Over the course of his storied career, Michael Snow has developed a prolific body of work. The print-making and painting he began with in the 1950s and 60s gave way to his experiments with photography, film, video, and installation-based projects over the past four decades. One may be tempted to call The Viewing of Six New Works (2012) a “return to painting” for Snow in the only way he may be inclined to do so now—through the dissemination of light and colour emanating from the console of a state-of-the-art video projector. The six-channel installation is comprised of brightly luminescent shapes that jut and move haphazardly on the gallery walls, always one short step ahead of the viewer’s gaze. Just as one’s perception fixes on a large blue rectangle in what seems to be a reference to monochromatic painting, the shape darts off, flirting with visitors to follow its new path. Time spent in the gallery chasing Day-Glo colour reveals a peculiar feel to The Viewing of Six New Works: the “viewing” in the title is not simply about that of the viewer but rather an intimate encounter with the viewing experience of the artist. “The Viewing of Six New Works is a light projection composition derived from the head and eye movements a person might make while looking at a rectangular object on the wall,” Snow describes.1 He poetically calls his endeavour “The art of looking at art.”
In attempting to record the “movements of perception, not perception itself,” Snow was challenged by how to capture and portray the eye’s quirky and fleeting impulses in an integral and realistic manner. Reckoning that standard animation processes would not be enough to accurately enliven the subtleties of looking, the Torontonian turned to software designer Greg Hermanovic, with whom he had previously collaborated on special effects for his video *Corpus Callosum (2002). According to an anecdotal report by writer Isabelle Rousset about Snow and Hermanovic’s initial meeting in the lab to discuss the project, “Greg showed Michael some of the work recently produced with TouchDesigner. One of these being an experimental application of Greg’s made to test a new touchscreen that allowed up to 40 points of contact. It consisted of puffy clouds a person would create with their fingertips and then release to watch float away.”2 Technically speaking, Hermanovic’s application recorded Snow’s two-finger movements of a rectangle on a 23” touchscreen. Each of Snow’s six pieces were captured as individual motions, represented as rectangles of particular sizes and colours, and rendered as 60-frame-per-second high-definition MP4 videos.3
As with the bulk of Michael Snow’s ground-breaking oeuvre to date, the mechanics of media give way to aesthetic pleasure in The Viewing of Six New Works. This innovative and engaging production carries forward the Canadian artist’s long-standing investigation into how the means of art-making represent, shape, and frame experiences of space and time.
Jonathan Shaughnessy Associate Curator, Contemporary Art National Gallery of Canada
Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.
1 All quotes from the artist are from: Michael Snow, “Artist Statement for The Viewing of Six New Works,” in Builders: Canadian Biennial 2012, ed. Jonathan Shaughnessy (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2012), 160.
2 Isabelle Rousset, “Working on Movements of Perception with Michael Snow,” Derivate, January 12, 2012, http://www.derivative.ca/events/2012/Snow/.