Currently showing at Christopher Cutts Gallery is ‘Powers of Two,’ a solo exhibition of work spanning fifty years by multimedia artist Michael Snow. Snow is arguably one of Canada’s most internationally famed contemporary artists, known most commonly for his innovative work in film and video. ‘Powers of Two’ also brings together more recent sculpture and photo-based work with a refreshing collection of rarely seen early drawings and illustrations. The resulting exhibition is comically sensitive, and reveals the artist’s longstanding interest in aspects of perception, duality and spectatorship.
In the first of two spaces is a diverse collection of works that at first appear stylistically unrelated. A closer look shows, however, that when making each piece, whether historical or recent, the artist was fixated on thinking about looking. ‘Site’ (1969), for instance, is a stainless steel sculpture that tests the visitor’s faculties of physical and mental perception. The work is effectively a barricade that prevents the viewer from approaching the wall. Behind the metal component is a small text box describing the artist’s initial but unrealised intention to place there an image of a seascape. Visitors are prompted to bend themselves awkwardly over the sculpture, implicating their physical bodies into the sculptural space in order to perceive the tiny font. A visitor’s mental capacity to visualise a seascape based on subjective memories and associations, is then activated by the mention of the absent image.
In fact, each of the works in ‘Powers of Two’ manages to play with or investigate our faculties of perception. ‘The Couple’ is an early drawing of two figures, one embracing the other by the shoulder. The bodies and faces are only discernable with patient observation; they seem to form organically out of a random ink splatter and delicate paint drops, as if not by the artist’s hand at all. What one is looking at – drawings or droplets, intention or accident – becomes a matter of visual interpretation.
The headlining work from which the exhibition takes its name is a largescale transparent colour photograph of a bedroom scene. The image hangs in four panels from the ceiling, displayed alone in the main gallery space. By occupying both two-dimensional and three-dimensional space at once, the work manipulates our perceptual expectations; we walk around the piece expecting to see its backside, but are instead presented with a mirror image of its front. The transparent and reflective quality of the work enhances an already intriguing viewing experience, as bodies on either side of the image are visually involved within it.
‘Powers of Two’ is an exhibition that is unpretentious and mildly playful. It cleverly highlights Snow’s subtle sense of humour and effectively traces some of the early conceptual developments that would later lead to some of his most iconic work.