Martin Creed: Mothers

We speak to the Glaswegian artist about his latest show at Hauser & Wirth, the struggle of working on such a large scale and his relationship with his mother

Installation View, Martin Creed ‘Mothers’, Hauser
Installation View, Martin Creed ‘Mothers’, Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, 2011 © Martin Creed Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Hugo Glendinning

In 2001 Martin Creed won the Turner Prize with his Work No. 227: The Lights Going On And Off 2000, which consisted of an empty room in which the lights sporadically turned themselves off and on. Now, for Creed’s latest show, his works have remained just as conceptual, and his earlier smaller installations have progressed into a 41 ft by 8 ft sculpture, titled Mothers, which will be situated in the North Gallery at Hauser & Wirth. It spins, involves neon text, flashing lights and is set upon a wooden frame, and, in true Creed form, the audience is invited to walk underneath it. Hauser & Wirth will also present a new series of the artist’s paintings, photographic works and a video of an erect nipple in reverse. Music has also played a major role in Creed’s work, so to coincide with the show, his band are releasing a single and a music video.

Dazed Digital: The new sculpture, titled Mothers, is a prominent work within this exhibition. How did this work come about?
Martin Creed: I’ve been working on the piece for years, literally years until it has finally come to this. It came about because I got asked to make a public work for a railway station in Germany and it had to be something really big. Then I got thinking that if I’m going to do something really big I wanted to use the word ‘Mothers’. I thought ‘Mothers’ would look good big. The railway project fell through, and then in the last few years I began working on it again. Then I started working on the idea of it spinning round. I don’t really know how it came about but I had been working on it for ages and I just found it really difficult to work on it. I was scared that it was going to be this massive and horrible mistake. Working on big things is like that; if it is big and its wrong it is really obvious.

DD: There is also an interactive element to it, where the audience is invited to walk underneath it whilst it spins…
Martin Creed: Well, I just kind of wanted it to be out-of-control. I thought if it is big, why not make it spin and do as many things as it can possibly do. Its quite a new thing for me, I have made a lot of works that are either smaller or if they are big they are often part of the architecture. Like the lights going on and off, but there is nothing physically being put in the room. Making a big physical thing is like creating a monument or an Anthony Gormley. It’s very scary. I guess I just thought if it’s that big, I might as well make it spin. This work made me sick, there were so many times when I felt sick working on it. I think it has something to do with Mothers... I think families are really difficult. I think my problem is that I find it difficult to be separate, to be with people, but to also be myself. I often get overwhelmed by other people and taken over by them. I think relationships are really difficult whether it is love, family or business. I think the most powerful and difficult relationship in the whole world, is between a mother and child. That is the one where the baby is literally part of the mother and is not separate, and then you have to come out and be separate. It is the most difficult thing to do. I think to actually be a mother is very difficult and to have a mother is difficult. My mum is going to come down to the opening.

DD: What is your relationship like with her?
Martin Creed: I think it is quite good, really. My parents have always been very supportive of me doing art stuff. They often come to shows…

DD: How do they react to your work?
Martin Creed: I think they find it a bit difficult with the vomiting and the sex. Difficult in a sense that it is scary. Even I find those works scary but if I am working on something I get over that. I become immune to it.

DD: The word ‘Mothers’ then carried on as the title for the entire show…
Martin Creed: I thought it was a nice title. I don’t usually have titles for my work or for my shows. I usually number all of my works and I am kind of sick of that. I am sick of numbers and I wanted to have a title. Your works are like your little babies. Having a show is like letting go of them, as they go out into the world.

DD: For this show, you are also exhibiting a series of paintings. Can you talk us through these works?
Martin Creed: I’m starting them tomorrow but I planned it to be last minute. I often work right up to deadlines but without planning to, so this time I thought I might as well plan it. I just find it very difficult to think about things in theory and imagine what something is going to be like in the future. That was the thinking behind starting these works now, so it’s almost created in public. I am aiming to come here with different ideas and just try and do it, you know. I’m just trying to approach it in a different way.

DD: Do you have a sense of what these works will look like?
Martin Creed: I have a lot of specific notes, even now I could write out some instructions so that people could carry out certain pieces. I hope there are enough ideas in there, but the main thing is to see how it feels and do some different variations. I have ordered loads of canvases.

DD: There will also be a video piece in the North Gallery…
Martin Creed: Well, I still haven’t decided where the video will be. I’ve still got a few pieces to juggle around. The piece is a video of a breast that was filmed in reverse. It is of a nipple becoming erect and then we reversed it so it was going down. I made it at the same time that I made the penis erection video, so I was just experimenting with different things. Although, I am a bit worried about the piece because it has so much to do with the mother’s thing. Or maybe it works, I don’t know what it will feel like, people might not even connect the two. There is a chance that I might present the film really big in the main gallery and not have it in the video room. I like to present videos alongside other works. I hate video rooms, they feel so cut off and they are not comfortable like a cinema.

DD: You are also releasing a single and a music video to coincide with the show…
Martin Creed: I wanted to do that and show, because that’s one of the things I have been working on a lot lately. Although its not going to be in the show, the physical CD will be here. I’ve been working a lot with the band on a mixture of film and live performance. I wanted to make my music part of this whole thing. The single and video is coming out on the 24th January.

DD: Is the music video linked in any way to the show?
Martin Creed: For the music video, I used this footage of these dogs that I have had for a while. I tried different things with the footage, but I always wanted to make something out of it. The video is of a big dog and little dog, and has been cut together by the lyrics. In the exhibition there will be some life-size photographs of the dog.

DD: What other projects or exhibitions have you got planned for the rest of the year?
Martin Creed: Lots of gigs with the band, I’m doing a ballet at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in June and then there is another big show in Vancouver, which is a ballet as well. The single is in advance of hopefully finishing an album.

DD: How do you find you approach live performance such as a gig or the ballet in comparison with preparing for an exhibition?
Martin Creed: I like to try and do everything, dodging and weaving. I can’t stand being pinned down and I think I am just kind of scared. I feel like I don’t believe in anything enough to do one thing. I honestly think that I am not the best person to know about myself. I think people are their own worst enemies. I think for me, doing lots of things is kind of like spreading the risk.

DD: But in many ways they are all interlinked…
Martin Creed: Yes, I think you are right. I feel like doing one thing helps me do another thing. I often try things out in a gallery and then I later use that in a stage show, or vice-versa. One thing about doing gallery shows is, that you are not live on stage with the works in front of people, you don’t get that feeling about it. You get other feelings about it. I like doing both things.

Mothers exhibits at Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row, 21 January -5 March 2011

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