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28th March 2023

What is Art?

IGS students spend a day on Ilkley Moor filmmaking with iconic conceptual artist Martin Creed

The artist Martin Creed is one of the UKs most established conceptual/installation/performance artists, winning the Turner Prize in 2001 for work No.227: The lights going on and off.

He is an artist perhaps more likely to be associated with London’s East End or New York than Ilkley but on Tuesday 28th March a group of five A-level Art students were involved in what must have surely been one of the most fascinating and thought-provoking, but also one of the most unusual, school days ever experienced by Ilkley Grammar School students.

We were initially contacted by Robert Gibson, former IGS governor and friend of Martin’s who thought that it might be an exciting opportunity for some of our students to accompany the artist for the day while he was working on an autobiographical film. One of the sections of the film about one of the significant moments in his life, when he had witnessed a fight between two dogs, was to be recreated using images of cut-out dogs on Ilkley Moor.

Students and staff were intrigued…

The day of the filming, the weather was atrocious from beginning to end – wind, rain and everything in-between - but this did not deter either Martin, Robert or the group of students who carried on filming regardless.

Two of the participating students, Beth D and Eva T, pick up the story…

“We were really excited to hear that we had been given the opportunity to meet Martin Creed and watch an art film in the making. After spending time talking to Martin, we asked him a lot of questions about his work and what the intentions behind certain pieces were.

He talked about when he had been back to a school he had attended as a child to shoot part of an art film and how he had made all the students wear their school uniforms backwards and flip their hair upside down! He explained how in this work he was exploring the idea of doing everything wrong and was questioning the norms within the art industry.  

It became clear that Martin likes to look at the world from a different viewpoint, to challenge assumptions about what is normal, and to question what’s right and wrong.

We then began to set up for the art film and saw that Martin was using a unique camera and using old-fashioned film to get his shots precise and accurate. Meanwhile, we began cutting out the cardboard cut outs of the dogs going to be used in the film as they were going to be placed in different positions that would then be moved at certain angles to portray a dog-like motion. We thought this was a unique and interesting way to create a story and he went on to say that the aim of this art film was to recreate impactful moments in his life and tell stories from his childhood memories.

This led us to ask him “where were you at our age?”  to which he responded, “at 16 I was in a school that didn’t really care about art and considered it less of a subject than the others”. He went on to say, ‘at the age of 17 I then decided to move to London to go to art school where I could explore new artistic skills.

He also talked about various artworks including The Scotsman Steps which are permanently situated in Edinburgh and are used as a latrine by pub-goers. As well as sculpture, he also creates films including a film about people making themselves sick. He went on to explain that the reason he had decided to do this was to “question the stereotypes of natural human actions being frowned upon and disgusting and to portray them in the form of art.”

Both his stories and the film we worked on during the day were new types of art for us all to experience and made us question what art really is?”

Mr Gutch who facilitated the project said:

“Schools are normally very structured places with established rules, fixed routines and expectations to behave in a certain way. This is how institutions work and there are valid reasons why schools are organised in this way, however, as a result it is easy to get stuck in certain ways of thinking and to think that because something has ‘always been a certain way’ that is the way it always has to be. Over a career spanning more than thirty years, Martin Creed has made it his life’s work to challenge and extend our understanding of what is normal, and he does that in incredibly unexpected, creative and engaging ways. I have no doubt that it has taken both courage and resilience to follow this path. It is one thing to have a quirky idea which looks at the world from a different perspective for half an hour, it is quite another to do that every day of your working life.

It is through opening ourselves up to new viewpoints – as students, but also as teachers and leaders, that we open ourselves up to doing things differently and to change. We are really grateful to Martin for his professional generosity in inviting students to join him for the day, for answering their questions and allowing them to participate in his artwork.”

He has also promised to return to IGS to perform later this year. Watch this space!

To find out more about Martin Creed go to:

Martin Creed Website

Martin Creed at the Tate

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