“We’re talking now. To me this is just as important as any other work I do.”
I’m on the phone with Martin Creed, one of my art world heroes, when he utters this phrase.
I’ve been enthralled with Creed’s work since I entered grad school in 2003, two years after his Work No 227: The Lights Going On and Off won the Turner Prize, the highly prestigious and oft-controversial annual prize awarded to a British visual artist.
The 51-year-old Creed, who was born in England and raised in Scotland, won the award for an installation that consisted of the lights in a Tate Modern gallery repeatedly turning on and off in five-second intervals. The installation was met with a mix of admiration and derision, with one artist even throwing eggs at the gallery walls in protest.
To my young eyes, overwhelmed with the complexity of creating art in a post-modern atmosphere, the act seemed blissfully simple, earnest and courageous.
Creed’s work varies drastically from one medium and piece to the next. He has sent people running through galleries, crafted large-scale public sculptures, and caused the populace of the United Kingdom to ring bells en masse at the opening of the 2012 Olympics. He’s filled galleries with balloons, painted with broccoli, and filmed people vomiting (among other bathroom habits).
Despite his seeming penchant for the bizarre, Creed is achingly genuine, introspective and funny. He’s constantly searching for human connection in the slightest of occurrences, often placing people — and himself — in vulnerable states.
Lately, Creed has been obsessed with the personal and political nature of borders. Whether these refer to lines drawn on maps or clothes worn as protective barriers, he is concerned with dismantling the structures people place between themselves and the rest of the world.
While political borders and clothing are useful for providing a sense of safety by dictating individual movements, Creed says they profoundly limit the essence of the human condition — the effort to find a sense of internal peace in the external world.
“Obviously people draw country borders because it makes them feel safer in a world that is constantly changing all the time. The live world is not fixed, so people try to fix things to make themselves feel better,” he says.
“The problem is that anything that is fixed is dead and is therefore against life. Clothes are the same problem, in a way. They’re a microcosm of the world. What clothes do you wear that are good for allowing you to cross the border between the inside and the outside?”
This thesis forms the basis of Creed’s one-man show, “Getting Changed,” which he will perform at the Nasher Sculpture Center on Nov. 16.
While best known as a visual artist, Creed has been writing and performing music for decades. In more recent years, he’s preferred to let performing form the bones of his practice, and his shows can best be described as sort of anti-TED Talks-meet-freewheeling cabarets.
He may speak, sing, do live drawings, present sculptures, wear hand-made clothes, flash words on a screen … or he may not. It’s difficult to say, since Creed is intent on keeping things as fresh and off-the-cuff as possible, responding to the moment and the people occupying the performance space.
In a world where every movement and word is seemingly predetermined or “given a PR job,” as Creed says, it’s refreshing and inspiring to know that at least one person is out there railing against the norms, intent on finding genuine connection.
Creed is an important artist because he forces himself and viewers of his art to fight against taking the path of least resistance, even if it means being uncomfortable with our own humanity or recognizing the importance of something as simple as a conversation with another person.
Danielle Avram is a Dallas-based arts writer and curator.
Martin Creed will appear at the Nasher Sculpture Center as part of the 360 Speaker Series on Nov. 16 at 1:30 p.m. 2001 Flora St., Dallas. Free for members, $10 for nonmembers (includes museum admission), and free for students with ID. Complimentary wine reception with RSVP. For tickets, call 214-242-5100 or visit nashersculpturecenter.org.