KidSpirit

Work No. 227

Connection and IsolationFeatures
Artwork by: Martin Creed, Work No. 227, 2007

In 2000, Martin Creed won the Turner Prize at the United Kingdom’s Tate Gallery for his installation, Work No. 227. Unlike most of the other installations, his work consisted of only a bare gallery wall with lights that turned on and off at intervals of five seconds.

Creed’s use of a bare wall prompts engaging audiences to acknowledge the space and walls surrounding the art — to force awareness and change the experience of visitors by confounding their normal expectations. He celebrates the ordinary and mundane, further exploring the commonplace phenomenon by re-introducing the audience with everyday items. While some were enamored by Creed’s message and willingness to subvert the norm, others were appalled by what appeared as nothingness. David Lee of The Times wrote, “Last year, the Tate was scraping the barrel. This year they are scraping the scrapings.”

I stumbled upon Martin Creed’s installation one morning at breakfast, framed cleanly in an ARTnews magazine. Unlike Lee’s, my reaction to this piece was neither negative nor positive — instead, I was consumed by one overwhelming feeling. Loneliness.

I imagined myself in Work No. 227, surrounded by its blinking lights. The walls, plain white and bare. The sinking feeling in my stomach intensified with each flip of the switch. On. Off. On. Off. ON. OFF. ON. OFF — until it stopped, and the illusion faded.

Despite the all-consuming feeling of loneliness Creed’s work instilled, I realize that I am never truly alone. Loneliness is only temporary, a fleeting emotion that passes as we find ourselves and the people and things that we love. It passes like the rolling tides that replace it with familiarity and security. Creed’s work prompted me to evaluate the people and objects around me, to realize that, like the bare wall in Work No. 227, they only exist with our added meaning — the definitions and sentiments we project onto them. The color added to a blank canvas is an eventuality. The barrenness of Work No. 227’s elements are bound to end. Its walls are bound to be replaced with the next installation, like periods in our lives.

Loneliness isn’t permanent. But why does it feel like it is?

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has heightened these emotions, resulting in a spike in mental health complications. About 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. Moreover, in the past year, 11 million Americans have reported thoughts of suicide. Feelings of loneliness have increased tenfold throughout the pandemic. A lack of social interaction coupled with constant isolation has exacerbated these emotions and led to potentially lethal consequences. For many Americans and millions of other people around the world, that colored canvas has never seemed like an eventuality. The barren walls of Work No. 227 still linger. And it has been in our inability to surround ourselves with sentiments and memories, the company of friends and loved ones, that many of us have floundered — and eventually fallen.

However, it hasn’t been just adults who are adversely affected. “Before the pandemic, more than one in 10 (16%) adolescents ages 12 to 17 had anxiety and/or depression.” At an impressionable time of growth and development, the lack of social groups or community causes a large disconnect. Social isolation during the pandemic is mainly emotional and can manifest in a variety of ways. Meanwhile, the state of being alone is physical. It is determined by your environment, whether you find yourself with or depleted of company. While company and familiarity can help ease the pain caused by isolation, it can't be completely assuaged — not if we don’t project it ourselves.

Likewise, in my house, with my family, I am not alone. I am surrounded by vibrant family life, filled with ambling brothers, talkative mothers, and caustic fathers. As much as I love my family and enjoy their presence in my daily life, that doesn’t stop me from feeling lonely. Like millions of youth around the world, I struggled. Although I wasn’t physically alone, any comfort my company provided was muffled by a badgering feeling of helplessness and stress. I couldn’t share these emotions with anybody — or at least I felt I couldn’t. I felt I hounded myself with contempt and solemnity and the inability to project emotions of comfort onto my family. I felt as if I was looking at Work No. 227 and overcome with despondency all over again. Its flickering lights accentuated my loneliness on the barren walls.

And it sucked. A lot.

While loneliness is a vanishing figment of our emotions, our ability to project different emotions onto defining situations and memories affects the way in which we perceive these circumstances. It isn’t always easy to project. It can be difficult to shake the feeling of loneliness. It attaches to our skin, like parasites, refusing to leave. But it can get better.

Things like texting to check in, dropping off a gift, or driving by and waving can help alleviate these emotions. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University found that “providing support to others, [can] provide a sense of meaning and purpose. It can strengthen social bonds, and in turn, lead to less loneliness.” By surrounding themselves with situations that discourage negative emotional projections, individuals can become much closer to alleviating emotions of loneliness. Taking up a hobby, such as cooking, gardening, writing in a journal, or even listening to music, are alternatives when social interaction can seem exhausting. In any way, both instances are pathways to eliminating the blank canvas that many of us have been stifled by for the greater part of a year. However, sometimes loneliness can be all-consuming, and in these cases, it is important to seek professional help. “The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free and confidential support at 1-800-273-8255, and many therapists are offering virtual appointments.”

As the light of Work No. 227 flickers on and off and on and off, I realize that its walls are no longer empty. To my left, I see the gradients and blends of vermillions and ochres. To my right, a shifting collage of my most joyful memories and sentiments. Martin Creed taught me the weight of loneliness and reflection. The despair that can come from isolation and reservation. The importance of shifting perspectives and projections. My canvas is filled with my own feelings of familiarity — ones that I painted onto it. The lights continue to flicker, the last deterrent to my newfound comfort. I finally see the switch.

And the lights turn off.

Sources:
ARTS | Critics Split over Turner Winner.” BBC News, BBC, 10 Dec. 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1701400.stm.

Creed, Martin. “Martin Creed. Work No. 227, The Lights Going On And Off. 2000: MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art, http://moma.org/collection/works/101549.

Nirmita Panchal, Rabah Kamal. “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use.” KFF, 20 July 2021, https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/.

Sohn, Emily. “Combating an Epidemic of Loneliness.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Dec. 2020, http://nytimes.com/2020/12/18/well/pandemic-loneliness-isolation-coronavirus.html.

Tate. “Turner Prize 2001 Artists: Martin Creed.” Tate, http://tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/turner-prize-2001/turner-prize-2001-arti sts-martin-creed.

Tate. “'Work No. 227: The Lights Going on and off', Martin Creed, 2000.” Tate, 1 Jan. 1970, http://tate.org.uk/art/artworks/creed-work-no-227-the-lights-going-on-and-off-t13868.

Walsh, Colleen. “Young Adults Hardest Hit by Loneliness during Pandemic, Study Finds.” Harvard Gazette, Harvard Gazette, 17 Feb. 2021, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/02/young-adults-teens-loneliness-mental-health-coronavirus-covid-pandemic/.

Anahis Luna is a high school senior from Memphis, Tennessee. When she's not stressing over coursework or trying a new paint technique, you can find her obsessing over The Beatles and cookbook recipes.

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