Sex and Sound “Works by Michael Snow: Piano Sculpture and Sex” at Klosterfelde
“this freaks me out for some reason”
–TheCGIMaster, comment posted on YouTube, 9 months ago
Klosterfelde gallery’s exhibition of Michael Snow, the poster child for experimental media, perfectly mirrors the maze of his artistic life. Almost an attempt at a comprehensive retrospective, the show spans through several decades of no less diverse production.
In the first room is a work from 1986, Revue: a series of re-photographed Penthouse centerfolds, which were then published in another magazine and photographed again, while making sure the pictures still index the haptic aspects of the open page, like the center crease and the distorted curve. Immediately opposite one can see one of the cut-out women belonging to the Waking Woman series (1961-67), Michael’s Snow signature work for over a decade. The work would create a perfect symmetry with Projection – a 1970 lithographic print of an erected penis penetrating the voided space of its female negative – were it not disrupted by the intruding presence of a gigantic canvas visible through the door to the adjacent room: Paris de judgement Le and/or State of the Arts (2006), in which three naked women obstruct the view of Cézanne’s Bathers (1898-1905). The Rubenesque materiality of their bodies yields a stark contrast with the ethereal soft-focus of the Penthouse vixen, which we re-encounter in Stereo (1982). Here the model is gilded in a Plexiglas case, her breasts turned into telescopes which one can see through yet another telescope. A mise en abyme making plain that the object of voyeurism is not the female but photography itself.
Last but not least is the show’s tour de force, Piano Sculpture (2009) – a piano ensemble video installation encasing the viewer in its overlapping cacophonic medley. The protuberant loudspeakers double the high-relief effect of Stereo‘s tiny telescopes, albeit without doubling its pathos.
Faced with an over-abundance of signifiers, my mind’s eye starts to see the show as a Rubik’s cube, whose snarl I am determined to bring into a neat pattern. I link the polarity of male and female signifiers to the inscription of the picture plane upon three-dimensional depth. I fantasize the ‘picture within a picture’ elements as matryoshkas, where each media contains the content of yet another media, which keep peering through and peeping out of each other in an unduly manner. All my efforts notwithstanding, the unkempt, rugged quality of Michael Snow’s work always escapes through the crevices of an all-embracing thesis. Like that last face left in a kaleidoscope of un-matching squares.
Hoping that some sincere insight might be gained through an un-mediated reception I get drawn to the viewers’ comments posted on YouTube. Their rantings, though candid, seem to resent the suspension of the suspension of disbelief. Yet, as Snow himself put it, no image exists which is not a product of a given media. Likewise, no speech exists which is not a product of a set of communication codes. Whether it’s the code of educated art criticism or the lack thereof, with its corresponding naturalization of meaning, Michael Snow’s work is, however, neither about the one, nor the other. Michael Snow’s work is about this. This oblique juxtaposition, which cracks up the illusion of transparency and freaks me out for this reason.
- 1Michael Snow, La Revue, (detail) 1986-2006. 4 framed B/W magazine prints, 52 x 28 x 8 cm each.
- 2Michael Snow, Paris de jugement Le and/or State of the Arts, 2006. Color photograph on cloth with wood stretcher, 183 x 193 x 8cm.
- 3Michael Snow, Stereo, 1982. 2 color Polaroid photos with black plastic cardboard and clear plastic box, 33 x 39.5 x 30 cm.
- 4Michael Snow, Piano Sculpture, 2009. Installation. 4 simultaneous video projections with sound, 14 min. loop, sound.
INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART, London
GIANNI MANHATTAN, Vienna
REDCAT, Los Angeles
JESSICA SILVERMAN GALLERY, San Francisco