Michael Snow: Tracking the Movement of Perception



Michael Snow, The Viewing of Six New Works (2012), NGC

He is a painter, sculptor, musician and filmmaker and, at 84 years old, Canadian artist Michael Snow is still surprising the art world. Sometimes he’s still surprising himself.

In a way, I wasn’t sure what I was setting out to achieve,” Snow says about his most recent installation, The Viewing of Six New Works, on at Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art until 2 June. “But something has been achieved that I think is very good.”

It is a classic understatement from this internationally renowned artist, whose most recent innovation uses cutting-edge technology to create a bit of a mind-bender.

The Viewing of Six New Works is a series of high-definition videos created with touchscreen-capture software that tracked and recorded Snow’s eye movements as he pretended to look at images on a wall.

Michael Snow, The Viewing of Six New Works (2012), NGC

“It’s based on an individual appraisal of something that in fact is not there,” he explains. “What is there is the trace of the perception. You see very pure colour projections, and each one changes in different ways. They appear and disappear, and this is based on a recording of the way one might look at a painting or photograph, or any kind of image hanging on a wall.” 

Each of the six works in the installation has its own unique “pathway of perception.”

“For example, one of the subjects is a square,” Snow says. “Looking at it, you go around the outside, the way one might first view something. Then you might look along the left side, along the top, then along the right. Then you might criss-cross it for details.”

“Michael Snow is endlessly inventive,” says MOCCA artistic director and curator David Liss, who co-curated this installation with the National Gallery of Canada. “What is photography but light and form? Michael’s work is light and form. We all look at artwork differently, although there are theories about how we engage with images. These forms shift and change on the wall, tracking his eye movements as he is viewing the Six New Works; but these are the Six New Works. To me, this is just pure Michael Snow. Aside from the conceptual and physical brilliance of it all, it is also just a beautiful room.”

Liss says this exhibition is “very much about painting and photography. Somebody at the opening said they see this as Michael’s return to painting. That’s an interesting thing to wrap your head around when you are seeing video work.”

Michael Snow isn’t so sure. Or if he is, he’s not saying.

“I’m always interested in making and seeing something new, so I like to think that I’m adding to what I’ve previously done. Right now I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.”


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