Martin Creed: Toast review – postcards from the hedge
Source:The Guardian Author:Laura Cumming Date: 2018-12-03 Size:
The man on the screen keeps banging his head against a great wall……

‘Both metaphor and sendup’: Work No. 3093: Difficult Thoughts, 2018 (digital film still) by Martin Creed. Photograph: © Martin Creed. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018 Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

The man on the screen keeps banging his head against a great wall of hedge. Or perhaps he is trying to lose himself in it. Later he tries the same thing with bushes and flowering shrubs, as if that was likely to help. “Difficult thoughts,” shrieks the soundtrack, “he’s having difficult thoughts!” And so it comically seems. Martin Creed (for it is he) is up against a real mental thicket. The film is both metaphor and sendup.

As the projection ends, three gallery assistants turn up in real life with an oil painting on a trolley, which they proceed to hang on the wall in a kind of dumb show out of Laurel and Hardy. The picture shows a bit of landscape, overwritten with a list of basic elements and what might be an imploring instruction to the artist: “Trees, Flowers, Seas – Please?” Whereupon the lights go out suddenly, in what feels like a rueful self-parody of the work that won Creed, now 50, the 2001 Turner prize.

We are in Creedland, and it’s tragicomic. For every joke – the kinetic sculpture of a dancing sock; the collage of bridges tumbling along beneath the rivers they are supposed to cross – there is a strain of anguish and anxiety. It feels as if the difficult thoughts have leaked out into the work.

A large drawing shows another landscape, breezily annotated with adverbs and prepositions – down, left, above, along, and so on. But hiding in the middle is a single dark noun: “jealousy”. And the letters in another word-work read “Help Me Please” – that is, if you can unscramble them from their perilous, toppling heap.

Work No. 2966, 2018 by Martin Creed.

A performer appears out of nowhere, singing Creed’s exclamations in her beautiful soprano voice. She wears a costume made up of what look like his trademark paint-stained suits, and a cape assembled from a great assortment of ties. Particularly thrilling is her performance of “I am not doing what I want to do”, the phrase repeating and escalating as it ascends to the highest pitch of frustration. “That’s the way it goes,” she later sings, as if in resignation, round and around the room, and eventually right out of it into silence.

By now, startled, absorbed in the songs, the visitor has slowed right down. This is not the classic gallery-going experience of moving from one work to the next like a bee gathering pollen. It has more the character of a mutual conversation or encounter. Some objects and images – some feelings – seem intensely personal.

Here, for instance, is a beautiful sculpture of a piece of sourdough toast, thickly slathered with peanut butter. The toast is bronze, the peanut butter a rising wave of pure gold; Creed is vegan. And here is his dog Jimmy in a lifesize sculpture, one paw raised, on a pedestal above the entrance. Jimmy is a counterintuitively large chihuahua with a jaunty face and a coat painted in the pinks and yellows of some gorgeous Tiepolo cloudscape. Look out for him, as he appears throughout the drawings and paintings in this show. Dogs help.

Work No. 3071 Peanut Butter On Toast, 2018.

“This Way”, “The Other Way” – so read the words along two paths, before which Jimmy sits quite cheerfully. He might be better able to choose, with fewer worries about the path not taken, than his owner. There are harsh choices everywhere – to do this or not, to think this or that. In one brilliantly drawn self-portrait, the artist appears open-mouthed – literally, the mouth a scissored slot in the face. In another, he is photographed from behind, the wild tangle of hair a perfect representation of his buzzing mind.

This show is extraordinarily miscellaneous, even for an artist who has no fixed medium or style (other than always numbering his works as titles), with tapestries, drawings, choir performances and some calligraphic concrete poetry. Most striking is Work No 3128 DREAMS, in which that word appears on a page in many different colours, sizes, typefaces and inflections – a familiar yet nightmarish variety.

A final film shows the women in Creed’s life – mother, partner, daughter – in magnificent closeup. Their faces are almost motionless, apart from the occasional slow-mo blink, until they open their mouths to reveal the food they have been chewing. It is the strangest sight: these grand and yet intimate portraits suddenly disrupted by a hideous hole full of the stuff we all need to survive. Personal and universal, the film goes straight to Creed’s preoccupation: the strange difficulties of living in this world.

• Martin Creed: Toast is at Hauser and Wirth, London, until 9 February

[Editor] 张艳