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The Collected Writings of Michael Snow

Michael Snow

Publication Year: 1994

Writing, for Michael Snow, is as much a form of “art-making” as the broad range of visual art activities for which he is renowned, including the “Walking Woman” series and the film Wavelength. Conversely, many of the texts included in this anthology are as significant visually as they are at the level of content — they are meant to be looked at as well as read. Situated somewhere between a repository of contemporary thought by one of our leading Canadian artists and a history book as it brings to light some important moments in the cultural life of Canada since the 1950s, these texts tell their own story, marking the passage of time, ideas and attitudes.

The works included here, ranging from essays and interviews and record album cover notes to filmscripts and speeches (which, in Snow’s hands, often fall into the category of performance art), are not only “built for browsing,” they offer insights into both the professional and the private Snow. Together, they expand the context of Snow’s work and show the evolution of a great Canadian artist, beginning with his early attempts at defining art, to his emergence and recognition on the international art scene.

This book is one of four books that are part of the Michael Snow Project. Initiated by the Art Gallery of Ontario and The Power Plant Gallery, the project also includes four exhibitions of his visual art and music.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-4

Our arrangement of the material is chronological but this really is a book built for browsing." He is, of course, right. If this book can be read from beginning to end, giving a sense of the evolution of his ideas and career, it can also be absorbed at random and slowly. Michael's comment is significant for another reason: it reveals the collaborative nature of this endeavour. Though I initially approached him with an idea and a selection of his published texts, ...

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The Real "New Jazz", 1950

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pp. 5-7

In 1947 I became fascinated by early jazz - New Orleans, Dixieland, blues - and started to play such music publicly. This period of my artistic career is well documented and discussed by various writers in the music/sound volume of the series to which this book belongs. Simultaneous with what has been called the New Orleans Revival, which I was part of, another musical revolution was taking place, that of the bebop or modern jazz of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and many others. ...

Poem, 1957

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pp. 8-9

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Something You Might Try, 1958

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pp. 10-11

I can't vouch for this but 2 women I know have this part and my guess is that the others do too. There's no harm in asking and what I'm going to say depends on this part and the part which I have. What I am going to say is about what I did with these parts but it may be that everybody's different there anyway. I'm making the assumption that generally that's the way it is. Anyway get this: at the bottom of this "triangle" how ...

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Title or Heading, 1961

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pp. 12-15

In 1961 Kenneth Craig, a Toronto artist, published two issues of a magazine called evidence. Influenced, perhaps, in its concept by the publications of the American Beats (Kerouac or Ginsberg, for example), it was in practice unlike anything the Beats produced. The writers and the topics were all local, and these two issues contained excellent articles by William Ronald, Gerald Gladstone, Joyce Wieland, Austin Clarke and ...

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A Lot of Near Mrs., 1962-63

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pp. 16-19

This text was written while Joyce Wieland and I were living in Toronto but making frequent trips to New York to prepare for a long stay there (looking for a loft, etc.). I started to write it basically to clarify things for myself. It was prompted, however, by an attempt to answer what I felt were misunderstandings in what was being written about the work I was doing. It was never published in the Sixties, but Arnold Rockman used a copy of it ...

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Around about New York Eye and Ear Control, 1966

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pp. 20-25

In April 1992, as I was going through my considerable accumulation of papers, with a view to depositing them with the Edward P. Taylor Research Library and Archives of the Art Gallery of Ontario, I found the following text sleeping with "Something You Might Try." It was written in 1966. It was in an orange-covered booklet amongst many other papers relating to my film New York Eye and Ear Control, completed in 1964. ...

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Statements/18 Canadian Artists, 1967

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pp. 26-27

Shit, that isn't even a sentence! Being memorable might qualify it for someone who loved writing to list it with other writing as exceptional writing though not by a writer. That (writing not by a writer) certainly gives it some distinction even if you've only read this far ... (and don't plan to go any farther). I can't seem to make myself clear. I've been trying. That's what I've been trying to do. I am not a professional. ...

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First to Last, 1967

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pp. 28-30

But both here and in the window pieces I am interested merely in framing itself. This piece is a kind of absolute that frames things that are fortuitous. It is totally symmetrical, a perfect square in middle grey, turned in on itself. The experience it gives should just happen; then maybe later you should think of how it is done. When you look through the slots, first you see the shiny aluminum that is the inner basis of the work, and then you realize you are seeing a prism of some kind. Any ...

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Crafts, 1967

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pp. 31-37

This was written for a conference organized by the Canadian Craftsmen's Association (the predecessor of the present Canadian Crafts Council), which took place at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, in August 1967. I accompanied the talk with the playing of a tape of waves arriving at the shore, which I'd recorded at East Hampton, Long Island, in July while vacationing and writing this text at a rented cottage with friends ...

