With three exhibitions and a new album on the way, it is fair to say that Martin Creed is busier than ever. During Frieze week, the Turner Prize-winning British artist is lighting up the Brooklyn waterfront with a 48ft-long, 25ft-tall red neon sculpture that rotates on a steel beam. Work No. 2630, Understanding, was commissioned by the Public Art Fund and is Creed’s largest outdoor work to date. In June, he will launch an even more ambitious project at the Park Avenue Armory: he wants to turn the building inside out. When we spoke to him last month, Creed was holed up in Somerset for an exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, where he is creating a new body of work that includes three classic Fiat cars.
The Art Newspaper: Understanding is a 25ft-tall neon text sculpture. What does the word “understanding” mean to you?
Martin Creed: I first met my stepdaughter around eight years ago. I’m kind of her stepdad, but I’m not her official stepdad. So when we said goodbye to each other, I wouldn’t necessarily hug her or behave like a parent. Instead, I started saying “peace, love and understanding” as a ritual way of saying goodbye. It’s a way of communicating that allows things to be how they are without pinning it down too much. Originally, the work was going to be those three words, but it was too literal. I thought the word understanding was enough. And I like the fact that you can literally stand under understanding.
What does the background of the New York skyline bring to the work?
The impetus was to make a work to do with war and all the shit that’s going on in the world. The site is not very far from Ground Zero, and I was thinking about that and the crazy world we live in. People just love to fight and hate each other. There are all kinds of examples of it, from road rage to Isil. I see the work as a kind of peace memorial.
Your show at the Park Avenue Armory is billed as the most extensive single-artist display ever presented there. You are going to activate the entire building—from the main Drill Hall to the Armory’s historic period rooms.
Galleries often literally look away from the world in order to protect these precious items. I don’t want to create work in some weird, separate environment. So I am trying to turn the whole building inside out. The view of the street through the back door is the main piece in the show, which is titled The Back Door. The door is going to open and close. I don’t want to add too much to the Drill Hall; the only other work in there will be my new film. There are also going to be around four or five roving musicians, who will be walking around the exhibition playing new songs I’ve been working on. In the run of rooms next to the Drill Hall, I’m going to show all the films I’ve ever made—around 30 in total.
What is your new video about?
It’s a film about people with food in their mouths that they coax out, like a child does when it’s eating. There are various people in it: my mother, my partner and my best friend. The model Lily Cole is in it as well. I didn’t know her before, but I asked her if she would be in it. The idea came about partly because I really like opening my mouth when I’m eating. Anouchka [Grose, Creed’s partner] and Dot [her daughter], whom I live with, really don’t like it. For some reason, I thought it really important that my mum was in it. I think it’s got a lot to do with the inside and the outside—I came from inside my mum.
Understanding, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier,until 23 October
The Back Door, Park Avenue Armory,8 June-7 August
Martin Creed, Hauser &Wirth, Somerset, UK, 22 May-11 September