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Guest Writer

But where's the creativity?
Empty room
by Eva Lake

artin Creed was presented with a £20,000 cheque by Madonna as he was awarded the 2001 Turner prize. Creed's work in the Turner prize exhibition at Tate Britain (until 20 January) is an empty room with a light switching on and off – the most audacious piece on show and the most criticized. Many people who had fought their way onto the guest list of the prize-giving party saw this work as making a meaningful contrast with both the glitzy evening and the queen of celebrity who awarded the prize.

– The Art Newspaper, London

I know that to most of you, this is old news. The empty room came down toward the end of January. It's been the butt of many jokes and observations, and it took me a while to suss out my response from 6,000 miles away. It's difficult to form an opinion having not seen the work, or rather, experienced it. And that is what you've really got to do in order to make any kind of assessment.

For what can one really say if you haven't been inside the room?

One could say it isn't art, I guess. But whatever we may say that it is or isn't, it would still arouse all kinds of feelings once you are there in that empty room with a light going on and off. Take away whatever expectations one may have about art: what it's supposed to look like, what it's supposed to be.

I know that many times when I've gone into an empty room, I got a lot more than I ever anticipated. Of course it can happen at strange times like when you're in a mode of transition, such as moving. The empty rooms you leave behind, the empty rooms you inspect in consideration of where to live. And, of course, the near-empty rooms of what most art galleries are.

When I first moved into an apartment of my own, a place of no roommates, this emptiness was something I cherished. I had had roommates of one sort or another for years. And sure, I filled the new flat with a certain amount of junk, anyone does, but I tried my best to leave it as empty as possible for as long as possible. I didn't put anything on the walls for a very long time. It was that emptiness that I loved more than anything. More than any art, any painting or other piece.

In my wonder of this new space, I would stare into a corner of my flat. I know this only because I often wrote of it in my diaries. Otherwise life gets so cluttered it's something one might not remember. But I'm glad I recorded it, for this is the kind of vision which is so precious: it is not based on any outer influences really it's up to you, up to what you see in your mind's eye.

The empty corner is a canvas you paint inside yourself. Maybe, in fact, you don't ever paint it at all. You leave it empty and marvel at the emptiness, the space that no one but you will ever fill, and only if you want it full. And it turns out that, in my case, I never did. Till the last day in that flat, when I left San Francisco for New York, I cherished that empty space.

So I can see how the empty room can be an art statement. It has, of course, a bunch of intellectual and modernist/minimalist references, meaningless to many, but I think any person can feel the same thing when they enter an empty railway station or a bar. It could be lonely or just a non-event, but it turns out to be a beautiful thing, if you allow it to be. If you turn your expectations around and are willing to see beauty not so much in what outside influence proposes to you, but what you propose unto it.

Even though I have not seen Martin Creed's empty room with nothing but a light going on and off, I think maybe I could dig it. And it would indeed be a stark contrast to all the hubbub that the Turner Prize has become: sort of like an Academy Award for artists.

I don't mind the award at all; if such awards put art out into the public's consciousness, however it happens, it's all right with me. It's not a matter of it being good or bad art. Just get people talking about it.

But it is interesting to see what ruckus an empty room can cause.

One friend of mine said, "But where's the creativity?" In this case particularly, it's not really about the artist and their creativity. It's about the viewer and maybe this is what is confusing. It is the experience which matters and people tend to forget about this. They are looking for a product.

But the real product is the experience inside the viewer. And, in fact, it always is.

See more from Eva in our archives.

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