Michael Snow, Canadian artist on his own ‘Wavewave’, dies at 94

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Michael Snow, a painter, sculptor, photographer, musician and filmmaker best known for his 1967 film “Wavelength,” an avant-garde landmark featuring a deceptively simple slow motion across an attic, has died in New York City, on January 5 at one time. hospital in Toronto. He was 94.

In an obituary published by the Toronto Globe and Mail, his family said Mr. Snow died “after a brief respiratory illness.”

Mr. Snow produced art that was both playful and cerebral, exploring the properties of light and color while often featuring serious titles and clever, absurdist humor. He was widely regarded as one of Canada’s best artists, famous for public installations such as “Flight Stop” (1979) – a flock of 60 fiberglass geese, all modeled after the same bird, the hung at the Eaton Center in Toronto – and for films he influenced directors as varied as Atom Egoyan, Peter Greenaway and Wim Wenders.

His films were more likely to be shown in museums than multiplexes, and left some viewers angry and saddened, wondering if Mr. Snow was passing through the world of -art with pieces that had no story and seemed to drag on for hours. To his fans, however, he was one of cinema’s leading avant-garde artists and a leader of the “structuralist” movement of the 1960s which also included filmmakers Tony Conrad , Hollis Frampton and Paul Sharits.

While earlier experimental filmmakers used techniques such as fast cutting and collage to flood the screen with images and ideas, the work of Mr. Snow and his fellow structuralists was more pared down, mirroring the rise minimalism in the work of artists such as Donald Judd. and Robert Ryman. His films were very formal, often consisting of static shots or continuous camera movements, as in “Wavelength,” in which the structure of the film was as much a content as anything else.

Filmed over one week, “Wavelength” is set in a Lower Manhattan apartment, where the camera begins by looking over a mostly empty loft. Over the course of 45 minutes, it moves into a close-up of the opposite wall, revealing a picture of the sea that fills the screen. Along the way, several other things also happen: movers break into a cabinet, two friends listen to the Beatles, an unknown man falls to the floor, and a woman in a fur coat making a phone call. “Could you come over at once,” she said, “I think there has been a murder.” Electronic noise also rises in pitch for much of the film, while the color changes imperceptibly before fading to white.

Reviewing the film for Artforum, painter and film critic Manny Farber described “Wavelength” as “45 intense, intense minutes that could be the ‘Birth of a Nation’ in underground films.” It was, he said, “probably the toughest film ever made.”

Originally screened for a small gathering organized by critic and filmmaker Jonas Mekas, “Wavelength” gained more fans after winning the grand prize at the 1968 International Experimental Film Competition in Belgium. In 2001, it was ranked No. 85 in the Village Voice critics’ poll of the best films of the 20th century.

Film critic David Sterritt, a scholar of avant-garde cinema, called Mr. Snow’s “Wavelength” “an enduring masterpiece.” In a telephone interview, he noted that while the film resisted easy interpretation, it seemed to have a strong “spiritual dimension”: “It’s about this idea of ​​transcendence on. The most dramatic thing that can happen in human life is happening – the death of a person. But the camera continues on its way, on the designated path, following its destiny without stopping, even though this monumental event has happened.”

Mr. Snow further experimented in films like “<--->,” also known as “Back and Forth” (1969), in which he constantly panned over the exterior and then the interior of a building, bringing viewers inside your college classroom as figures sometimes come to light. For “La Région Centrale” (1971), he used a mechanical camera with pre-recorded movements to make a three-hour ode to the remote mountains of northern Quebec.

“I make up the rules of a game, and then I try to play,” he once said, describing his artistic process. “If I seem to lose, I I’m changing the rules.”

Some of his works were more liberal, such as a four-hour film in 1974 that the Harvard Film Archive described as “a remake of a Jacques Tati film written by Ludwig Wittgenstein”. Its full title: “Rameau’s Nephew by Diderot (Thanks to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen.” In 2002, he directed “Corpus Callosum”, a surreal, partially animated film named for a region of the brain that connects two halves -the sphere of the brain.

Mr. Snow said he chose the title because the film explores and represents the “in-between,” including the space between illusion and reality. It was an idea that he had enjoyed for decades, as he made musical films, sculptural photo installations and painterly sculptures that lived in different art. , crossing different media. His own artistic identity, he said, was that of someone who was constantly moving between art forms.

“I am not a professional,” he wrote in a 1967 catalog essay for a group show in Saskatchewan. “My pictures are made by a filmmaker, sculptures by a musician, films by a painter, music by a filmmaker, paintings by a sculptor, sculptor by a filmmaker, films by a musician, music by a sculptor. .. sometimes they all work together. “

Michael James Aleck Snow was born in Toronto on December 10, 1928. He became interested in art as a boy, when the work of Pablo Picasso was introduced by a Life magazine article, and he studied painting and sculpture at Ontario College of the Arts, now known as OCAD University.

Later Mr Snow worked for an advertising agency, toured Europe and played in jazz bands, playing piano and trumpet at night and painting by day. He became involved in filmmaking in the mid-1950s, after director George Dunning, who later made the Beatles animated film “Yellow Submarine” saw some of his footage and invited Mr Snow to join. to his production company in Toronto.

While working at the company he met the artist Joyce Wieland, whom he married in 1956. They moved to Lower Manhattan in the early 1960s, making their home in converted business premises and mixing with a group of New York artists that included the sculptor Richard Serra, a film maker. Shirley Clarke and composer Steve Reich.

Before that, Mr. Snow focused on his “Walking Woman” series, a multimedia project that included the silhouette of a female figure. He also dabbled in photography: In 1969, he made a photo installation called “Authorization,” for which he took Polaroids of himself standing in front of a framed mirror, then passed each image in the corner of the mirror as it continued to burn. . Eventually the pictures hid his own reflection.

“Mr. Snow’s approach to photography is both subjective and physical, a rare combination,” wrote art critic Karen Rosenberg, reviewing a 2014 study of his work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “For every work that must be drawn out in the brain or eye or both, like the light grid of ‘Glares,’ there is one that must act.” His 1970 installation “Crouch, Leap, Land,” for example, asks visitors to squat down to see three pictures of a naked woman jumping.

Mr. Snow returned to Toronto in 1971, and he and Wieland divorced by the end of the decade. He later married Peggy Gale, a writer and curator. She is survived by their son, Alasdair Snow, and a sister.

Mr. Snow was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 1981, and was promoted to companion in 2007. He found the distinction helped keep viewers on their seats, he told Brooklyn magazine. Rail last year, “Now that I’m ‘branded,’ audiences tend to be respectful through even my longest films, unlike in the old days when some people lost patience with after only a few minutes and gone suddenly, sometimes with a noise. “

However, he found himself adjusting to an age with shorter attention spans. Returning to “Wavelength” in 2003, he released a remastered version that lasted only 15 minutes, instead of 45. Appropriately, he titled the piece, “WVLNT (Wavelength wave for those who don’t have the time).

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