In keeping with a career that has made vagueness into a statement piece, these are songs that comment on themselves: “Words”, “1234″, “Be Natural.” With the stop-start churn of “Thinking / Not Thinking,” however, it all seems to come down to that light bulb flashing on and off again.
The Central Council Of Church Bell Ringers called “Work No 1197: All The Bells In A Country Rung As Quickly And As Loudly As Possible For Three Minutes” “misconceived.” How have preparations been going since?
There was only one society of bell ringers that complained, but it was the biggest one and the director made this statement that was quite negative about the whole thing, which I thought was a bit mean, really. One of the things I feel weird about with this project is the idea that I am trying to get people to ring bells. I just think everyone should do what they want at all times. The idea is to ring all the bells in Britain, which I thought was a good idea — since I don’t know what the best ones are, I think we should try and ring them all. I think it’s a good idea but the practice is fraught with problems. I am not coercing people into doing it. In fact, the bell ringing society has now made a statement which is quite positive about the whole thing.
Are you worried that it might hit on some kind of Throbbing Gristle sound-weapon style frequency and cause mass vomiting across the land?
I think it would be really good to have fire bells because they are so loud and extreme — it is important that it’s not just church bells. I was thinking of school bells and fire bells. Basically bells are the loudest instruments you can get and it’s an instrument for making public music. Loud instruments are exciting, like drums.
Are you a fan of sport?
Yeah [laughs uncertainly]. I have always liked watching sports. My only experience of the Olympics is watching it on the TV every four years. For years, I have been working with dancers and then I did this work with runners ["Work No 850" at Tate Britain in 2008] and that got me into it. You know, your body is the one thing that you have to live with, so it feels very intelligent to maximize your body. What’s beautiful about sport is the movements of the body being narrowed down to a field like running — usually in life all the movements are vague. I find sport interesting. Sports people always seem quite alien when you look at them. It’s basically an exaggeration of life. We are getting on with our normal bodies while sportsmen are constantly doing a narrow range of movements and trying to perfect those. Maybe that’s what makes it watchable, like a cartoon. And there are also winners and losers.
Is there a clear division between art and music for you?
I am just in my own head and I just try to live my life, and at the moment in my life I have been trying to do a lot of work with making noise and making music. Maybe in a song you can tell a story of writing a song, whereas in a visual work what you are seeing is the bit left over at the end, after the person has gone away. If you watch someone singing a song, you are watching them do the struggling and making the thing — it’s a literal example of life happening as you are listening. That’s one of the things that’s different about music.
Do you admire any other artists who make music?
I wouldn’t call myself an artist! I was always a big fan of, for example, Talking Heads with David Byrne and Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, and they were bands who were mixed up with art. When I was a teenager and was learning about the history of art and getting into bands and composers, I always thought that art and music were mixed up together, and I still think they are.
Do artists tend to have good taste in music?
No. I have been asked to do art-world gigs and I sometimes get the impression you are getting asked to do it just because you have a band and that they don’t care about the music at all. And I think the music can survive on its own. That happens in the art world; they have, like, an artist working with a symphony orchestra, as if that in itself is of interest. I hate things like that, where it’s someone working with a scientist or whatever. I think things should stand on their own and not have all sorts of explanations about them.
So you don’t think it gives you an extra credibility?
No, I don’t think so. If anything, it is the opposite, because if someone is known for one thing and then starts doing something else then it’s like: “Al right, hello, who does he think he is?” It’s the same problem of making work. You have made one work, so how do you make another? Like, if you make a song and people seem to like it then you might start to use that way of writing a song — as a formula for writing another song, and I think that’s a slippery, dangerous road. You should start every time as if you have never done anything before, and not have any formulas for doing things. I want the music work to survive on its own, otherwise it’s not good enough and I need to try harder, and I am trying harder. I am working on a new album, because I am really scaredâ€¦This one was finished a while ago, and I got so nervous about this record — it has got so many things on that I have kept inside for a long time, so being so nervous about it made me want to work on something new so I am not just waiting with bated breath for this to come out.