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On Wavelength, 1968

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pp. 38-46

These various texts were first published in Film Culture 46 (Autumn 1967, published October 1968), the cover of which is reproduced here. In 1968 Snow's film Wavelength won first prize at the Fourth International Experimental Film Competition, Knokke-le- Zoute, Belgium ...

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Abitibi, 1969

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pp. 47

In 1965 thinking above thoughts and a few others I made Morningside Heights - a free-standing equal sided plane. Mass on floor, then thinner (1/2 in.) vertical plane, then transparent (no mass) "Window." Idea of free-standing planes being the result of equal, opposed pressures, producing stasis, 2 dimensionality verging on an interesting impossibility: 1 dimension, explored in recent "squeeze" pieces, ...

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Tap, 1969

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pp. 48-50

Tap is a "dispersed composition" finished in 1969 and now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. The following is the text part of the work - that is, it is a detail. However, it is a detail which has the unusual capacity to describe the other parts of the work and its intention. This text was first published independently of the work in Michael Snow/Canada, the catalogue prepared by the National Gallery for the Venice ...

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Ten Questions to Michael Snow, 1969

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pp. 51-52

Critical moment in my life and/or art. Light and sound waves. Limits of hear and see ... "A time monument." A pun on the room length zoom to the photo of waves (sea), through the light waves and on the sound waves. Electricity. Ontology. "A definitive statement of pure film space and time ..." "A summation of my nervous system, religious inklings and aesthetic ideas ..." The quotes from pre-prize piece ...

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La Région Centrale, 1969

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pp. 53-56

The following is an excerpt from a proposal by Michael Snow to the Canadian Film Development Corporation in March 1969. It was first published in About 30 Works by Michael Snow in 1972 by the National Gallery of Canada for an exhibition at the Centre for Inter-American Relations in New York. ...

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Converging on La Région Centrale: Michael Snow in Conversation with Charlotte Townsend, 1971

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pp. 57-60

Michael Snow, with Joyce Wieland, spent ten weeks of the 1970 fall semester as visiting artist at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. He had just finished filming La Region Centrale in northern Quebec and was editing in Halifax. Charlotte Townsend took the following from taped conversations with Snow in Halifax. The article was first published in artscanada28, no. 1, Issue 152/153 (February-March 1971). ...

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Michael Snow: A Filmography by Max Knowles, 1971

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pp. 61-65

Introducing and publishing this text involves some slight embarrassment. New York City, 1971: Artforum magazine was planning a film issue. Annette Michelson said she was working on an article about my film La Region Centrale. Pleased though I was by that prospect, I thought it would be a good thing if there was also a piece about my film work in general. I chose to write this one pseudonymously (Max Knowles was the ...

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Passage (Dairy), 1971

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pp. 66-67

Apparently certain types of events and in myself certain states of mind bring about attention with this kind of emphasis. My perception of the nature of a situation (result of a vague yearning to codify "how one thing leads to another") if clear, includes everything. Ha ha. Everything which I was capable of receiving. I'm often quite fuzzy or don't care. Also every beginning is arbitrary. I have noted in myself the emergence ...

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The Life & Times of Michael Snow, 1971

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pp. 68-80

In October 1971, Joe Medjuck, the associate editor of the original incarnation of the Canadian film magazine Take One, conducted the following interview with Michael Snow in Toronto. Slight revisions and additions were made in December 1971. The interview began with a discussion of a conference of Canadian artists, from which Snow had just returned. It was first published in Take One 3, no. 3 (January-February ...

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De La, 1972

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pp. 81

This excerpt from a March 1971 letter to Pierre Theberge, then curator of contemporary Canadian art at the National Gallery of Canada, concerns the machine designed to film La Region Centrale. In January and February 1971, Pierre Abbeloos, the machine's designer, in cooperation with Astro Electronics and R.C.A. Limited of Montreal, made the necessary technical adaptations to the machine so it could be used to hold a television camera ...

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Information or Illusion: An Interview with Michael Snow, 1972

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pp. 82-86

Could you describe some of those early works? Well, it's kind of hard to do, but I went through a lot of different things. I really did do some good paintings. The National Gallery of Canada has some of these things, I guess from '58. Anyway, they were definitely paintings? Yes, but I was also playing music then and I had my first touch with film in 1956. ...

