By and large, cinema is defined as moving images, while the visual arts are still. There are, of course, exceptions which bend this not-so-hard and fast rule. Some artists, however, seek to purposefully break it down. Michael Snow is one. Fittingly for works which aim to rupture categorization, the “Single Frame Snow” screening bridged two separate programmes, Sound Stages and Regained, with a triple bill of A Casing Shelved (1970), Slidelenght (1971) and Side Seat Paintings Slides Sound Film (1970).
The first short is perhaps the best known: 45 minutes of a single slide, an image of a blue shelf stacked with seemingly meaningless debris. Ostensibly still, Snow creates movement through narration (as opposed to camera work or editing), guiding the audiences’ focus and way of looking by describing the objects on the shelf. Imbuing what at first glance seem like innocuous objects with meaning (the plastic sheets were used in Wavelenghts, for instance), the image of the shelf never changes, but rapidly its meaning does. Like Snow’s own personality, there is a certain levity to the film—“that’s the only sphere, but there’s lots of cylinders,” he remarks of the shelf’s contents—as A Casing Shelved explores the limits and opacity of seeing.
Slidelenght builds on this theme as well, but felt more in tune with Sound Stages’ emphasis on “cinema as event,” as Snow himself worked the carousel. Slides of hands holding transparent coloured sheets or wood and blurred images of interiors are brought up on the screen (with no narration), drawing attention to the root of the cinematic medium being the play of light. Normally pre-timed for gallery installations, Snow chose how long to linger on each image—a choice which in a sense made him a member of the audience.
The last short, Side Seat Paintings Slides Sound Film, opens with a hand picking up a reel, turning it towards the camera to display the title scrawled in pen. The screen turns black as the reel is brought up to obscure the entire frame, where we then “enter” the film, which is composed of a series of slides of Snow’s work. Most make little sense visually (those in the Walking Women series stand out), as Snow’s narration guides the experience. Suddenly, however, he alters the audio track, stretching it and changing the pitch, therein destabilizing the piece’s anchor.
Again, the question of the digital arose in the screening’s Q&A, as Snow talked about the importance of shaping the experience of seeing his work. As this is lost with YouTube (or even some galleries), the semi-triptych overall created an experiment in control. Yet, for all this, during A Casing Shelved there was an error in the projection. Merely two small glitches, the blunders reinforced the very impossibility of complete control. But, more importantly, proves this fact to be the basis for any unique event. Cinematic or otherwise.