Catalogue entry

Michael Craig-Martin b.1941

T01764 Conviction 1973

Inscribed as given below.
Mirrors, plastic tape and ink, 21 x 162 (53·5 x 412).
Purchased from the Rowan Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1973.
Exh: Rowan Gallery, June-July 1973.
Lit: Richard Cork, ‘The Confessional Game Made Easy’ in Evening Standard, 21 June 1973.

T01764 was exhibited in 1973 as ‘?’, but very shortly afterwards the artist changed the title to ‘Conviction’.

Each time this work is removed from display, most of the elements in it are destroyed. It is reassembled afresh each time, to the artist’s precise specifications.

On a plain, smooth, white, oft-white or pale gray wall surface, eight rectangles measuring 21x 15 in. are executed in 1/64 ( in. matt black plastic adhesive tape. The rectangles are disposed in a horizontal row with a gap of 6 in. between any two adjacent rectangles. The top edge of each rectangle should be 70¾ in. above the floor. Within each rectangle, a piece of mirror glass measuring 7x2 x 3/32 in. is attached to the wall, in an upright position, by mirror adhesive tabs (the mirrors can thus be re-used each time the work is re-installed). Within its rectangle, each mirror is laterally centred, but its top edge is 3½ in. from the top of the rectangle (this last (height) dimension can be slightly adjusted if thought necessary). 2 in. below each mirror, centred as correctly as possible, a statement is written, in normal hand-writing (not block capitals), normal size, clearly but casually, in black ink, again direct on to the wall surface. There is one statement per mirror. Reading from left to right, the eight statements are:

I recognise myself
I know who I am
I understand why I am as I am
I accept myself

In reply to questions from the Tate Gallery, the artist wrote the following statement dated 16 May 1974:

‘“Conviction” is one of several related works of 1973. These works all took the same basic form: small vertical rectangles of mirror attached to the wall framed by thin linear rectangles of black adhesive tape. Under each mirror is a hand-written statement in the first person singular. Each piece consists of a series of these units. The number of units varies from piece to piece. The statements are different in each piece. All the pieces are intended to be read from left to right.

‘These works emerged from an alteration from the concerns of the preceding works with mirrors. In this earlier phase, I had attempted to deal with questions of physical confrontation, either of object, place, self, or others. All were intended to elicit psychological consideration of the physically experienced situation. I decided to try to deal more directly with the question of psychological confrontation of the viewer with himself.

‘To this end I set out to minimise the mechanics of the mirrors as much as possible. I had found that any complexity in how something was done drew attention away from what was done. I decided to use mirrors in the most familiar commonplace manner flat against the wall and reflecting the face of the viewer. I used small vertical rectangles of mirror so they would be completely filled by the face of anyone confronting them head-on. The black linear rectangles framing the mirrors were intended to help hold the mirror images on the surface of the wall. I did not want the mirrors to act architecturally or as ‘holes’ in the wall. I wanted them to be like photographs of each participating viewer.

‘The relation between the mirrors and the statements is intended to be ironic. One reads the statement, reacts as one feels it affects one, and looks at oneself in the mirror. For evidence? For confirmation? For denial? For an answer? It tells everything and nothing. In each succeeding mirror the face is always the same and always different. The mirrors externalise, the statements internalise.’

‘In “Conviction” the question marks deliberately act ambiguously, on the one hand qualifying the certainty of the preceding statement and on the other suggesting the possibility of another statement in place of the question mark. “Conviction” is the only piece where question marks appear alone.’

‘Whereas the statements direct or at least suggest areas of thought, the question marks permit the viewer to ‘respond’, to initiate his own thoughts that are absorbed into the structure of the piece.’

‘The statements are highly generalised to allow maximum scope for identification. They are intended to establish an area of self-consideration. The statements themselves develop in implied complexity. They go from recognition, to understanding, to knowledge, to acceptance.’

‘“Conviction” is intended to fuse (in the spectator’s experience) privacy (only he/she can see and think what he/she sees and thinks) with embarrassment springing from the exposed public setting of this private revelation. The piece is related to the confessional in the Church in that there, although the confession is private and anonymous, one is seen to be confessing.’

‘The title of the piece was changed from “?” to “Conviction” for two reasons. First, to emphasise the irony that although the statements express absolute certainty the whole piece elicits doubt. Secondly, the word “Conviction” also implies that a person making such statements (even to himself) convicts himself of arrogance or deceit or delusion.’

‘There are no studies, drawings or other versions of the piece.’ In conversation with the compiler, the artist added that T01764 was not the first piece to be completed in this group of his works, but it was the most generalised and abstract of the group, the statements being less specific. Yet paradoxically the question marks, because so unspecific as to a meaning, enabled each viewer, within his or her experience of the work, to be absolutely specific, in ways arrived at individually.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.