What sensations do digital images produce for us and why have we become so far removed from reality? Michael Snow sees technologically mediated vision as becoming more primary than real life observations, and he questions how this affects our experiences. “In the Way,” at Jack Shainman Gallery, consists of four works by the Canadian sculptor and video artist, now in his eighties. They investigate sensation and perception through various media, much like Snow’s seminal La Region Central (1971), which explored the relationship between viewer and artwork. At first glance, the work in the show seems cherry-picked for its diversity, but then harmonizes in that it forces us to observe the disjunctive qualities that arise when digital images become an extension of our eyes.
In the entry of the gallery, La Ferme (1998) greets us with the same enthusiasm one may expect from the grazing cows that are its subject (i.e., not much). It is a photograph of several frames of 16mm film, presented as a horizontal scroll at eye level. Tucked away twofold in tall grass, the cows are barricaded by a fence and by the black bands that mask each slightly crowded frame. From the outside looking in, we see the cows imprisoned, or maybe it is the reverse.
Made this year, The Viewing of Six New Works is a simplistic video projection in which a rectangle moves around a fixed frame. The movements of the rectangle are supposed to be informed by the movement of a person looking at an artwork. Like six shows of the same shadow puppet, the neon-colored rectangles inch and sometimes bolt through the viewable space. While it can hardly be called entertaining, this work stops nearly everyone, making them watch all six clips in search of nuance.
In the Way (2011) was shot by rigging a camera to the back of a moving truck, facing the ground. The footage is projected from the ceiling of the gallery onto the floor. The viewer can step onto the projection, which inevitably casts a crisp black shadow on the floor. Twenty-three minutes in total, the loop moves from grassy field to babbling stream to muddy puddle to gravel. Sometimes soft and inviting, other times spastic, it produces the inertial nostalgia of looking down the side of a moving boat, but not quite. A real footprint shows through the image on the gallery floor and eyes strain to focus on the clinically bright pixelated square framed on the concrete.
While the show did invite a rich conversation about sensation and perception, these were some very straightforward demonstrations of how the intervention of technology in images creates a removal from reality. Snow proves that while the issue of “digital age” media falls suspect of being a cliché, we are asked to experience their effects little. “In the Way” suggests that despite the ubiquity of digital images, there is also a dance around them, and we are not really sure what to make of them.