Martin Creed's new work runs rings around the Tate

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The Independent Culture

To the untrained eye, an athlete running at full tilt along the serene corridors of the Tate could pose a serious health and safety risk to visitors viewing the artwork.

But art lovers can be reassured that a Puma-clad sprinter is the latest moving artwork to inhabit the London gallery.

Martin Creed, 39, the artist famed for winning the Turner prize for a room with lights turning on and off, installed a pool of semi-professional sprinters decked out in branded sports kit, to run the full length of the gallery’s Duveen space, for £10 an hour, every 30 seconds, for four months. ‘Work No. 850’ is open to public view from tomorrow.

A pool of 50 male and female runners, who range from teenagers to those in their late 20s, has already been recruited although more may be enlisted at a later date.

While rumours of the moving artwork had raged ever since Creed was announced as the artist commissioned some months ago, few doubted such an event could be accommodated by one of England’s 13th busiest visitor attraction which brought 1.6m viewers to its doors in 2006.

The runners will only halt their existential relay race when the gallery’s doors close each night. The space was inhabited by what some might call ‘real’ sculptures including the ‘Three Graces’ up until a few months ago and Mark Wallinger’s anti war installation, ‘State Britain’, last year.

The athletes will run one at a time, with four runners per shift at the gallery, and they will speak to the public only in emergencies to say ‘watch out’ if they face a possible collision, said Creed. When they have run the length of the gallery, they will make their way back to the starting line through a private underground route.

At the galleries busiest times, they may have to tone down the speed to a mellow canter and zigzag around the room, weaving through the crowds, even though the terms of employment requires the sprinters to be capable of covering the 86-metre space at a speed of 12 to 15 seconds.

The space was perfect for the exercise, he said, because it resembles a “100 metre indoor sprinting track”. Although it was not created to reflect London’s hosting of the Olympic Games, he said it was a “happy coincidence”.

“It might help us find runners….It’s really difficult and it needs really good, physically talented athletes,” he said.

A degree of artistic irreverence led Creed to create the work – he does not always enjoy staring at works in galleries but prefers breezing past them.

“Maybe it’s a bit mischievous or funny to find people running through a gallery but there’s no reason you should not look at things quickly. I often feel a bit of a lemon if I get to Vienna, for example, and I want to see a painting I have loved looking at in books, and suddenly I’m standing there thinking ‘now I’m looking at the thing I cam to see’. It feels quite self-conscious. Often, the best way of looking at things is from your peripheral vision or just walking past it. Often, you enjoy yourself more,” he said.

Stephen Deuchar, director of Tate Britain, said while it was irreverent, it was also a ‘serious work of art which extended the study of the sculpted human form.

“It’s extraordinary to see in a place associated with the reverential contemplation of art, a place of stillness where you don’t normally see anyone running in contravention of all museum etiquette, and also to experience the ground thudding and air moving as someone runs through a pedestrian space,” he said.

Creed, who has in the past, created works which explore themes of vomiting and defecating, as well as a piece consisting of a screwed up piece of paper blue-tacked onto a wall, was also inspired by a hurried visit to the Catacombs of the Cappuccini monks in Palermo, Italy, when he only had five minutes to see the exhibits before closing time so ran around the displays.

While have already dismissed this work as an exercise in ‘nothing’, others believe it will prove to be a hot visitor attraction. Elliott Frisby, a spokesman for VisitBritain, said past unconventional shows at Tate Modern – such as a show in which visitors could use indoor slights and a current exhibition in which a giant crack has been created in the Turbine Hall – has proved to be a huge draw.

“You have only to look at the popularity of the slides and the crack to see that nowadays, art is not just about paintings hanging on a wall but it more something that gets people talking and encourages debate,” he said.