Side Seat Paintings Slides Sound Film
Canada, 1970, 16mm, 20 min
A Casing Shelved
Canada, 1970, (1) 35mm slide photograph and audio tape, 45 min
A Casing Shelved is a single 45-minute slide photograph of a bookcase crammed with things previously used in Michael Snow’s studio and work: paint cans, photographs, coffee cups, a hot plate, a wine bottle, etc., etc. It was the second of several Snow works which attempted to use previous work or the records of previous work as the material for new work. “I saw the studio as a source of possible works. Many objects and markings were there because they were art-related—had been used in the making of artworks or were colored or altered by their proximity to artworks. [My slide piece] Sink made me consider making art out of ‘near art,’ and I made A Casing Shelved.
“The bookcase that I had painted and used in the opening scene of Wavelength (1966) was still in the studio in 1970, but it had become filled with a great variety of objects that were related to my work in many different ways. I shot a 35mm slide of it and then, seated in front of the bookcase where the camera had been, made an audiotape recording of my voice. I discussed everything I could think of relative to each of the objects in the bookcase. Before recording, I decided on the categories of my description and also, roughly, on the physical path (around the bookcase) that my description would take.”
In an interview with John Du Cane, Snow said, “One of the things I wanted to do there was make the motion a result of the sound. That was like the germ idea. That coupled with a habit of looking at things and wondering how they got to be what they are. Like this table top here is a pretty interesting collection of things, and it keeps on happening. And that particular thing, the bookshelf, I just kept on enjoying it as if it were a painting, a work of art, and once I just snuck up on it and took the instamatics that are actually in that slide. I didn’t know quite what to do about it. I never arranged anything there, but when I started to become interested in it I became self-conscious about it and decided I’d better do something about it. So I finally took the slide and then that tied in with the idea of the sound. What interested me also was that all the stuff that’s there is not art, but it’s art-related, because it has to do with the other stuff that I did that I called art.
JDC: The description was recorded in one take?
MS: I did it straight through, there in front of the thing, in the same place as the camera. It passes in and out of modes. Again, it’s encyclopedic, I guess, because I sometimes referred to something as a rectangle or as a black line and you can see things that way in three dimensions but it tends to make it seem as if you’re referring to the slide which is of course two-dimensional. It’s like there’s a ghost of me in front of the image of the shelves looking at them. It keeps on changing… whether I describe something as a red spot or a line or as being a can of turpentine, and the contents are sort of funny because you can’t see them. Other people have pointed out that it’s a bit like in art schools where they analyze paintings that way—you get a slide of it and the guy says notice how this line goes down here and so on—which I didn’t think of before but it’s a bit like a teaching thing that way.
JDC: Yes, but it’s not presented in that didactic fashion.
MS: No, because it’s pretty casual.
JDC: And because the process of selection, the process by which you relate one thing to another and so on is brought right out, a lot of the content was the sort of decisions you were making, the types of classification…
MS: Yes, I wanted to say everything that could be said about it.
JDC: It seems that what you like to do with most of the things you make, is to take something clearly delimited and then go through all the possible ramifications.
MS: A Casing Shelved is a projected slide with a separate sound track. Being a movie would be entirely another matter because it would introduce motion… no matter what you’d have the flicker and you’d have the things that happen in the projector. Slides have a particular frozen quality if you look at them for a while. It’s really very interesting. It’s very funny about that movie thing. Bob Breer told me that for a long time he thought A Casing Shelved was a movie. I think that’s very nice, because it means that the thing is moving in time in a way that I really wanted the sound to do—and it is the sound that does it because if you really look at it you don’t see the effects that happen with the films… that little bit of instability.”
“Side Seat Paintings Slides Sound Film is made of the projection and verbal identification of slides of paintings in various media made by me from 1955 to 1965. It is not autobiographical. The film is a recycling, a conversion which, by employing the illusion of temporal alteration that film and sound recording make possible, becomes a new experience.”
Michael Snow was born in 1928 in Toronto, where he lives and works today.
The Michael Snow Project: The Collected Writings of Michael Snow. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1994.
“Behind this attempt at orderly noticing do I have a horror of the possibility of chaos? Would chaos be an inability to tell one thing from another? Is sanity only the ability to identify and to name? Cultural? Is ordering the “disorder” an order? Can there be “order” without repetition? Is there something necessarily fatalistic but also “religious” in affirming (quoting?) that disorder must be only a type of order the nature of which is not yet comprehended…? But “the eye of the beholder”… not only is order projected but all is order; all is ordained? The reason for the shape of my nose the same as the reason a bus just passed this building. Oh, that’s going too far.”
Michael Snow, “Passage.” In Artforum, September 1971, page 63.