Martin Creed: What is the Point of it? – Hayward Gallery

Prepare to be overwhelmed. As soon as you enter the gallery, pushing past the leather sofa angled across the door, your senses are assaulted by a riot of noise, colour and movement. The first thing you’ll see is a central pedestal supporting the word ‘mother’ written in giant neon letters and stretching almost the entire length of the room. If that’s not sinister enough, the sign is rotating at varying speeds, creating giant swooping circles around the room, which at times feel like it’ll hit you. Then you notice the constant clack clack clack of 39 metronomes placed equi-distantly around the floor’s edge, each beating a different rhythm. It’s immediately clear that this exhibition will be lots of fun!

Martin Creed won the Turner Prize for lights turning on and off at set intervals – which is featured here – and whatever value you feel this has as art, this retrospective delivers an unexpected insight; on the surface, Creed’s work appears to embrace chaos, whereas in fact there is considerable interest in order and regularity of form. Several of the prints and sculptures are of perfectly stacked items that decrease in size as the overall work gets higher. So we see a series of tables placed on top of each other, from a large dining table to a small side-table, balanced perfectly. A similar arrangement of chairs is also on show, as well as arrangements with boxes, iron girders and a pyramid of toilet paper, each item perfectly aligned with those above and below it.

The 1000 potato-style prints of different broccoli stems in variously coloured and textured paint appear random, but each is consistently framed and precisely arranged across an entire wall. Even a line of cacti are arranged in height order, and whilst each one is very different to the rest, the overall effect is of control and pristine order. But it’s Creed’s choice of material which adds the fun element and you get an idea of him coming across things and wondering what he can do with them, exploring form and shape as well as the notion of what can be considered beautiful or artistic.

Creed has taken over every inch of the Haywood Gallery, controlling the sounds you hear and the even the amount of light you experience. The walls too in each room are each designed with a colourful but regular pattern. From the enormous zebra stripes painted on the wall of the first room, to patterned tape arranged in vertical stripes adjacent to a wall covered in a red diamonds, Creed plays with the traditional notions of where art ends and the gallery begins, to interesting effect.

I didn’t bother with the balloon room, the queue was too long to be worth it, but I really enjoyed the lightness of this exhibition. One word of warning – there are three very different pieces outside on separate terraces which you can only see by going through its specific door. Two of these may well surprise you, for very different reasons, depending how easily shocked you are. Nothing is explained and all the pieces merely have numbers – although perhaps a few more would have been nice. The programme only gives you an alphabetical list of the materials Creed uses, leaving you to decide for yourself what, if anything, is the point?

Martin Creed: What is the Point of It? Is at the Haywood Gallery until 27 April. Tickets are £11 and concessions are available.

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About Maryam Philpott

This blog takes a more discursive and in-depth approach to reviewing a range of interesting cultural activities in London, covering everything from theatre to exhibitions, films and heritage. I am part of the London theatre critic team for The Reviews Hub where I have professionally reviewed over 300 shows. It was set up in 2007 to review all forms of professional theatre nationwide including Fringe and West End. My background is in social and cultural history and I published a book entitled Air and Sea Power in World War One which examines the experience of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy. View all posts by Maryam Philpott

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