Sunday, January 3, 2010

Toronto Snow

Recent Snow: Projected Works by Michael Snow (Michael Snow, 2000-2009)
**** (Masterpiece)

Recent Snow: Projected Works by Michael Snow at the Power Plant art gallery in Toronto includes seven video installations by the 81-year-old internationally known multimedia artist. The cinematic works are playful experiments with sight and sound, reality and projections, and it aims to create non-programmed activities within the cinematographic frame through playful and enthralling means. The order of the projections of the works created in the last decade are Piano Sculpture (2009), The Corner of Braque and Picasso Streets (2009), Condensation: A Cove Story (2008), Serve, Deserve (2009), That/Cela/Dat (2000), Solar Breath (Northen Caryatids) (2002), and on the second floor of the gallery SSHTOORRTY (2005).

What is so special about the work on display is the richness of each individual installation and its creeping ability to reveal itself. At a first glance a work might appear cryptic (e.g., what am I even looking at? Why is this image so bland?), but slowly the wealth of the images of non-programmed activities seeps through. Similar to Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967), or to use a contemporary example Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), there is an abundance of activity going on in each filmic frame and for Mr. Snow it is prolonged for an extended period of time, emphasizing the necessity of the viewers engagement and attuned observation.

Piano Sculpture is a video and sound installation where on each of the four walls of the room there is footage of Michael Snow's hands playing an open piano and on top of the piano strings lays a speaker. The images have slight differences and the loudness of each speaker changes. Looking at any one image would align your ears to opposite side speakers, and through consecutively turning to see what you hear, the spin and liveliness of the music provides a vertiginous feeling. This improvisational piano concerto could be heard throughout the other exhibits.

The Corner of Braque and Picasso Streets projects a live video feed of Queens Quay West on the gallery wall distorted by rectangular plinths. The camera is placed outside on the Harbour Front Centre parking booth.

Condensation: A Cove Story is a 10-minute projection of a scene from the Canadian Maritines, a Newfounland cove. It resembles the landscape work of the Group of Seven where in the photograph there is a field, trees, mountains, cliffs, the Atlantic ocean, waves crashing against rocks, and a small beach. Through time-lapse photography the installations captures variations of the weather throughout a day, creating variations in the photographic space. The condensation includes fog, mist, rainstorms and clouds. As well the lack of condensation reveals sunlight and the shadows of racing clouds. The distorted condensation of space in the photograph, and the reduction of real-time creates a mythic quality to the surroundings.

Serve, Deserve, a.k.a. Waiter! is the projection on a table against a wall of a white table cloth with plates, cups and eating utensils. Tossed water, salad, wine, noodles, and tomato sauce dirties the table profile before rewinding. In The Globe and Mail Sarah Milroy writes “The piece offers a metaphor for the structure of cinema, Snow says, where the image is carried from its source in the projector to the screen on a beam of light. “The image is always on its way," he says, just like food on its journey from kitchen to table.”.

That/Cela/Dat is a triptych of video-projections of text and color in English, French and Dutch, addressing the audience through flashes of words, one at a time. It is interlaced with Mr. Snow’s wit, wisecracks, and meditations.

Solar Breath (Northen Caryatids) is footage of two windows. One of them swung open and its thin white curtain blows forward by the wind - revealing the covered day-lit backyard - then crashes against what first appears to be an invisible wall. This creates a supernatural quality to the work, though actually there is a fine mesh screen. The focus anew is the non-programmed pose of the curtain on the surface, with subtle differences between each landing.

The only narrative in the exhibit SSHTOORRTY is distinct as the second half of the story is superimposed on the first half. The title is a combination of two words: story and short. The 2-minute films is about an artist trying to sell one of his paintings to a woman, and after her husbands suspects the infidelity of his wife with the painter, the patron stops the sale. A confrontation ensues. The cinematography is eye-popping and it is a lot of fun to watch.-David Davidson

(The Power Plant, Harbour Front Centre, 231 Queens Quay West, Toronto, ON)

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