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The Camera and the Spectator: Michael Snow in Discussion with John Du Cane, 1973

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pp. 87-91

John Du Cane: One of the things I'm most concerned about is the business of talking about types of communication that are manipulative of the audience and types of communication that activate the audience, make them aware of their own ways of dealing with the immediate film event. In conventional cinema you're dealing with people being led by the nose ...

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Boucherville, Montréal, Toronto, London, 1973

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pp. 92-96

I generally write, even speeches, silently. I make no actual vocal sounds as I am now, but I write by hand, as I am now, or by typewriter, as I often do, in each case listening to my inner voice dictating, correcting, arranging what I hope this is now and will be - a relatively coherent arrangement of words. The first thing I will do when I am actually making my introductory remarks for ...

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Notes for Rameau 's Nephew by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen, 1974

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pp. 97-103

This four-and-a-half-hour film took three years to make and was completed in 1974. During the period, I was obsessed with the film and was continually thinking about it and making notes and scribbles on any paper that came to hand. These "ideas" and "observations" (some having no evident final use in the film) accumulated into the hundreds. They are now in the Edward P. Taylor Research Library and Archives, Art ...

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Some Scripts for Rameau 's Nephew by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen, 1974

Rameau's Nephew... is built of twenty-five sequences, each with sound, each separated from its neighbours by twenty-seven abstract colour compositions. There is no narrative connection between the sequences, which vary in duration from 4 minutes to 55. Six sequences, to suggest a "microcosm" of the whole film, have been selected for publication. ...


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pp. 106

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Polyphony (Sequence 10)

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pp. 107-124

The cast read (with slight performance additions) the script on camera. The sequence, shot at one location with a camera fixed on a tripod, is divided into four sections. The first was also tape-recorded off camera. For the second section, the first tape recording was played back on the set while the cast read and performed over and with it, and this mixture was recorded on another ...

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Bus (Sequence 11)

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pp. 125-127

The sequence pictured on the following page was, in production, called "Representation Speech," then later "Bus." Rather than "super[ing] a B roll of spray-paintings dots of many colors on black..." as indicated in the script, I made a gradually increasing number of tiny pinpricks in the film stock and in the image. ...

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Fart, aka Tea Party (Sequence 12)

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pp. 128-121

For this sequence, I asked the cast to learn their lines backwards. With the aid of a Nagra tape recorder, which, because it records the full width of the magnetic tape, can be played backwards, I wrote their lines and we rehearsed them. The actors spoke their lines on camera backwards and this was recorded in sync. The scene was shot mostly as a slow zoom, which at its widest field shows the room and occupants as in ...

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Embassy (Sequence 15)

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pp. 132-143

The working title for this sequence was "Performed Sound," by which I meant that all sound would be produced on the set, on camera "realistically," that the sound would be recorded in sync and that there would be no post-shooting additions or alterations. The sound and lighting men are visible and important parts of the image, approaching and illuminating (with slight overexposure) the face of each person as he or she ...

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Hotel (Sequence 20)

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pp. 144-171

This scene, at 55 minutes, is the longest in the film and the last, though it is followed by three short scenes (addenda or endnotes). The concept, based on the interchangeability of parts - sound and image - of the film medium, involved a great deal of final assembly. These editing intentions, and indeed some scenes, are not indicated in the shooting script, extensive as it is. Some examples of this planned-for redistribution of parts are: on page ...

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Tom Gibson's Photographs, 1974

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pp. 172

When I asked Tom about it he told me that it had been commissioned but never used for reasons now forgotten. I would not like the text to be forgotten: I like it very much and feel that it captures well the questions and feelings attendant to Tom's transition from painting to photography." - From a letter to Michael Snow, 18 May 1993, from Martha Langford, director of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography ...

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Michael Snow Musics for Piano, Whistling, Microphone and Tape Recorder, 1975

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pp. 173-181

From 1973 to its closing in 1978, I was represented by the Bykert Gallery in New York. The director, Klaas Kertess, had assisted in organizing a record label, Chatham Square Records, which issued Philip Glass's first records, then others by Jon Gibson, etc. In 1975, Chatham Square and the Isaacs Gallery produced the double record album Michael Snow Musics for Piano, Whistling, Microphone and Tape Recorder ...

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The Artists' Jazz Band Live at the Edge, 1976

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pp. 182-185

They've always played the way they play on these recordings. They didn't play as well in 1962 as they do now but the attitude and the process with which the music is brought into the world has not changed. They played and play for pleasure, ecstasy, for Music, for Art. The process which the original core of the group (Rayner, Markle, Coughtry, Kubota) have used since their first notes (McAdam, Jones ...

