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Martin Creed

Work No. 1020

by David Mead

June 14, 2011 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

The first few minutes are engaging of Martin Creed’s “Work No. 1020” are engaging. He ambles on stage, casually wandering around, addressing the audience like a stand up comic in an intimate venue. He is surprised to see so many people, he says, and muses on how to start. His deadpan, diffident approach raises a few smiles. He even apologises for the show, which as it turns out is a most appropriate comment.

Creed is a contemporary artist working across all art forms. In 2001 he won the prestigious Turner Prize for “The Lights Going On and Off (work 227)”, an installation that featured a light bulb going on and off in an otherwise empty room. A more recent work at Tate Modern involved athletes sprinting back and forth across an empty space.

He similarly reduces things to basics here: the dance, the music, the lyrics and the video projections. The latter in more ways than one as he descends to the depths of feeling the need to show close-ups of a woman’s nipple and his own penis slowly rising and falling in line with a chromatic scale (no-one laughed), and a woman defecating.

Five dancers, dressed in rehearsal dress move through classic ballet positions, each one accompanied by a single musical note. “Did you know ballet is all based on five positions?” Creed asks, before getting the dancers to demonstrate each one. Well, actually, yes. As I suspect did the vast majority of the audience. Although the dancers do little more than move between the five positions, he doesn’t mock ballet. He rather comes across as a child would and who, having discovered something, feels the need to show you over and over again. His dancers run through sequences, first position to fifth position and back again, sometimes stationary, sometimes in a line, sometimes moving around an imaginary square; together or in canon. Later sections show how a tendu leads to a glissé, and eventually to a jeté, and how the stage can be crossed at different speeds, from a slow walk to a sprint. In between, Creed’s band play a few rock numbers, lyrics for which relied entirely on the repetition of words or phrases. They included f*** repeated over and over again, the alphabet from A-Z and the numbers 0-99.

There are times when the combinations of positions, repetitive sequences and the geometric positioning of bodies in space create some interest. There is a surprising amount of variety and a number of fascinating pictures. But invariably the work meanders fairly aimlessly, goes nowhere and says nothing. The whole thing quickly becomes desperately self-indulgent. His opening song, “What’s the point?” says it all.

If you came across “Work No. 1020” in a gallery, perhaps as an installation, for that’s what it seems most suited as, you would stop and take a look. For five minutes, maybe even ten, it might engage you. It might even intrigue you. But then it would be time to move on. Given the steady stream of people walking out, many in the audience clearly felt the same way.

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