Michael Snow – Beautiful Fictions, 8×10

Michael Snow’s “8 x 10” is reminiscent of a rectangular form without being three-dimensional. The contoured lines of the subjects of the individual photographs themselves create a continuous, two dimensional mark and create an implied silhouette of the shape of a rectangle. Contrast in value is used to place emphasis on the rectangular shapes within each individual photograph. Space is a fundamental element in the arrangement of this piece. It is what unifies each individual photograph with the piece as a whole. The photographs are placed within a carefully measured and taped grid. Compositionally, the measured space of both positive and negative create a dynamic display and direct the viewer to the equal importance of the negative space and the positive. This grid pattern creates movement and adds excitement to the piece by directing the viewer’s eye throughout the picture plane. The principal of emphasis is used to pull the viewer’s eye towards important parts of the body of work. In the case of this particular piece, emphasis is used to guide the viewer towards the importance of optical repetition within the body of work. There is a general sense of stability within this body of work. The optically repeated rectangular shape creates balance by promoting a feeling of equal weight. Balance is also achieved through the equal division of positive and negative space. The repetition of similar elements (in this case, the rectangular-shaped elements) helps to achieve a harmoniously unified and uncomplicated impression. This repetition creates significant visual rhythm. The alternation of positive and negative space and also the alternation of light and dark values create a visually dynamic composition. The scale of this piece is particularly important to the overall impression of the work. The relationships of the various and contrasting sizes of rectangles within the work and the work as a whole allowed Snow to place emphasis on the shape and form of the rectangle. Unity is displayed within this fragmentation of shape. The repetition allows the viewer to infer the importance of the shape even though the individual photographs are fragmented.

Technically speaking, “8 x 10” is made up of eighty laminated photographs, each measuring eight inches by ten inches. These photographs are adhered to a wall over a taped grid. The grid itself allows for ten columns of photographs, and eight photographs in each column. The negative space, or the space between each photograph, has equal measurement to the individual photographs themselves. This allows the piece to become much larger than it’s name by allowing each element to become a part of a whole.

The subject matter and the premise of this piece come hand in hand; they are both based on the repetition of shape. The fragmentation of this shape compels the viewer to see the importance of the individual fragments. These individual fragments are needed to make up the image as a whole. The abstract geometric patterns are all related in form but are varied in their representation. They assemble together to create a dynamic and repetitive visual creation. The black bordered rectangle apparent in most of the individual photographs is shown in a variety of angles.
The visual sequence created in this piece is reminiscent of Jennifer Bartlett’s series of abstract paintings entitled “Rhapsody” (1976). It has overall monumentality, but the attainable size of the individual panels – or fragments – invite the viewer to contemplate each one more intimately. Both pieces call to the popular style of art and photography from the 1960’s; minimalism.
The fragmentation of artwork evokes critical thought of the idea of perception. The physical gap between the photographs in “8 x 10” draws reference to the gap between what is seen and what is reality. This “always-present gap between words and seeing” (pg. 7, John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”) gives reference to the fact that we, as viewers, always have a bias towards reality. “We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.” (pg. 9, John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”). In this way, Michael Snow is successful in the presentation of his concept. It forces viewers to question their own interpretations of the “real” and the idea of smaller fragments making a whole. It also begs the question – does the repetition of form negate the meaning of the form?


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