Tuesday, January 27, 2009


This is the thing, the thing that sits in the corner of a room with a door I locked long ago, the thing that spits and smiles. That thing

Sunday, January 18, 2009

an oak tree: the text

Michael Craig-Martin. An oak tree, 1973.

In a room at Tate Modern there is a three-quarter full glass of water on a high shelf. It is a work by Michael Craig-Martin called An oak tree. Beside it there is the following text:

Q: To begin with, could you describe this work?
A: Yes, of course. What I've done is change a glass of water into a full-grown oak tree without altering the accidents of the glass of water.
Q: The accidents?
A: Yes. The colour, feel, weight, size ...
Q: Do you mean that the glass of water is a symbol of an oak tree?
A: No. It's not a symbol. I've changed the physical substance of the glass of water into that of an oak tree.
Q: It looks like a glass of water.
A: Of course it does. I didn't change its appearance. But it's not a glass of water, it's an oak tree.
Q: Can you prove what you've claimed to have done?
A: 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.
Q: Haven't you simply called this glass of water an oak tree?
A: 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.
Q: Isn't this just a case of the emperor's new clothes?
A: No. With the emperor's new clothes people claimed to see something that wasn't there because they felt they should. I would be very surprised if anyone told me they saw an oak tree.
Q: Was it difficult to effect the change?
A: No effort at all. But it took me years of work before I realised I could do it.
Q: When precisely did the glass of water become an oak tree?
A: When I put the water in the glass.
Q: Does this happen every time you fill a glass with water?
A: No, of course not. Only when I intend to change it into an oak tree.
Q: Then intention causes the change?
A: I would say it precipitates the change.
Q: You don't know how you do it?
A: It contradicts what I feel I know about cause and effect.
Q: It seems to me that you are claiming to have worked a miracle. Isn't that the case?
A: I'm flattered that you think so.
Q: But aren't you the only person who can do something like this?
A: How could I know?
Q: Could you teach others to do it?
A: No, it's not something one can teach.
Q: Do you consider that changing the glass of water into an oak tree constitutes an art work?
A: Yes.
Q: What precisely is the art work? The glass of water?
A: There is no glass of water anymore.
Q: The process of change?
A: There is no process involved in the change.
Q: The oak tree?
A: Yes. The oak tree.
Q: But the oak tree only exists in the mind.
A: No. The actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water. As the glass of water was a particular glass of water, the oak tree is also a particular oak tree. To conceive the category 'oak tree' or to picture a particular oak tree is not to understand and experience what appears to be a glass of water as an oak tree. Just as it is imperceivable it also inconceivable.
Q: Did the particular oak tree exist somewhere else before it took the form of a glass of water?
A: 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 than that of a glass of water.
Q: How long will it continue to be an oak tree?
A: Until I change it.

As I understand it, this text is not in itself the work of art, so I am at liberty to reproduce it here.

Ian Grant, Cambridge 8/7/2002

Reg said

Most people think of the mind as being an intangible halo around their head, from which they call facts from the hot sponge in their skull. Like the brain is a bunch of liquid and dirty meat that keeps track, but the mind is this pristine glow that sees the track. But a recent theory is that the mind is Extended into legs and arms and maybe notes you write on the fridge, thinking's done within a yard. Your mind is in your fingers when you touch, in your local motion when you walk, there when you sniff. Which is why scent evokes memory. As Reg once said, if your mind is in your head, why do you see everything outside, and not contemplate scenes inside?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Meeting a hermit

Back in the early eighties, when I was variously unemployed (an unemployed labourer, railway trackman, kitchen porter, painter) I met a man called Reg. He was an artist. He lived in Somerby, Rutland and refused electricity or gas, preferring instead to light his house with Gales honey jars filled with paraffin with a wick poked through the lid.

He was a mystic and a hippy, which in eighties East Midlands bitter bleakosity was unwelcomed by most (remember that the Vale of Catmose is in the lee of Lincolnshire, flat panned reclaimed fens where the wind is directly funnelled from the Urals).

He was a fellow of the Royal Academy, and once drank an oak tree off a high shelf with Craig Martin.

His paintings were abstract, and fairly fucked philosophically by his insistence on parallels with eastern mysticism and overdosing on cough medicine. Had he referenced Lacan, structuralism and maybe the decentred self he could have been successful. As he claimed his inspiration came from Kundalini, Gurdjieff and kif, he was deeply unfashionable.

But still he had a kind of scrawny integrity. He was a mountaineer, a painter and spliffster; a Barnsley ugly man with a feeling for colour, but no taste for the wank of art criticism.

I think he had a daughter, who lived in an inaccessible valley in Wales; inaccessible to him at least, as they were estranged.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Turing remembered

On mobile marketing

Pith and vinegar. When I was forcibly retired from bombe development in 1946, I had an idea to introduce massive steam-driven mobile telegraphs (in a car that followed you on a leash) to the British public. But sadly I was killed by being forced to take a bite from a cyanide apple by MI5, because I bowled from the pavilion. So, dead, I could not patent my idea for touch-sensitive women.

On apple

When we were at Bletchley at the dribbling end of the war, when we had broke the code of the evil empire (and sacrificed Coventry so they wouldn't catch on) we had this same thing going on. Turing fucked off one weekend when SOE came in and shot all the pinkoes and pufters. Mind, they got him later. As your logo attests.


Back in Bletchely in the dying embers of the world at war at two (more on that later) we didn't have the spy eye in the sky so there was no GPS. Instead we installed a thermostat in a horse. If it got close to the direction it would get warmer, warmer, hot. If it veered away it would get cool, cold, colder, icicles. Got us to Droitwich one summer, and back again. (Turing drove)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Thinking of going to Preston Psychic Dance Hall

Unless the conspiracy theory kicks in

Dull mambies are gruta and folbinating, I am frown with that. It makes the gap between my eyebrows crume and falter.