Martin Creed

Work No. 227: The lights going on and off


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Not on display

Martin Creed born 1968
Gallery lighting
Overall display dimensions variable
Purchased with funds provided by Tate Members, the Art Fund and Konstantin Grigorishin 2013


Martin Creed’s Work No. 227: The lights going on and off consists of an empty room which is filled with light for five seconds and then plunged into darkness for five seconds. This pattern is repeated ad infinitum. In exploiting the existing light fittings of the gallery space, Creed creates a new and unexpected effect. An empty room with lighting that seems to be misbehaving itself confounds the viewer’s normal expectations. This work challenges the traditional conventions of museum or gallery display and, consequently, the visiting experience. Creed plays with the viewer’s sense of space and time and in so doing he implicates and empowers the viewer, forcing an awareness of, and interaction with, the physical actuality of the space. The work is simply titled ‘Work’ followed by a brief description and a number which forms part of the artist’s ongoing system for titling and cataloguing his work.

This work emerges from the artist’s ongoing series of investigations into commonplace phenomena. His subtle interventions reintroduce the viewer to elements of the everyday. Creed’s choice and use of materials – plain A4 sheets of paper, blu-tak, masking tape, party balloons, simple or ‘unpoetic’ language as text or as lyrics to songs – is a thoughtful celebration of the ordinary, a focused reading of the ambiguity of everyday stuff.

By identifying his works primarily through a numbering system, Creed accords them equal status, regardless of size or material. He has said ‘I find that it’s difficult to choose, to decide that one thing’s more important than the other ... So what I try and do is to choose without having to make decisions.’ (Quoted in Buck 2000, p.111.) His idiosyncratic approach is born out of this refusal to make decisions and a playful concern with the conundrum of wanting both to make something and nothing: ‘the problem was to attempt to establish, amongst other things, what material something could be, what shape something could be, what size something could be, how something could be constructed, how something could be situated … how many of something there could be, or should be, if any, if at all.’ (Quoted in Virginia Button, The Turner Prize: Twenty Years, London 2003, p.172.) His interrogation of his own motives reveals an anxiety about ‘making something extra for the world’ (ibid.). The economy of means of Work No. 227 exemplifies Creed’s attempts to make work with minimal physical intervention.

Further reading   
Louisa Buck, ‘Martin Creed’, Artforum, vol.38, no.6, February 2000.
Martin Creed, exhibition catalogue, Ikon, Birmingham 2008, p.44.

Helen Delaney
May 2010

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