Martin Creed: Toast review – plenty to chew on in show of surprises
Source:The Guardian Author:Adrian Searle Date: 2018-12-04 Size:
Lily Cole looks straight at the camera as it homes in.……

The piece that gives Martin Creed’s new exhibition its name ... Work No 3071, Peanut Butter on Toast, 2018. Photograph: Martin Creed

Lily Cole looks straight at the camera as it homes in. Parting her lips as if to speak, she opens her mouth, in close-up. I hope that isn’t her tongue in there. The colour is worrying. I think it is masticated fruit, orange perhaps. When the forensic psychiatrist Estela Welldon opens her mouth, there’s some other kind of goo in there – gum or marshmallow or maybe toffee. Everyone in these filmed vignettes, including the artist’s mother and his partner and various friends,­ has been chewing on something. But not on the slice of peanut butter on toast that revolves seductively on a turntable elsewhere on the room, and which gives Martin Creed’s latest exhibition its title, Toast. The toast is patinated bronze, the topping a generous slather of gold.

Martin Creed Work No 3113, Trees Flowers Seas Please, 2018. Photograph: Martin Creed

Twice an hour, a couple of art handlers walk into Creed’s show, remove two works from the wall and trolley them out of the gallery. The lights go down and these films are projected on to the now blank patch of wall. We are always told not to speak with our mouths full. Table manners exist for a reason – to not disgust fellow diners or spray them with food and saliva. We don’t want to see, in the same way that in some of Creed’s earlier films, we don’t want to watch people throwing up or shitting. Well, certain people do, obviously, because most activities get fetishised by someone or other. Homing in on the same infantile mix of pleasure and disgust, these new digital films come as a surprise. Even the business of taking down and reinstalling a couple of his new and slightly alarming paintings and drawings might count as a work in itself. It is hard to know with Creed where one thing ends and another begins, or what the limits are to his art – even his personal style and clothing (the paint-spattered suit and sandals; wearing several ties at once or a pile of hats on his head) indicates that he takes nothing for granted.

Martin Creed pictured next to Work No 2441, Jimmy.

And now for a song. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know,” it goes, and neither do I. The virtuoso vocalist Linda Hirst has wandered into the gallery and begins to sing. She also wears an outfit designed by Creed, and looks a bit like one of Beckett’s tramps until you notice how oddly elegant her attire is. Her striped leather slip-ons are Work No 2291 in Creed’s oeuvre. Hirst will be sharing slots throughout Creed’s show with Taiwanese soprano Peyee Chen and mezzo-soprano Emily Gray. Sometimes they are joined by a choir. They sing “I’m not doing what I want to do” as a round, sight-reading from Creed’s score. Another song is a kind of prayer. These interruptions, happening throughout the day, are as affecting as they are funny.

“I’m scared of you,” Hirst keens, over and over, standing very close to the wall and facing away from us. For another song she lies face-down on the floor beside a pair of felt-lined concrete boots. She looks distressed. When she sings another plangent number, a sock suspended on a string from a mechanism does a little joggling sock dance in mid-air and collapses on the ground momentarily. I see the sock as a sort of chorus, miming a get-over-yourself critique. But then I see it as an almost infinitely sad accompaniment. Or is it the singer who accompanies the sock? All day long, the sock does its frantic routine in the gallery.

A sculpture of Creed’s pet Chihuahua Jimmy stands on a shelf above our heads. Don’t ask why. Jimmy’s elevated worldview is perhaps a gift to the diminutive mutt. I’m sure Jimmy would like to get down and play with the sock. For an exhibition that takes placed in a single room, there is an awful lot going on. Ranged around the walls are a large number of paintings and coloured pencil drawings. A recently completed self-portrait of the artist in a hairnet is deeply unflattering, and many of the other works might be taken as cries for help. The word “help” appears many times, as does “jealousy” (“How many jealousies can there be?” one drawing asks), and there are jealousy bridges, bad places and good places. Jimmy is often in there, and some drawings I take to be maps of daily dog walks. The eye gravitates to the little messages rather than the scribbles, the trees, the cartoonish goings-on. I read as much as I look, searching for clues.



Work No 2965, self-portrait in a hairnet with mouth open, 2014-2018.

A number of drawings are completed in a flat graphic style in which elements exist as signs. Bridges again, guns, flames, suns, wind and waves. And there’s a stick of broccoli. Maybe Creed has a thing about broccoli; Creed has a thing about things, and some of the stuff in the world clearly alarms and troubles him. He is candid about this, coming across as a wise and perceptive innocent in the world. One drawing I like very much is a pile of dreams, or rather the word “dreams”, in different colours, all piled up. Please help me, says another small work. And then the art handlers are back, the lights go off, and we’re back to the things, if not words, in the mouth. Brilliant.

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

[Editor] 张艳

    Artintern