One of Canada’s most renowned contemporary artists, Michael Snow is also one of its most prolific. Although perhaps best known as a film, video, and photographic artist—particularly for Wavelength (1967) and La Région Centrale (1971)—he is accomplished in diverse media, including music (performance and composition), painting, drawing, and sculpture. Always inquiring, always exploring new forms, Snow has also produced a number of book works, sound installations, and holographic exhibits. His work resides in public and private collections worldwide, and has been exhibited in innumerable international exhibitions and retrospectives.
Newfoundlandings features four of Snow’s recent video installations, all of which have been created in the new millennium. Each work was produced on Newfoundland’s west coast, where Snow and his partner spend their summers among its cliffs, fields, and coves. Taken together, these works are unified by the omnipresence of the wind, and they illustrate a number of Snow’s enduring preoccupations—sound, duration, and wordplay, as well as the nature of the frame, the camera, and the photographic act itself.
In Solar Breath (Northern Caryatids) (2002), a static camera frames an open window before which a handmade curtain billows and puckers with the rise and fall of the wind. This sensuous and eloquent image is accompanied by the sound of the curtain’s rhythmic “thwapping,” and in the background, the intermittent sounds of domestic activity percolate. Condensation (A Cove Story) (2008) offers a view of a cove surrounded by steep cliffs, wooded hills, and field grasses. By means of time-lapse photography, the static camera records and temporally compresses shifting weather patterns and their concomitant effects on the landscape’s colours, visibility, and patches of light and shadow. Projected on the floor, In the Way (2011), in which a rocky, muddy road gradually gives way to wild grasses and flowers, not only presents images of the earth produced by a camera moving in various ways at varying speeds, but also invites the viewer to inhabit the image itself—to be, literally, “in the way.” In Sheeploop (2000), a small flock of sheep, grazing in a field that overlooks the sea, wander into a static frame and, circling back, out of it. Here, both content and structure form a “loop.”
In 2017, the year that marks the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, Newfoundland, which did not join confederation until 1949 and whose membership therein remains contested by some, occupies an exceptional position. Its historical pattern of settlement and abandonment—from the Beothuk to the Vikings, to various European explorers, to its current inhabitants of primarily Irish and Scottish descent—speaks of a lengthy history of “landings.” Snow himself, born and raised in a Canada that did not yet include Newfoundland, “landed” in that province, if only on a part-time basis, some 30 years ago. While a century and a half of Canadian Confederation can be hailed as a cause for celebration, it can also be seen as a brief blip within a broad and complex historical trajectory. Only time will tell.