A to Z


Michael Snow is an artist in the sense that he constantly explores preconceived ideas with his work. His structural films, mainly Wavelength and Standard Time, explore movement, space, and the idea of what constitutes a film. His latest work, Corpus Callosum, explores the manipulation of subjects within the frame.

The film A to Z explores movement, as well as the subjects within the frame. The seven-minute animation is Snowıs first piece, and is not necessarily a prime example of Snowıs characteristic work. The film, though, contains fragments of the foundation that is Michael Snow.

The piece opens with a shot of a group of inanimate objects, including a table, a chair, and some dishes (a cup, a saucer, and a vase, I believe). One would assume that the subject would either walk into the frame, or the film would cut to the real subject. Of course, the furniture starts to move, indicating that the subject of the piece may not be what the audience expects. The vase, the cup, and the saucer start to fly around and over the table. The objects move fluidly together for a few moments. This further clarifies that the audience should expect the once inanimate objects to be the focus of the piece.

The table and chair are next to move. After a brief period, the chair begins to rise into the night sky, followed by the cup. The chairs elevation halts as it reaches two rectangular pieces, which the audience assumes is a window. The chair hovers next to the window, as if waiting for something to happen. The cup moves to the front of the chairs back and moves as if hinged to the flying seat. The motion seems to imply that the chair is speaking, but since the film silent, the audience does not know if this is true.

While waiting by the window, the first flying chair is greeted by a second. This, perhaps, indicates that the motion of the cup, while attached to the chair, purposely implied the idea of communication. The second chair hovers in the air with the first. Once again, the cup moves to the first chair, creating the hinging motion. It appears as it the first chair is speaking to the second. The idea of the communicating furniture is further reinforced when the cup moves from the first chair to the second, and mimics the movement. The chairs are conversing with one another.

The next action is essential the focal point of the piece. The cup moves out of the picture, and the chairs are left to float by themselves. They begin to move towards, then rub against each other. With the chairs touching one another, it becomes clear to the audience that the furniture possesses a sense of touch. The audience realizes that these beings can not only communicate visually (and possibly verbally), but tactually as well. The rubbing becomes more intense and escalates further. The chairs physically mingle with one another, moving from position to position. Finally, the first chair moves its back into the space between the second chairıs legs. This motion indicates that the chairs are engaging in sexual intercourse.

At this point in the piece, the frame tilts back to the ground where three tables are playing leap frog. Since the motion of the table is similar to the childrenıs game, the audience assumes that tables are children. The choice to shift the attention from the fornicating, flying furniture isnıt apparently clear: Perhaps Snow felt he had already made his point. By the end of the piece, the furniture have returned to their initial positions, and all movement has come to a stop. This lack of movement may imply that dawn is approaching, and that the furniture only move at night.

This piece, though simple, explores the idea of movement, time, and subject. The movement of the inanimate objects reveals a great amount of information to the audience. First, the movement reveals the true subjects of the film. Secondly, the motion of the objects reveals certain abilities that the objects possess, including the ability to communicate (visually, tactually, and possibly verbally). The movement also contributes to the idea of time: If the audience assumes that the furniture only moves at night, then the initial motion indicates the beginning of the night, and the stop of the motion indicates the end of the night. Therefore, time is defined by motion.

Snow, in summarizing the piece, does not give much insight into the depth of the film. His description basically includes that ³two chairs [have sex].² Though this is true, and the main focal point of the work, he fails to mention the use of motion to clarify the relationship between the objects, establish time, and reveal the essential characteristics of the subjects. The piece, overall, signifies the beginning of a true artistıs career.

Michael Snow has received various awards throughout his lifetime, yet he still remembers his most important influences. In March of 2000, He was given the Governor Generalıs Award in Visual and Media Arts, one of Canadaıs most prestigious awards. He has received honorary doctorates from both Yale and Brock Universities. He has created over twenty films, various painting and writings, and contributed to music. But when asked about the most important things in his life, he tells of his mother as a fine pianist, and of his father, who went blind when Snow was fifteen. These two things have provided the inspiration for Michael Snowıs career.

Mitchell Case, 2003

Michael Snow