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Figuring Redemption

Resighting My Self in the Art of Michael Snow

Tila L. Kellman

Publication Year: 2010

Can visual art help redeem one’s sense of self, damaged by technological society?

Michael Snow’s work is often described as self-referential, meaning that it “talks” about the relationships between its materials and images, largely ignoring relationships beyond the “frame.” However, since the work also encompasses the way in which the interior relationship of the work intersects with sight and how they, together, create the frame, the work also must include the people looking at it.

This book explores how the visual art practice of Michael Snow asks the question Who? of the viewers as they interpret what lies before them. Much criticism of Snow objectively analyzes the material interrelationships in his work, ignoring viewer participation, and implicitly giving the artist control of the view. However, what if the “who” is addressed from the perspective of the viewer, who is looking across a gap created by concrete representation, time, place, experience and, perhaps, gender? How then can it remain objective?

Following on writers such as Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, Paul Ricoeur, Jacques Derrida and Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Figuring Redemption questions the proposal that the contemporary sense of self is “fallen” as a result of modern technology, but can be redeemed in some part by certain kinds of visual art.

Original in its positioning of interpretive and critical writing on the side of an embodied viewer, this book rejuvenates Snow criticism by going beyond discussions of materials and operation or of loss and distancing due to mediation. By alternating personal performance writing with objective analysis, the text participates in the destabilizing process of questioning self-recognition that Snow’s practice initiates.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

My thanks must go first of all to my husband, Martin, for his support during this project. I am indebted to Michael Snow for always encouraging my most speculative gambles, for his cheerful accessibility, messages about my mistakes, and for his irreplaceable help obtaining photographs. Without the generous thinking of Brian Henderson...

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pp. xi

The overall purpose of this study is to explore how the visual art practice of Michael Snow asks the viewer, “who?” This is the question of how spectators, you and I, implicitly renegotiate how we understand ourselves when faced with the task of making sense of a challenging piece of contemporary art. The project flows initially from...

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Chapter 1 Figuring Redemption: A Theoretical Frame

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pp. 1-34

Among contemporary Canadian artists, Michael Snow has achieved international pre-eminence for his witty, ironic practice of setting up contestatory relationships between subject matter, usage of medium, the Western art tradition, and the audience. Most criticism of Snow’s work to date has judged the use and exploration of the intrinsic....

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Chapter 2 The WALKING WOMAN: Field Test

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pp. 35-62

Michael Snow’s Walking Woman series is built around the silhouette of a female figure striding parallel to the picture plane, looking straight ahead, arms swinging. Appearing in hundreds of variations in different mediums from paint to film to cardboard or stainless steel, in places...

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Chapter 3 Framed: The Return of Sight, Squared

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pp. 63-82

By using sculptural framing devices, Snow made the circulation and returns of sight problematic both immediately after completing his celebrated film, Wavelength (1967), and again after making the landscape film, La région centrale (1970-71).1 While neither cinema, photography, nor painting, the post- Wavelength group of sculptural...

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Chapter 4 Returns on Self-Effacement: The Self-Portrait

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pp. 83-100

From exploring how Michael Snow’s sculptural frames return sights of my self by relaying my acts of looking through others, I’d like to turn to his self-images as a subject framed. Snow himself does not consider these to be self-portraits: to him they are images of a man with a camera and nothing more. Nonetheless, the combination of method...

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Chapter 5 Figuring the Field: The Machine, the “Garden,” My Self

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pp. 101-140

In Snow’s film La région centrale (1971), you and I face the problem of “who?” relayed through cinema and a cinematic machine set in the “garden” of the specifically Canadian north.1 The context for the film is not only concurrent experimental film practice in New York, but the argument that Canadian identity, or self-recognition...

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Chapter 6 “See You Later (Au Revoir),” With Love

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pp. 141-158

The photographic installation Plus tard (1977; figures 19-20; colour plate 4) and photographic diptych iris-IRIS (1979; cover) solicit me to speculate on the circulation of pictures and spectators through the frame, the “sending machine,” and its different kinds of sites...

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Chapter 7 Refiguring Redemption: Resighting My Self

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pp. 159-172

While criticism concurrent with Michael Snow’s practice has focussed on critical paradigms concerned chiefly with materiality and consciousness, the focus here has been how my self can be refigured through selected work from Snow’s practice, taken in...


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pp. 173-190


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pp. 191-196


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pp. 197-207

E-ISBN-13: 9780889207479
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889203990

Page Count: 222
Publication Year: 2010