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A Letter to Alvin Balkind, 1976

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pp. 186-187

I was playing music a lot during Art College but I also started to paint seriously. Could "painting" be a career? How? I didn't understand it (still don't) but was hooked. Later (not much) sculpture and film added to the complication. Before 1960 especially I felt that one could only become good at something, some area of endeavour by concentrating on it, that a painter who was a musician would never be ...

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Crushed Cookies Make Crumbs Liberates Swing. Cuts Its Pulse, 1978

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pp. 188-189

We played bebop or modern jazz including many compositions by Thelonious Monk. We made small but significant attempts to enlarge the scope of our improvisation - sometimes by playing blues using whole tone scales, making it possible to ignore bar divisions and invent new structures. I felt that the amount of improvisation should be increased but I didn't yet know how to do it. ...

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Larry Dubin's Music, 1978

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pp. 190-194

Larry was very poor, but when he died in 1978 he left a will dispersing several thousand dollars. He left me $5,000, which I used to assemble, press and print a three-volume box of LP records titled Larry Dubin and CCMC. It contains selections from the numerous tapes of the CCMC's many performances during the two and a half years Larry was in the ensemble, and this text. ...

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Pierre Theberge: Conversation with Michael Snow, 1978

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pp. 195-202

Curated by Alain Sayag in Paris and Pierre Theberge in Montreal, a large exhibition of Snow's photographic work and films was organized by the Musee d'art contemporain for the Centre Georges Pompidou. The exhibition opened in Paris and subsequently toured to Lucerne, Rotterdam, Munich, Bonn and Montreal. A number of catalogues were published: the Centre Pompidou produced one in French, the Kunstmuseum ...

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Cerisy-la-Salle, 1979

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pp. 203-204

Since 1959 the Chateau of Cerisy-la-Salle in Normandy, France, which consists of a complex of buildings, the oldest dating from 1605, has been the headquarters of the Centre Culturel International. Every summer the centre hosts conferences and readings. Proust, Gide, Valery and Claudel have been the subjects of these summer conferences. In 1979 Michael Snow was invited by Jean-Francois Lyotard to introduce and ...

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Edinburgh, 1979

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pp. 205-207

A series of panels and talks was included with the film showings by the organizers of the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1979. Many "avant-garde" filmmakers from the Continent, England and North America were invited. Snow was one of them, and he gave the following talk as a member of a panel on Language and the Avant-garde. ...

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Statement for 10 Canadian Artists in the 1970s, 1980

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pp. 208

In some of this work I have tried to create both the subject and its representation and/or have concentrated on the aesthetic/philosophic potential of processes or effects which are particular to photography, or I have made "pure" paintings which are not representations of photographs but whose conception was influenced by the experience of photography. ...

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So Is This, 1982

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pp. 209-220

This, that's to say the text to which this refers, is the "script" or perhaps "score" for a silent film of 45 minutes consisting of the single words of this "script" or "score" placed on the screen one by one, one after another, for specific lengths of time. Facsimile photos of the original hand-written "script" are printed here. The number written beside each word indicates the number of frames (time on the screen) to be ...

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Michael Snow and Bruce Elder in Conversation, 1982

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pp. 221-231

As appealing as the idea was, because I found myself immersed in a very large film project that produced unremitting torment for nearly a year, I was unable to carry it out. When a financial setback forced me to suspend the project temporarily, I became eager to take up the idea and contacted Snow. Snow suggested we begin with my writing down some comments or observations about his ...

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On Murray Favro, 1982

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pp. 232-233

Sometimes he says his work is not that. Or, "If that's what you like, you probably won't like whatever it is that I do." What he does is very interesting (to my knowledge he is almost alone in doing it), and whether it is "Art" or not is sometimes one of its especially interesting aspects. ...

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(Hand-written) To Write, 1982

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pp. 234-239

I rediscovered this text during an inspection of my papers preparatory to donating them to the Edward P. Taylor Research Library and Archives of the Art Gallery of Ontario. As you'll see, it was written explicitly for the reader to read the original hand-written Ms. (!), not a typeset version. In a sense this work was like a drawing in ink, an autograph, not intended to be reproduced like a drawn lithograph or etching. ...

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On Hollis Frampton, 1984

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pp. 240-248

I wrote the following text specifically to speak it to honour the memory of a great friend, great artist and great talker, Hollis Frampton. Hollis died of lung cancer and other complications in Buffalo in 1984. He was a professor of film at SUNY/Buffalo, with other extraordinary artists Paul Sharits and Tony Conrad. I hope the sympathetic reader will remember and recognize the personal-voice ...

