Critics’ Picks

Michael Snow, Powers of Two, 2003, four photographic transparencies, 16 x 8.5'.

Michael Snow, Powers of Two, 2003, four photographic transparencies, 16 x 8.5'.

Barcelona

Michael Snow

La Virreina Image Center
La Rambla, 99
July 9–November 1, 2015

The real subject of Michael Snow’s retrospective—encompassing fifty years of the Canadian artist’s forays into film, sound installation, video, painting, and sculpture—is the viewer. Snow’s work reveals a genuine, open-ended interest in visual perception, especially as it relates to the two-dimensional plane. There’s a lot of play—with windows, projections of windows, reflection, opacity, and transparency. Powers of Two, 2003, features four enormous freestanding transparent photographs of a couple having sex, with the man turned away while the woman is staring, in frank absorption, at us. Circle around to the other side of the image, which everyone seems to do, and you will not be rewarded by the man’s expression.

Snow makes a clear distinction between video installations that are meant to be viewed in a gallery, like paintings, and those that require a seated commitment. Wavelength, 1967—a groundbreaking avant-garde film upon its debut—is an example of the latter and is screened only twice a day. The film is composed of a continuous forty-five-minute zoom shot that moves us from one end of a loft to a point on the opposing wall; people come in and out, day becomes night, there are sudden flashes of color, a death. But mostly it is a film of an empty room, or, more accurately, of how we perceive it. Through the slow, relentless tightening of the visual field, the work shows us how vision is impressionistic and multilayered, affected by emotional states, memories, and split-second sensory reactions.