Imagine an artist who can't decide what to paint. Staring at a set of paints and set of brushes, he decides to make a set of rules so he won't have to. He will take a colour, and paint one stroke with every brush in the set, largest to smallest, bottom to top, to make a set of stripes on the canvas like stairs. Then he will do the same with the next colour on a new canvas, until he has used all of the colours. He doesn't know what to call it so he gives it a number. Phew – it feels like a relief – it all makes a kind of sense. This is the work of Martin Creed, an artist who hangs on to the things that make this kind of sense for dear life – and its kind of a heart-gladdening relief to look at Creed's work too, when it's at its best.
Down Over Up focuses on vertical criteria. A series of chairs are placed on top of one another, biggest on the bottom, smallest at the top (Work No. 998: Chairs). Cacti are lined up in height order, a comedic line-up. Most gleefully, each step on the gallery stairs plays a musical note when you step on it, ascending the musical scale, and the sound of a tiny choir accompanies you in the lift, singing up the scale, baritones on the bottom floor, high sopranos at the top. The joy of Creed's art is not, however, a perfect, mathematical nature, but the oddities and imperfections that are revealed in the world by placing irrational elements (people, cacti, dogs) into rational systems. Here, the funny, peculiar and lovely elements of the world are revealed anew.
Creed won the Turner Prize in 2001 for Work No. 227: The Lights Going On and Off (2000), a work he describes as "unbreakable" (it's a set of instructions) and "dramatic". While there's no doubt that Creed's work at the Fruitmarket is extremely charming and funny (who can fail to be delighted by plodding up and down stairs accompanied by their own personal musical accompaniment?) this exhibition was slightly lacking in the Creed-like element that can spin out from funny and charming into deeply human and profound.
The exhibition was accompanied by Work No. 1020: Ballet at the Traverse Theatre. Creed played master of ceremonies, lining up five dancers in height order, giving them the five main positions of ballet to move with and applying a musical note to each one. This is the best work of Creed's Edinburgh Festival, allowing him to showcase his ramshackle persona with experimental game-play, and also their precision of the dancer's movements with their living, breathing humanity.
Down Over Up: to 31 Oct (0131 225 2383)
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