'All the Bells' to ring out start of London Olympics

Posted at 07/07/12 5:22 PM

Church bells, bicycle bells, handbells, ship's bells, and even mobile phones will ring across Britain in a "cacophonous, amazing sound" to mark the start of the Olympics, Scottish artist Martin Creed told AFP.

The 43-year-old Turner Prize winner was commissioned to create his "Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes" as part of the government's Cultural Olympiad, encouraging people to take in some culture along with the London 2012 Games.

And in the case of "All the Bells", said Creed, everyone can even take part. All people need to do is ring any kind of bell for three minutes starting at 8:12am (0712 GMT) on July 27, exactly 12 hours before the start of the opening ceremony pre-show.

If the mobile phone is their chosen instrument, they can download a special ringtone from the project website, where participants can upload recordings of their bell-ringing afterwards.

For Creed, speaking at his cluttered east London studio, the project is part of a mission to take art out of the gallery into the public sphere.

"Art galleries are... a special place that's separate from the world and it makes me a bit uneasy, because I think that to a certain extent anything can look good in a gallery," the British artist said.

"They're beautiful spaces; very protected and cosseted. If my work has to be protected by an art gallery I think that's not good enough. It's like a child that can't make its way in the world.

"If it's any good, my work, it'll be able to survive in a hostile environment."

His "All the Bells" project has encountered some hostility from the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, a group that maintains the very English art of "change ringing" according to set formulas.

They argued that ringing church bells "as quickly and as loudly as possible" was unsuited to their medium and even dangerous. Creed labelled them "a bunch of meanies".

But they now support the project -- after being advised the instructions are flexible.

"All the Bells" echoes a long British tradition, says Creed, with bells rung out to celebrate historic events like Queen Elizabeth II's 1953 coronation and the end of World War II in 1945.

The Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary will join in, ringing ship's bells and those at shore bases.

Other participants signed up on the website include Lilly, a Welsh schoolgirl with her grandmother's handbell, and a pair of dogs who will apparently ring their collar bells on time.

Creed carried out a trial run in San Gimignano in Italy, which he said was "brilliant", but has concerns about how far sound will carry in the Britain-wide event.

However, the BBC will be broadcasting "All the Bells" live from many locations -- helping ringers feel they are part of something big.

Creed was also one of a group of artists commissioned to create posters for the Olympics, producing a painted podium-like shape in vivid colours.

Creed has previously created a work in which a sprinter ran up and down part of London's Tate Gallery, and he says he relates closely to athletes.

"Everything I do involves moving my body, so to work best, I need to move well," the Scot said.

"What's beautiful about sport is the movement of the body is honed down to one very narrow area."

He is enthused by the Olympics as a public event, with his only complaint that "they haven't given me any tickets".

But "All the Bells", he said, marks an artistic direction from which there is no going back.

"I think that all my work should be public work," he said.

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