Last Chance To See: Work No. 850 @ Tate Britain

By Julie PH Last edited 170 months ago
Last Chance To See: Work No. 850 @ Tate Britain

Or, Dear Martin Creed: I didn’t really want to run in your exhibition anyway

Been to see the sprinters at the Tate Britain yet? Whatever are you waiting for? Whilst you’ve been working, eating, sleeping, living – they’ve been running running running: some 310 km each, or 192 miles, or 7-plus marathons (that’s fifteen 86-meter sprints every half hour interval, times four intervals a shift, times three shifts a week, times 20 weeks). And although we can’t tell you what these unnamed participants were thinking during their many hours spent pounding the marble surfaces of the Duveen galleries, we can give you the perspective of one runner’s short-lived encounter with participatory art. Herewith the abbreviated diary of a failed Tate Britain runner.

15 May – A mysterious message lands in my inbox: Runners wanted. For sprint intervals in a well-known public art space, as part of an art installation not yet unveiled by Important Artist. Applicants’ discretion requested.

Ah ha. This, I conjecture, is how Seymour Hersh got his start in investigative journalism. I’m immediately intrigued. I want in for a host of reasons, both superficial and intellectual: to get paid for something I already do anyway; to explore this collision of art and sport; to know what it’s like to be art, if only a small anonymous part of it; to give Londonist the inside scoop; to lose half a stone in time for the summer holidays. Somewhat impetuously, I apply.

6 June – Two weeks and one ace interview later – during which I learn that the artist in question is Martin Creed, Turner Prize winner for “the lights going on and off” – and I’ve been offered a tentative spot on the team. But a few technicalities to attend to first – an ECG for starters. A runner dropping dead of heart failure on the floor of the galleries would presumably be bad PR for the Tate, so this is a precautionary measure. The runners turn up in droves on the day of the test, giving me my first opportunity to size up my “coworkers”. And crikey are they young – a good 7 or 8 years younger on average I’d wager, a point driven home to me when the ECG technician refers to us all as “girls and boys”.

But good news! My heart is present and accounted for. After noting a few irregularities on my ECG, the technician sends me for a follow-up echo – a torturous 20 minutes during which my overactive imagination gets the better of me and I start envisioning life as a weak-hearted invalid with barely enough strength to walk to the local off-licence for a pint of milk. Instead, I’m told that despite the initially dodgy results, my heart shows no structural damage. As a writer, I appreciate the metaphoric possibilities.

11 June – Art and sport make uneasy bedfellows, I discover at the running trials. Surely it’s not every day that you meet a Turner Prize winner, but after having been instructed by the soft-spoken and seemingly unassuming Creed to “run like my life depended on it”, I’m not quite ready to lay down my life for his vision. Where’s a personal trainer when you need one? Creed’s assistant, sipping what I imagine to be a very posh coffee whilst I struggle to catch my breath between sprints, introduces himself and then goes for the jugular: “We were just wondering if you could try running ... I don’t know ... faster?” I smile through gritted teeth and promise to try, saving the prolific cursing session for the tube ride home.

1 July – I miss out on the next few trials due to prior holiday plans, but when I return it’s to the news that my running services are no longer required. The judgement: not fast enough. (Note to Mr Creed: It’s all about the journey, man – not how fast you get there.)

Which is just as well, as friends have threatened to show up at the gallery Say Anything–style with speakers blaring ‘Eye of the Tiger’. Or to shout ‘Run, Forrest, Run!’ everytime I trot past. Like the idea? You have until Sunday to implement it. But you didn’t get the suggestion from us.

Last Updated 14 November 2008