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Mothers Spinning Out of Control

© Martin Creed, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Martin Creed is my kind of guy.  He’s the intriguing artist whose current exhibition “Mothers” is on at Hauser & Wirth on Savile Row.  I, along with my mom and son, had the fortunate opportunity to behold, chew over and digest the works.  I’m still digesting.

As both a mother and an artist, two works stood out for me, Work No. 1092 (or the work commonly referred to as Mothers) and Work No. 1177.

When asked about his thinking behind Mothers, a 12 ½ meters long, 2 ½ meters high steel beam supporting white neon lights which spell out Mothers in capital letters, Creed said in an interview that he thought mothers are probably the most important people.  I momentarily thought of Norman Bates, but after reading Creed’s explanation in a separate interview, I know he’s speaking on a more macro level.  Creed said, “This work made me sick, there were so many times when I felt sick working on it.  I think it has something to do with Mothers… I think families are really difficult.”  Families difficult?  I don’t know anyone who’s ever had difficulties with their family (cue the uproarious laughter).  Creed added, “I think the most powerful and difficult relationship in the whole world is between a mother and child.  That is the one where the baby is literally part of the mother and is not separate, and then you have to come out and be separate.  It is the most difficult thing to do.  I think to actually be a mother is very difficult and to have a mother is difficult.”

And when asked why he wanted the motorised sculpture to spin – orbiting at varying speeds and bringing to mind the different settings of a ceiling fan – Creed replied, “Mothers spinning out of control rang true to me.”  He must know about the Whirling Dervishes Playgroup or the Our Descendants Sometimes Make Us Dizzy Support Group.

Standing in the room, seemingly purpose-built for this enormous sculpture, I considered Creed’s explanation that the size reflects the importance of mothers and how they literally contain us at birth.  He pronounced, “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.”  I also found it curious that while welcomed to, none of the 50 or so fellow observers ventured under the sculpture.  At one point, I felt said observers – whose hair and attire looked a bit windswept while the sculpture moved at its full speed – staring at me and my little guy in his buggy, as if to say, “You’re obviously a mother and as such, this sculpture includes a gyratory halo for you, so go for it, go stand under it.”  Risk my life under this monster?  No thanks, not today (my initial apprehension paralleled that of when I went to see a Damien Hirst piece)  I am aware that, sadly, fine art malfunctions have caused very tragic situations, and the irony of mothers taking this mother’s life was too much to bear.

© Martin Creed, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Using his art to comment on the magnitude of the matriarch in our lives, Creed also graces us with Work No. 1177’s presence.  This black and white, silent 35mm film – which especially when combined with Mothers – alludes to a domineering mama in our friend Freud’s oedipal phase.  The film centers on a woman’s breast, whose nipple goes from its usual state to an erect state after a hand tweaks it.  In his past work, Creed has shown a fascination with how our bodies function and react, often with overt sexual undertones, but this film was different than others in the series.  I thought it was beautiful.  I thought it was persuasive.  And despite having breasts of my own and having breastfed my son, this was the first time I’ve witnessed this sequence in such a manner.  It helps that I’m also a fan of silent films; they leave more space for one’s own interpretation.  My three-year-old watched the film and asked why it wasn’t moving.  He stood watching it for 15 seconds, I’m sure wondering why there wasn’t a caped crusader or scallywag entering the scene.  I asked him if he knew what the image in the film was, and he responded, “Let’s go.”

There are dozens of additional pieces in this exhibition, but these are the only two that spoke to me.  There was a wit, a cheeky little boy at play, and a minimalism – as there was with Creed’s Blu-Tack, lights switching on and off, and balloons pieces – that has enamoured me to the artist.

Is Creed’s own mom as enamoured as his myriad admirers?  He said he thinks his relationship with his mom is quite good.  She’s always been very supportive of his art practice and often comes to his shows.  Aww, bless.  Just in case this isn’t actually the case, I’m sending her an invite to a spinning class I know of whose instructor focuses on using physical exertion to cope with snags in mother-son relationships.

Category: Art, General, Reviews, This Parenting Stuff


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