(repost Jan 2023) Michael Snow's "The Viewing of Six New Works" (2012) is a light projection composition derived from the essentialized movements of eyes and head that a possible person might make in looking at a rectangular object on the wall like a painting or photograph. Each hypothetical wall rectangle is perceived differently. This is shown by the different "personal" gestures involved in the revealing of the rectangle. When attention is not being paid to it the object/rectangle is not there.
"The work is an attempt to present only the movements of perception, not perception itself. The art of looking." - Michael Snow
[ update: The Viewing of Six New Works will be re-presented at Jack Shaiman Gallery NYC in 2023 ]
Canadian filmmaker-artist Michael Snow came to the Derivative studio a few months ago to see Greg Hermanovic about a way to realise a piece he had in mind for an upcoming solo show in New York.
The thrill of working with Michael Snow will be self-evident to those already familiar with the artist and his highly influential body of work which spans more than five decades.
Many artists have attributed Snow's work to having changed the course of their lives and the art they've gone on to make as Mark Fell the multi-disciplinary artist who is also one half of SND tells us here. "I first saw Michael Snow's film Wavelength at college when I was studying experimental film and video and was immediately mesmerized by this work. In particular I was drawn to its organization of time, the relationship this had to technology and process, and the uncompromising structural linearity of the film. However the principal appeal of this work was its central obscurity whereby nothing was totally clear, like a puzzle that was deliberately impossible to resolve. These influences would emerge several years later in the music and sound pieces I made."
Snow's work has generally been received as groundbreaking, or, as breaking into future grounds is perhaps even more to the point. There's also a pronounced sense of play and testing in the way the artist relates what he's thinking about. The following quote possibly most succinctly describes what I'm getting at:
In his 2002 review of *Corpus Callosum, J. Hoberman writes for Village Voice : “Rigorously predicated on irreducible cinematic facts, Snow's structuralist epics—Wavelength and La Région Centrale—announced the imminent passing of the film era. Rich with new possibilities, *Corpus Callosum heralds the advent of the next. Whatever it is, it cannot be too highly praised.”
Greg Hermanovic's prior experience working with Snow was in producing the 74 special effects for *Corpus Callosum using PRISMS from Side Effects Software, of which Greg is a co-founder. PRISMS led to the development of Houdini, subsequently evolving into TouchDesigner at Derivative.
Michael arrived at the studio with a folder of well-defined specs -- drawings of dimensioned rectangles, 6 of them, all differently proportioned to represent 6 new works. He described that he was looking for a way to animate these to represent the way we look at art. Essentially, each 'piece' wasn't the actual work of art but the way a viewer might look looking at that work. How do we look when we look at art and how to represent that?
Michael continued that for this to work it couldn't be key-framed animation as that would look fake. He took one of the cutout rectangles and slid it around its frame to demonstrate how the more authentic approach would be to perform this movement.
Having seen Michael play music on dozens of occasions Greg knew Michael to be a fantastic pianist and a mischevious player of the Octave CAT synthesizer, so the idea of Michael performing the motion of the rectangle was quite natural versus other methods such as keyframing or stop-frame motion.
We talked for a little while about possible ways of performing such a thing and then 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 for 20+ points of contact. It consisted of puffy clouds a person would create with their fingertips and then release to watch float away. The application amused Michael who got the hang of it very quickly.
Two days later Michael called and said, "Sure, let's try that touchscreen method out." and two days after that, Greg built an application in TouchDesigner called the V6 (Viewing of 6 New Works).
The V6 application uses a 23" touchscreen to record Michael's 2-finger movements as he moved a rectangle on the touch screen. It captured Michael's motions for each of the 6 "pieces" which were then rendered and output as colored, cropped and sized rectangles to 60 frame-per-second HD MP4 movies.
A 6-in-1 composite of the pieces was made so we could see all 6 acting together on one projector, but it wasn't until the Jack Shainman gallery that we saw it all together at scale with the added delightful effect of reflected colored light echoing off other surfaces.
Split screen making-of and gallery walkaround composite version below.
"The Viewing of Six New Works is a new seven-part projection which draws on Snow's oeuvre to examine the nature of perception and the physical relationship of the artwork to the viewer. The light projections simulate the varying ways a person might look at a rectangular wall-mounted artwork by digitally mimicking and essentializing the movement of the eyes. The gestures of viewing are revealed as the shifting focus of the spectator's gaze becomes fleetingly tangible and physically manifested through the piece. "The work is an attempt to present only the movements of perception, not perception itself," explains Snow, "the art of looking at art."" Jack Shaiman Gallery, Program Notes. The show at the Jack Shaiman Gallery in Chelsea was enthusiastically-received and the opening well-attended by long-time friends of Michael and New York's art elite. As Linda Yablonsky writes for ArtForum: "Nothing was polluted at Jack Shainman Gallery, where the structuralist Canadian filmmaker-artist Michael Snow was welcoming friends like Ken Jacobs, MoMA curator Barbara London, Performa director RoseLee Goldberg, the New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni, and select others to a private preview of his first New York show in seven years.
The main event was a new, and deeply beautiful, seven-channel projection that mirrors the movement of the eye as it studies an artwork—art seeing art... As curator Christopher Eamon noted, some old film purists have discovered digital technology and they’re running it to the outer limits of perception."
"Greg was he technical consultant on my 90 minute digital 'film' *Corpus Callosum completed in 2000. he also appears in it. He's great to work with, he's able to make daunting scientific issues seem understandable.
When I was thinking about making The Viewing of Six New Works I thought to ask him if certain things could be done. He answered by proposing a "hands-on" method that was completely appropriate to my intentions in conceiving of the work."
- Michael Snow