Guestblogger Katie Graves on Martin Creed’s Retrospective and “InstaArt”!

InstaArt: Martin Creed’s Retrospective “What’s the point of it?” Viewed Through a Filter by Katie Graves

 The first major retrospective of work by internationally acclaimed artist Martin Creed opened at the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre in London on January 29. The exhibition, titled “What’s the point of it?”, has taken Instagram by storm. With thousands of smart phone pictures of the show shared to date, the framing of the exhibit through social media has taken on a life of its own in creating a relationship between spectator and art.

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Cliff Lauson, Curator of the Hayward Gallery, recognizes Creed’s work as “both playful and thought-provoking. Crossing all artistic media and including musical and performative elements”. The exhibit contains a range of minimalist and expressionist art that has sparked analysis and interpretation. 

Creed said in 2001: “my work is about 50 percent what I make of it, and 50 percent what people make of it. Meanings are made in people’s heads. I can’t control them.”

Perhaps he wasn’t accounting for Instagram, which debuted in 2010, added Hashtags in 2011, and since then has become one of, if not the most, widely used photo sharing applications in the realm of social media.

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“Instagammers” from all over the world are transported to the Hayward Gallery at London’s Southbank Centre, located along the Thames River and Waterloo Bridge  through their smart phones. Instagram curates a virtual exhibit of the show that incorporates image and video. For the people around the globe who cannot gain physical access, the pictures shared with Instagram without restrictive privacy settings determine the perspective- the literal filter from which you will see, experience, and interact with the exhibit.

Each Hashtag paints a unique experience of what it would be like to be on the inside, snapping a photo or video of Work No. 1092: Mothers a huge neon sign spinning out of control, or posing underneath a floating pile of 7,000 white balloons known as Work No. 200: Half the air in a given space.

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These two tags create galleries of nine images that open a window into the world of Creed’s exhibit. Both compositions emote a cheery tone full of bold color, neon lights, and excitement that pass an essentially imagined experience through Instagram onto the social media spectator. 

It feels like you are receiving a comprehensive whole, 25 years of enticing, bold work by Martin Creed. However, the presentation through social media is a fragmented version of the show: a re-appropriated stream of art brought to you by the thousands of people who mill in and out of the Hayward gallery, device in hand, from January 29th to April 27th and then some. There are over 160 works in the exhibit, but only a small portion make it to the social media big leagues.

The introduction to the exhibit states that Creed’s work “reflects on the unease we face meeting choices, the comfort we find in repetition, the desire to control and the unstable losses of control that shape our existence.” This complex funnel of intended meaning and tone is lost on the stream of images. The social media frame of reference lends towards an aesthetic experience that is provocative and entertaining in its own right.

Martin Creed may not have intended his reach to go this far, but the question stands: what is the point of it? Adrian Hamilton, writer for The Independent, states that Creed doesn’t even know the answer to, or what “It” is. “It” could very well be Instagram, or more broadly social media platforms. It was just last year, that The Hayward Gallery forbid photography of their exhibition titled “Light Show”, a rule that has been overturned for Creed’s retrospective. In the world of mass technology and social media anyone can frame the world from their perspective. With the right hashtag, anyone curate Creed’s art through their own personal device.

By Katie Graves, Cornell University Film Major, Class of 2014

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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