Work No.112, subtitled Thirty-nine metronomes beating time, one at every speed, is a sculptural installation consisting of thirty-nine ticking metronomes, the mechanical device that musicians use to keep time. As the work’s subtitle indicates, each metronome is set at a different tempo selected from the device’s thirty-nine available settings, ranging from forty to 208 beats per minute. Beating all together, each at a different rhythm, the metronomes create a cacophony of seemingly random clacks.
All the metronomes used in Work No.112 are of the same shop-bought classic wooden model, manufactured by German musical accessory company Wittner. In line with the artist’s intention that his musical gallery-based works function ‘in the background, like decoration’ (Tom Eccles and Martin Creed, ‘Interview’, in Creed 2010, p.xvi), the metronomes are placed directly on the floor around the perimeter of the room, below the typical visual focal point of art displayed in a gallery. While the metronomes are always set out in a uniform row with regular intervals between them (a serial arrangement reminiscent of twentieth-century minimalist sculpture), the work’s overall layout changes according to the dimensions of its setting: during the 2011 Singapore Biennale the metronomes were packed into one straight line running the length of a room in Old Kallang Airport, while at the artist’s retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, London, in 2014 the work was installed along three adjacent walls.
The title of Work No.112 follows Creed’s system of assigning each work a number when first exhibited. Produced in an edition of three (plus one artist’s proof) during a residency at Viafarini in Milan, Work No.112 was first shown in the organisation’s 1995 exhibition Fuori Fase. As art historian Briony Fer has observed, it is common for Creed to repeatedly re-visit a work made ‘according to a simple serial method’, altering the manner of its execution over time (Fer 2011, p.10). Such is the case with this installation, which the artist has modified several times, most recently in 2004 as Work No.180: Largo, larghetto, adagio, andante, moderato, allegro, presto, prestissimo, in which eight metronomes beat to the device’s eight different tempo markings. This serial experimentation with a consistent concept gives Work No.112 its extended date range.
Creed has produced five separate works using metronomes, of which Work No.112 is the second, and Work No.97: A metronome working at a moderate speed 1994 is the earliest. The metronome’s significance to Creed has been attributed to his musical childhood (the artist learned to play the violin at the age of four, and the piano aged twelve), while Creed – himself a musician – has expressed a desire to make his sculpture unfold in time to be ‘more like music’ (Martin Creed, ‘Questionnaire: The Full Score and Martin Creed’, in Creed 2010, p.xviii). The curator Massimiliano Gioni has identified the metronome as a ‘fundamental metaphor’ for Creed’s work as a whole, seeing in the device’s constant switching between the production of an action and sound (the pendulum’s swing in one direction and tick), and its immediate negation (the reverse swing and silence), a parallel with Creed’s broader interest in making work that is as indecisive and democratic as possible, evincing no preference for any one element over another (Massimiliano Gioni, ‘The System of Objects’, in Creed 2010, pp.xx–xxv). As the artist has commented: ‘there is no one material or shape that I believe in enough to ... point to and say “look at this”.’ (Eccles and Creed in Creed 2010, p.xv.) As such, the only limits imposed on Work No.112 are those that are particular to the metronome itself. In this way the work can be seen to relate to other works by Creed that refuse to make a decision one way or another, including Work No.130: All the sounds on a synthesizer 1995 and Work No.227: The lights going on and off 2000 (Tate T13868).
Creed’s use of discordant metronomes allows Work No.112 to occupy multiple positions in another sense. Embracing an objective system of marking time (Creed has described rhythm as ‘like putting a ruler, or a grid, against the world’; Eccles and Creed in Creed 2010, p.xv), Work No.112 simultaneously throws this system into confusion, exposing, in the words of the artist, ‘all the chaos of the world’ (Phil Miller, ‘Restless Native’, Herald Scotland, 22 February 2010).
Martin Creed, Martin Creed: Works, London 2010.
Briony Fer, ‘Ifs and Buts’, in Martin Creed: Collected Works, exhibition catalogue, Wing Sang, Vancouver 2011, pp.9–17.
Cliff Lauson, Martin Creed: What's the Point of It?, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2014.
Supported by Christie’s.