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Music and Me, 1986

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pp. 249-250

In 1986 the Music Gallery staged a series of solo-piano concerts titled The Tradition of the New. Selected by Casey Sokol, professor of music at York University and member of the CCMC, the series included Frederick Rzewski, Ursula Oppens, Elyakim Taussig, Marc Widner, Douglas Finch, Yvar Mikhashov, Marilyn Crispell, Bill Dobbins and myself. Various concerts were recorded by the CBC. Some, including my "Around ...

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An Entrance to Redifice, 1987

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pp. 251-252

Viewing REDIFICE becomes a narrative film, edited by the spectator, of "frames," objects, scenes and events that (could) take place in such a "high-rise": a classroom? a theatre? an operating room? a living room? a bedroom? an elevator? Birds "brush" by outside 2 windows twice. A nearby night street corner with traffic lights. 3AM? Prostitution ...

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The Audience, 1987

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pp. 253

The sculptures represent viewers of, reactors to, greeters and critics of the audience. The event the sculptures see is the arrival of the spectators and they see it as a sporting event. But both sides are seers who are seen. The Audience is not a mob, it is a group (two groups) made up of individuals, many "characters," each showing an individual reaction or expression or sign, which ...

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Laocoön of the People, 1987

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pp. 254-256

... is an audience for the audience. It's involved in directing viewer's attention or exchanging attentions. The sculpture is partly reacting to you, and partly a survey of all the gestures of a reacting audience. I concentrated on how the body expresses its likes and dislikes, particularly on the hand signs which are very sculptural. ...

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The Last LP, 1987

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pp. 257-278

Soon after its arrival in the 1950s, the LP became physically the record, its label, and the jacket - a "cover" design and a back text with a listing of the names of the pieces recorded. The whole was the packaging for the music (the music manifested only when the record was removed and played). There were many variations within this format. The demise of the LP prophesied by The Last LP's introduction text had not yet occurred when I ...

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Trying to Figure It Out, 1987

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pp. 279-280

I am really tempted to believe that I, or the work that I do, merit the distinction of this doctorate and this occasion by the respect I have for the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, what it has been, what it is and what it signifies. The source of that respect is, of course, the success of the college in its function as a school, which has to include the decisions involved in its ...

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Statement for an Exhibition, Tokyo, 1988

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pp. 281-283

Mr. Kanazawa and I have given much thought to what might be of special interest to a Japanese audience. I've been making artworks professionally since 1957, so we have left a lot out! We finally decided to concentrate on a selection from those works of mine which tend to focus on the image. There is always an important object aspect to such works as well, some being "painting-sculpture" ...

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Playing the Radio: A Personal History, 1989

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pp. 284-285

As "home" recording equipment, synthesizers and samples became cheaper and more easily available, many musicians made their own idiosyncratic taped electronic music. Ulmer recognized and was interested in this area of vital, experimental and noncommercial music. Subsequently, he made available music by Nurse with Wound, Violence and the Sacred, Empirical Sleeping Consort. Ulmer issued several cassettes by ...

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Admission (or, Marcel Duchamp), 1989

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pp. 286-289

I wrote the following text in response to an announcement (a call for submissions) by the Coach House Press that they were planning Brushes with Greatness, an anthology of chance encounters with celebrities. My text was accepted, and the book was published in 1989, edited by Russell Banks, Michael Ondaatje and David Young. I had titled my contribution "Admission" and I prefer that, if, as here, it is published alone. The editors called it "Marcel Duchamp": each ...

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Sign Paintings by Robert Hedrick, 1990

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pp. 290-291

The paintings are not commentary, they are constructions. As discrete objects they will generate dialogue with the sympathetic viewer on a range of levels: semiotic (that is, the work as a sign or signifier or ensemble of signs), perceptual and psychological. They are "abstract" paintings, with no specific representational references except for those indicated by Hedrick's title for the series, Signs. One's most literal ...

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Statement for the 8th Biennial of Sydney, Australia, 1990

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pp. 292

I liked these sentences the young Mr. Snow wrote: "Art Creation (Experiment in Art) is an experiment on oneself" and "I make up the rules of a game. Then I attempt to play it. If I seem to be losing I change the rules." And this is interesting: "the purpose of music is not to communicate but to make people stop 'communicating' and listen." While visual art is more referential ...

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Statement for an Exhibition, Paris, 1992

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pp. 293-295

The photographer, on the other hand, divorces the eye from the hand. In a sense, a photograph could be considered the equivalent of a single brush stroke in a painting. Click. As art, the best photography I find lacking when compared to the best painting, but I've been attempting to balance the lack by adding the camera as a tool to the ones one might use in making painting and sculpture. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780889206045
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889202436
Print-ISBN-10: 0889202435

Page Count: 293
Publication Year: 1994