An interview with Michael Craig-Martin
from Audio Arts Issue: Vol. 1 No. 2, 1973
Artists often use language as a substitute for physical making in order to construct works. Here Michael Craig-Martin also uses the interview strategy, ironically, for his work: ‘The Oak Tree and the glass of Water’.
William Furlong: Could you describe this work?
Michael Craig-Martin: Yes of course. What I’ve done is to change a glass of water into a full-grown oak tree without altering the accidents of the glass of water.
WF: The accidents?
MC-M: Yes, the colour, the whole weight, size. Do you mean that the glass of water is a symbol of an oak tree? No, it’s not a symbol; I’ve changed the physical substance of the glass of water into that of an oak tree.
WF: It looks like a glass of water.
MC-M: Of course it does. I didn’t change it’s appearance, but it’s not a glass of water it’s an oak tree.
WF: Can you prove what you claim to have done?
MC-M: Well, yes and no. I claim to have maintained the physical form of the glass of water and, as you can see, I have. However as one normally looks for evidence of physical change in terms of altered form, no such proof exists.
WF: Haven’t you simply called this glass of water an oak tree?
MC-M: Absolutely not, it is not a glass of water anymore; I have changed its actual substance. It would no longer be accurate to call it a glass of water. One could call it anything one wished but that would not alter the fact that it is an oak tree.
WF: Isn’t this just a case of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’?
MC-M: No, with ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ people claimed to see something which wasn’t there because they felt they should. I would be very surprised if anyone told me they saw an oak tree.
WF: Is it difficult to affect the change?
MC-M: No effort at all. But it took me years of work before I realised that I could do it.
WF: When precisely did the glass of water become an oak tree?
MC-M: When I put water in the glass.
WF: Does this happen every time you fill a glass with water?
MC-M: No of course not, only when I intend to change it into an oak tree. The intention causes the change. I would say it precipitates the change.
WF: But you don’t know how you do it?
MC-M: It contradicts what I feel I know about cause and effect.
WF: It seems to me you’re claiming to have worked a miracle, isn’t that the case?
MC-M: I’m flattered that you think so.
WF: But aren’t you the only person that can do something like this?
MC-M: How could I know?
WF: Could you teach others to do it?
MC-M: No, it’s not something one can teach.
WF: Do you consider that changing the glass of water into an oak tree constitutes an artwork?
WF: What precisely is the artwork, the glass of water?
MC-M: There is no glass of water anymore.
WF: The process of change?
MC-M: There is no process involved in the change.
WF: The oak tree?
MC-M: Yes, the oak tree.
WF: But the oak tree only exists in the mind.
MC-M: No, the actual oak tree is physically present in the form of the glass of water. As the glass of water is a particular the oak tree is also particular. To conceive the category oak tree or to picture is particular oak tree is not to understand an appearance that appears to be a glass of water as an oak tree. Just as it is unperceivable it is also inconceivable.
WF: Did the particular oak tree exist somewhere else before it took the form of the glass of water?
MC-M: No, this particular oak tree did not exist previously. I should also point out that it does not and will not ever have any other form but that of a glass of water.
WF: How long will it continue to be an oak tree?
MC-M: Until I change it.