Thursday, October 16, 2008

"For reasons of safety, we ask the public not to run or obstruct the runners."

The familiar architecture draws your eye into the space and onto the spectacle, the runner walks slowly, turns the corner, a minor pause and with a small half step breaks into a run. Martin Creed is an artist who’s work divides opinion, his slight and subtle interventions into the world around him are read by some as empty gestures or others as indicators of significance through the highlighting of seemingly mundane acts in our social fabric. In the Tate his latest piece Work No.850 has a series of runners continuously running through the Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries every 30 Seconds. Ambling, confused, they disrupt the runners path, disengaged by the surrounding architecture and unsure of their onward route. A parting of bodies, quiet, unknowing subconscious reaction. Ignored, deftly negotiated almost imperceptible, the runner negotiates the space. Photographer in his way, weaving between human obstructions unaware of their influence on the runners onward movement.
The simple act of running has been described by Creed in a number of ways and in his own playful way we are left with only speculations as to his true intentions.
But as you stroll through the turbine hall it is the actions and interactions of the passing public that perhaps give a true context and understanding of the spectacle that Creed has created.
A large crowd, a massive collective obstruction, unfeeling, disinterested, passive aggressive, causing the runner to make a big deviation through the space. The architecture regarded subconsciously dictating the runners efficient choice of path. A clear run, the runner is off line but easily adapting to surrounding bodies. It is at points where the runners movements are not only affected by the architecture of the Tate’s classic hall but the movements and physicality of those who are adjacent to the action that a sense of real and uncontrived fascination can be invoked in the viewer. Selfish, unconcerned, non negotiating of the space, the group collectively mark their presence in the space unconcerned by their obstructive manner. They will not move, they feel their importance and impose their will on the runner. Two others step aside polite, tolerant engaged in the full social spectacle. Here in the Tate we see modern society and its conditions reflected in the reactions of all those who inhabit the space with the runner. It is in the variety of responses that we can see a society where simple adherence to social codes and norms has shifted to more selfish and individualistic motives. Three young women. Interested, amused that they are obstructing the runners path, pleased to be influencing the process, briefly revelling in the attention. Arrogant, deliberately obstructive, more interested in their own personal space and projecting their identity to any adjacent person. The runner approaches the group, she deviates her path, they see her as an irritation.
We see a society at conflict, in which the need to assert ones own individuality and personality on many occasions predominates over a tolerant and respectful attitude to others. The runner is not only negotiating the architecture of the building but the social architecture of our times.
A Young boy watches fascinated, observing the power and movement of the runner, two others alarmed, frightened by the sound of the runners quickly moving footsteps.
The occasions at which a true and honest regard for the runner is taking place we see how an interest in the outside world can be a truly educating and rewarding experience. A large group of young men and women, a collective obstruction. One in competition chases the runner, seeking the attention and approval of the group. However in many ways society has become selfish and the interest of individuals in their right exert their individuality also affects the rights of others to exist unhindered. The way in which some chose to hinder and question the action that is unfolding around them provides a great insight into questions of personal space and intellectual freedom and the assertion of our individuality and the potential adverse affects this may have on others. Startled and concerned by the runners approach turning to interest and speculation. Anticipation of the runners path, steps aside and allows a clear path.

It reflects well on the Tate that they have enabled Creed’s current work to take place and in many ways the enormity of such a simple performance such as this comes beset with potential difficulties both logistically and conceptually. Selfishness, herd mentality, obstructive. Complete lack of awareness of surroundings, walks across the runners path, changes direction and does so again. A middle aged couple interestedly watch the runner and as he nears them exaggerate their efforts to remove themselves as an obstacle to his path.
Creed has not only challenged the hallowed environment of the Tate Gallery but also pushed the question of what art truly is. Deliberately ignoring, feigning indifference to the runner and his task. Amused, speculating, remove themselves from the runners path. A mass of human traffic, the runner stalls his run, negotiates the space with aggressive adaptive movements to continue his onward run. Watching, peripheral to the runners movement, almost an obstruction but stands to one side. Testing personal space and asserting his right to his own as the runner passes close by.
The simple act of running in the environment of the Tate addresses questions of social hierarchy, we are not just observers of art but a part of the work itself, from Creed’s initial vision of the simple act of running to the spatial negotiations that take place between the runner and the public present in the Tate. Creed has imposed a condition in the Tate with this artwork which provokes our assumptions of what constitutes an artwork, from Carl Andre’s Equivalent viii to Tracey Emin’s bed and beyond Creed’s Turner prize wining ‘lights going on and off’ we have another challenging and potentially seminal artwork of the 21st century.

Indifferent, self absorbed. An obstacle, unaware, surprised and finally embarrassed by their lack of awareness of the runners presence. Interest, awareness, speculation of the movement and mechanics of the runner and his action. Avoiding but respectful, playful and engaged. Respect for the runner and his task.
Once the action began to take place in this public environment a true dialogue ensued, it is unpredictable and uncontrollable. For as long as this piece continues Creed and his runners, the Tate and the public will be forced to interact in an unspoken conversation within the spatial boundaries of the Gallery.
A group, unaware, self absorbed. Several groups stand static in the space, the runner negotiates all with minor adaptions of his onward progress. Creed has taken the’me’society we currently inhabit and by creating a simple act created a negotiation truly in the spirit of our self absorbed ‘reality TV’ times.
Respect for endeavour, regarding the runner from a short distance.
Society has changed massively in the past 50 years and the pace of change is disconcerting and worrying, and as time races past and we try to live our lives in the manner we wish with the minimum of negative impact on others and the world around us we can but hope that a more individualistic society can recapture a sense of community and social responsibility. We have hope that art and society can progress with a true spirit of individuality allied with a respect for the world around us.
Turn of the head as the runner passes unimpeded. One shows surprise. The other gives an explanation of context. The first shows approval.

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