Martin Creed

Martin Creed talks about his exhibition at the Park Avenue Armory in New York

View of “Martin Creed: The Back Door,” 2016. Photo: James Ewing.

A large-scale expression of his ongoing interests in play, rhythm, and scale, Martin Creed’s exhibition “The Back Door” will be on view at the Park Avenue Armory in New York through August 7, 2016. His largest survey in the US to date, it features two new commissions, a retrospective of his films and music videos, a troupe of roving musicians, and evenings of cabaret. Creed’s latest album, Thoughts Lined Up, will also be released July 8 from Telephone Records. Additionally, Creed's Public Art Fund project UNDERSTANDING, 2016, is on view in Brooklyn Bridge Park through October 23, 2016.

I WANTED to do a show that’s looking out at the world instead of in. The Armory’s drill hall is such a huge space, occupying a whole block; its sheer size is one of its most obvious features. It’s scary. I didn’t want to make something big just to fill it, and I didn’t want to create a world inside. I wanted to look out onto the world.

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is that art galleries, studios, and houses can be cut off from the world. They are designed to keep things precious and away from dirt and difficulty. I think this produces a great danger: you’re looking away from life and not toward it.

When I was here on a visit I noticed a roller shutter on the back door of the building that opens onto Lexington Avenue. It just happened to be open with some trucks driving in. The view from the hall onto the street was amazing. So the whole exhibition was then designed to make that view of the street into something that could be enjoyed, almost like a film of real life. The main space is empty and dark to try to maximize the view of the street when the back door opens. I was working on just doing that and nothing else. But then I started thinking about making new films to alternate with the roller shutter opening and closing. ’Cos if the roller shutter were open all the time maybe you’d just get used to it.

The new films show people opening their mouths, and in each person’s mouth there is food. The camera zooms in on the person, and the person opens and closes their mouth. It’s like a nature film, in slow motion. The people I filmed are important to me: my mother, my partner, my stepdaughter, and my oldest friend.

As for coming up with things, I don’t really know…but I often write things down in a notebook. I also make a lot of audio recordings, so ideas often are spoken or written down. If they keep coming back to me, maybe that’s what makes me do something—basically to try and get rid of the idea because I don’t want to hear the bloody voices in my head anymore.

There are roving musicians in the show that are singing arrangements of songs I’ve been working on recently, little lyrics repeated from voice notes I’ve recorded and turned into songs. The songs are a lot like the other works: a little thing magnified or amplified. Some little thing, but then you make a song and dance about it.

Martin Creed, “Let’s Come to an Arrangement,” 2016

I’ve been thinking a lot about work as a way of tidying up. The world is a mess. If you concentrate on a little bit of the world and you make a little composition, you’re effectively tidying it up. You could say that a song is noises tidied up, made slightly neater. Rhythm is a form of neatness that separates the sound from the world. What you might call dirt over there you put in the trash, and this bit here you keep, you care about it for some reason.

I actively try and work with people—do a painting for example with others, make music with a band, put on a show with a gallery or a curator, many different people. I like being on my own, but I’m scared that if I’m on my own too much I go into a deluded bubble world. When I work with people I have to state my ideas, get them out from under the table, and I think that helps me to work out whether they’re worth doing. It feels like often works are started and finished by using words to talk about them, even if the final work isn’t finally taking the form of words.

I also try to work from the basis that I don’t know what is best: to not prejudge, to just see what happens, to use words as well as actions and things. The ultimate idea would be to make onstage and offstage the same thing. If only your feelings could be more directly turned into something. That would be better work, more full of life.