"Like a guy at a party trying to get everyone to do the conga" Martin Creed on All The Bells...
Nothing sums up London quite like the chiming of Big Ben, and on the opening day of the Olympics that sound will be peeling (for the first time outside its normal routine) thanks to Turner Prize-winner Martin Creed.
If you aren't hyped enough already, mark 8.12am, Friday 27 in your diary and get involved with the prolific artist and musician's 1,179th work, which hopes to see every, and any, bell in the country ring out in unison. He talked us about his expectations, his new album and the ‘children' he's kept locked away for too long...
What are the origins of the All the Bells piece? Was it something you had been thinking about or did the idea come to you on taking up this Olympic commission?
I did a sort of... well it turns out now it was a test run for it in San Gimignano in Italy a few years ago. I was asked to do a public work and noticed they had all these bell towers. I got to thinking if you rang all of these bells it would be a work all over the town, all at once, instead of being a sculpture in the marketplace.
When the chance to make a proposal for the Olympics came up, I immediately thought a piece of music for a special occasion in the form of bells ringing might be a good idea. The main thing was that bells are the loudest acoustic instrument. Obviously that's why, in the days before PA systems and amplifiers, bells were used by churches and other institutions to communicate over long distances.
When I started looking into it for the Olympics I realised that I don't know which bells are the best and couldn't find any reason to say ‘do this with that kind of bell' so I thought it would be best if it were all the bells.
How does it feel to think that so many people UK-wide will be participating in your piece?
It's very, very different from anything I've ever done. It's an idea that's impossible to carry out - to ring every bell in the whole of Britain; it's always going to fail to do that. It's also only possible by voluntary participation. That's exciting, but it makes me feel very weird as well, because it feels very removed from me. It's a work that has gone out into the world without having been finished. Usually a work goes out and people might take it up and play with it and say they hate it or they like it or whatever, but I will have finished it off. This is an idea that I've spoken about and collectively people have said it's worth trying to do. I find it very hard to imagine what it will be like; it's quite unimaginable. I've got mixed feelings about the whole thing.
Also what I feel bad about is that anyone might think I'm trying to coerce people into ringing bells. That would make me feel terrible, like a guy at a party trying to get everyone to do the conga or hold hands and sing 'Auld Lang Syne'. I don't want to do that. I think everyone should do what they want. It's a strange position to be in.
Is there a reason for the precise time of 8.12am for the piece?
Oh no I didn't choose that. I think the torch comes into London around 8am. I don't mind when it is. It's a piece of music for a special occasion. It's great it's on the opening day of the Olympics.
You're new album Love To You came out two weeks ago. Can you tell us about that?
I've been working on music for a while. This is an album that I've found quite difficult to finish, but finally managed to get out. It's got lots of songs recorded in different places, at different times, happy and sad. Some are love songs and some are like hate songs. Now I'm trying to work on recording some new stuff for another album next year. I feel like this one has been so long and painful, I want to keep going. Some of this album feels unhealthy, the songs are like children I kept in the basement and now I've let them out and they're all weird and fucked up. I feel it was unhealthy the amount of time for some of those songs to get out.
In general I try to work with a shorter distance from the impetus to do something and the final product. If there are too many chances to stop and think along the way the work often gets watered down or even killed a bit all from thinking.
If you could compete in any event during the games what would it be?
I always thought the 1500m was a good thing. That was the good one to watch.
Are you going to any Olympics sports events?
No, I don't have any tickets. The only way they give you any tickets is if you pay: if you're a sponsor you get tickets because you've given them money and if you buy tickets you get a ticket because you've paid! But I'll be watching on the telly.
All your works are numbered; do you celebrate the big milestones such as no.1000?
Well I definitely notice it and get quite self-conscious about those big round numbers. I think ‘what's going to be number 2000?' But each one seems less important, there are more of them and there's less pressure.
There are a huge number of cultural events going on as part of the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival. Are there any that you're particularly excited about (apart from your own)?
The main thing that springs to mind is a dance piece I saw on the Culture Show [One Extraordinary Day choreographed by Elizabeth Streb] - people throwing themselves off scaffolding and they were all just landing on their chests, flat on their fronts. It was onto a mat obviously, but it looked really painful, and it was very striking. The choreographer was interviewed and she said that the dance was inspired by a fountain she saw in Las Vegas, and all the people were mimicking droplets of water. That's the main one that comes to mind.
To read more about art events in the London 2012 Festival, click here.
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- Opera & Dance