Design, Poetry, Sodden Art, Turner Prize

Owed to installation art

 Talk of the Turner Prize in my last post reminded me of a little poem I wrote about the 2001 prizewinning ‘installation’ below.

Actually, installation is a slight misnomer, since clearly not a lot of installing went on.

The ‘work’, if we can call it that, had the refreshingly self-explanatory title The Lights Going On and Off.

And by all accounts, it delivered on its promise with metronomic efficiency.

And no, in case you’re wondering, that geometrically-appealing ceiling was not part of the exhibit. That’s the aircon. Everything below that is the art con.

This decidedly spare room won British so-called artist Martin Creed the Turner Prize of £20,000. (It’s now £40,000.)  

Before I present my own version of the empty room, you must  read this majestically pompous official justification of the fraud from the Turner Prize website: 

For the Turner Prize exhibition, Creed has decided to show Work # 227: The lights going on and off.

Nothing is added to the space and nothing is taken away, but at intervals of five seconds the gallery is filled with light and then subsequently thrown into darkness.

Realising the premise set out in Work # 232, Creed celebrates the mechanics of the everyday, and in manipulating the gallery’s existing light fittings he creates a new and unexpected effect.

In the context of Tate Britain, an institution displaying a huge variety of objects, this work challenges the traditional methods of museum display and thus the encounter one would normally expect to have in a gallery.

Disrupting the norm, allowing and then denying the lights their function, Creed plays with the viewer’s sense of space and time.

Our negotiation of the gallery is impeded, yet we become more aware of our own visual sensitivity, the actuality of the space and our own actions within it.

We are invited to re-evaluate our relationship to our immediate surroundings, to look again and to question what we are presented with.

Responding to the actual condition in which he has been asked to exhibit, Creed exposes rules, conventions and opportunities that are usually overlooked, and in so doing implicates and empowers the viewer.

‘Allowing and denying the lights their function’ – I love that.

The more cynical media were predictably underwhelmed. Tom Parry from The Mirror wrote:

‘Take a bare white room with a light switching on and off and what have you got? A Turner Prize winner.’

Just as predictably, the artistic mafia leapt to the fraudster’s defence. This from Germaine Greer in the Newsnight Review:

‘He wanted to get the biggest effect with the least effort. It’s the dis-proportion between the effort and the effect.’

No argument there.

But when the Chairman of the British Council for Contemporary Art objected to the awarding of so much financial effect for so little artistic effort, he was rewarded with what an art critic might call the hessian receptacle – but which you and I would call the sack.

In his honour, I penned the following:

SODDEN ART

The exhibit resembles
A large empty room
With a solitary cupboard
Marked TOWELS,
As through the front door
The sophisticates pour,
Oozing glamour
And elegant vowels.

To a volley of cheers
The artist appears!
He’s applauded
And generally fêted,
But no one’s quite sure
What the towels are for;
Then the sprinklers come on
And they get it.

(c) J Ansell 2003

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One thought on “Owed to installation art

  1. There is much in your post that reminds me of my pet subject – contemporary welfare.

    The least amount of effort for the biggest effect (cash)?

    And what would Turner make of this distortion of art? In a similar vein I frequently ask myself what Michael Joseph Savage would have thought of the distortion of welfare.

    Your poem remains one of my favourites.

    (And BTW have you been down to the Academy Galleries yet? I’ll be there this morning.)

    I missed you this morning, Lindsay, but was there this afternoon. You’re another Charles Goldie. Particularly liked the painting of the girl in the pink scarf.

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