Martin Creed puts bells on Olympic proceedings

The Turner Prize-winner’s new project involves the residents of Lady Somerset Road

Head down to the junction of Burghley Road and Lady Somerset Road on the opening morning of the Olympics and you’ll find a group of locals bell-ringing for Britain.

Rest assured, they haven’t gone mad, but are taking part in a piece of modern art.

Turner Prize winner Martin Creed’s Work No. 1197: All The Bells In A Country Rung As Quickly And As Loudly As Possible For Three Minutes has been commissioned by the official London 2012 Festival.

Thousands of people up and down the country have registered to perform at 8.12am on July 27, including in a cluster of streets in Kentish Town.

“It’s by people and for people,” says Creed. “On the morning of the opening of the Games, it’s a massive signal that something is happening.”

Sandy Nairne will take time out as director of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) to join in alongside neighbours actor Roger Lloyd Pack and food critic Giles Coren.

Most Read

“We have a good network in these streets through organising an annual street party and a lot of us were fascinated by Martin’s work and agreed to respond to his call,” adds Nairne.

“Anyone can turn up with any bell, so come and join us. We don’t know what people will turn up with – hand bells, bicycle bells or antique bells.”

Nairne says the event is democratic in encouraging both “serious bell-ringers and rank amateurs” to take part.

“When I first heard what Martin proposed, I thought it was terrific that, alongside all the extraordinary feats of skill happening in the Games, he had invented something that could be done by the whole country at once. Anyone can take part, it’s easy to do and you can have fun doing it.

“It has a resonance that is simple but delightful – many countries use bells as part of their celebrations – it’s noisy, like a kind of chorus of cheering at the beginning of the Olympic Games.”

As a former international youth oarsman, Nairne is excited to have secured tickets to the rowing at Eton Dorney, but will otherwise be watching the Games on television.

Alongside other arts venues across London, the NPG is taking part in the cultural Olympiad.

“We have commissioned lots of wonderful new photos of top athletes, trainers and those involved in planning the Olympics for an exhibition called The Route To 2012, and earlier in the year we had the Lucien Freud exhibition. “It’s fantastically important for those of us in the cultural sector that the Olympics ought to be a festival of culture as well as of sport. Back when London was beginning to make its bid, key people started talking about how we could really make London’s case feel different and I think we are going to pull off something pretty fantastic - from the Shakespeare festival to the river of music.”

Original vision

Nairne says the original vision of the modern Games – founded by Pierre de Coubertin – was to strive for the highest attainment of both mind and body.

“Medals were handed out for poetry, music and performance as well as sport and, though that hasn’t happened since 1948, the idea of a cultural festival is really sticking to the original vision of the Olympics.”

Nairne believes the legacy of the 2012 Games will be a transformed swathe of the Lee Valley and a celebration “reinforcing what a cosmopolitan place London has become”.

He said: “That’s a terrific thing to celebrate – a country and a city of many countries. We will welcome the world here.”

n Further details at