‘I feel weird about calling things art: it’s pretentious’

With just a guitar and projector for company, acclaimed artist and musician Martin Creed headlines his very own festival show. David Pollock tries to ascertain exactly what his audience can expect

‘U nless it’s completely improvised, a live performance is like saying that you’re predicting what’s going to happen in the future,’ says the Glasgow- raised Turner Prize-winning artist and prolii c musician Martin Creed. ‘I i nd that really artii cial and against life. Basically, if you’re doing something and you’re with other people in a room, it’s like going out on a date and deciding what you’re going to say beforehand. It seems really stupid.’ All of which is shorthand for the fact he doesn’t know what will happen in his new Edinburgh International Festival residency, beyond what’s been revealed in the title: it’s called Words and Music, so he can safely say that both things will be involved.

If this all sounds somewhat vague, the audience will have to make a leap of faith based on Creed’s track record towards what the EIF trails as ‘an extraordinary encounter, a bit contemporary music hall, a bit art lecture’. It’s fair to say his art is iconic, with ‘Work No. 227: The lights going on and off’ making for a controversial Turner win in 2001 (the title described the work exactly), ‘Work No. 975: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT’ and ‘Work No. 1059: The Scotsman Steps’ now genuine Edinburgh landmarks. Meanwhile, ‘Work No. 1020: Ballet’ has been performed at Sadler’s Wells, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Traverse Theatre.

Meanwhile, he’s made music for two decades, working with Franz Ferdinand, releasing humorous and thoughtful indie-punk on Moshi Moshi (his debut double A-side for them inventively paired the tracks ‘Fuck Off’ and ‘Die’) and his own Telephone label. It’s upon these songs that he will fall back, he says, if the talking hits an impasse: asked to come up with something by EIF, this show will be based partly on his usual gig format, and partly on one of his talks. ‘That always felt weird to me,’ says Creed, ‘because talking about your work is different from work, obviously. Using words is a whole other thing in itself.’ The format will see Creed appear on his own with only a guitar and a projector screen, which he will use for live drawing and for showing video and photographs. Broadly, he’ll be thinking about the difference between words and music, and how they are to one another what logical thought is to emotional feeling. ‘Every time I come to a new live show or an exhibition, I feel that I can’t remember what it’s like to do it, so the only way to do it is to do it. It’s a work in progress the whole time. I just want to try and communicate with other people, that’s partly why I got into music and live shows: if you exhibit a painting, people are just seeing the bit left over at the end, the surface that is the i nished thing. They’re not seeing all the different twists and turns and ideas that went into it, whereas a piece of music is the story of itself being made.’

Ask him whether he considers this show to be an artwork, and he audibly cringes. ‘I feel weird about calling things “art”,’ says Creed. ‘It’s pretentious. If you call it art you’re saying it’s important, and I don’t think it is. It’s important to me, but I don’t think it’s for me to decide what other people i nd important. I often i nd doing things in the world, like buying a pair of trousers or meeting someone I don’t like, more difi cult than making a painting to put in an art gallery. So I wouldn’t distinguish between what might be called “ordinary” things and so-called “artworks”. If something is important to you then it’s important, and who cares if someone else wants to call it art? To me it’s just a matter of trying to live life and make it better, that’s all. But I feel like I’m talking too much now. And that’s a good time to play a song.’

Martin Creed’s Words and Music, The Studio, 5–27 Aug (not 8 & 9, 15, 21), 10.30pm, £20. Preview 4 Aug, £15.

3–10 Aug 2017 THE LIST FESTIVAL 35



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