Martin Creed makes the mother of all sculptures

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Martin Creed, 'Mothers' at Hauser & Wirth Martin Creed, 'Mothers' at Hauser & Wirth - Photo Rob Greig
Posted: Mon Jan 24 2011

As Martin Creed installs his major new show we get all mumsy with the Turner Prize-winning artist.

In the ten years since his 2001 Turner Prize win with 'Work No 227: The Lights Going On and Off', Glaswegian artist and musician Martin Creed's ongoing explorations into rhythm, scale, order and the general stuff of life have included a singing lift, runners sprinting through Tate Britain's central galleries, a multimedia ballet and films about sex, shit and sick. The centrepiece of his new exhibition at Hauser & Wirth is a 12.5 metre-long revolving neon sculpture that spells out 'Mothers'. The show also coincides with the release of his new single and video, 'Thinking/Not Thinking'.

So why make 'Mothers' in neon and why make it so huge?

'If you make a word into sculpture the meaning remains the same but you obviously have to decide how big it is. It seemed that mothers were the most important people in the world and the ultimate relationship between two people is between mother and child because at first they are literally one thing. In general we think of something as “big” if it's bigger than us, so because as babies we are inside the mother, by definition the mother has to be big.'

And why is it spinning?

'It's partly because I didn't know what direction it should be pointing in - so if it spins it can point in all directions at once. Even though the spinning is controlled - it's on a cycle that builds up slowly for two minutes, then spins fast for two minutes, then slows down for two - I also thought it would be good if it felt out of control in some way. Relationships can be difficult, I can often feel taken over by people, so it's also to do with that power. The mother has ultimate power over the child and if you love someone as well, that's also a form of power.'

It does feel a bit dangerous. Anyone very tall walking underneath is in danger of losing their head…

'Aye, but if you think about it, it's not more dangerous than a road with a pavement next to it. In fact it's more predictable than a road because you never know when a car is going to come along.'

Any other mother-themed works in the show?

'There's a black-and-white film of a nipple-erection, shot in slow motion. It was made at the same time as the sex film (2007) but I've never exhibited it. I do work quite slowly that way. I have used footage of a penis erection, filmed in the same way, in my live shows but I'm actually a bit worried about this work. I don't know if there's a “Carry On” quality to it.'

How did 'Thinking/Not Thinking' come about?

'I've been playing the song live and I've also had the footage of the two dogs that are in the video for a while but it never felt quite finished. Editing the film of the dogs to the song seemed to complete it. And the visual analogy of the small dog representing “thinking” and the large dog representing “not thinking” also seems to work. Thinking is like trying really hard to be important and the little dog is just like that, whereas the big dog is more clumsy, which seemed to fit with “not thinking”.'

Is this the first time you've worked with animals?

'Aye, although it happened by accident. I went to this guy's house to buy a piano, for another work I was making, and he had these two dogs. And I thought that they were so funny as a pair, almost like a perfect sculpture. The little dog is actually dead now. The big dog accidentally sat on it and broke its leg and there were complications with the operation. He didn't sit on him during my video, though!'

Are you planning any similar choreographed films?

'I'd like to do more video with people, maybe have a live camera on the ballet, which has only been recorded as documentation up until now. But I am working on an animation with abstract black-and-white images, which may also become part of the ballet show. All these things feed in.'

What do you think your mother will make of 'Mothers'?

'She's coming to the opening. In fact I'd really like a photo of a bunch of mothers underneath the sculpture. Mothers are celebratory as well as being a bit scary. They're forever celebrating your birthday, after all.'

'Mothers' continues at Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row until March 5 2011.

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