Seated Figures15 Sep 2021
The event is over
Born in Toronto in 1926, Michael Snow is a visual artist, photographer and musician, and also one of the most important representatives of North American independent cinema. Wavelength (1967), Back and Forth (1969), La Région centrale (1971), Rameau’s Nephew (1974) – which figure in the collection of the National Museum of Modern Art – continue to be some of his most discussed works and among the most influential in the history of avant-garde film. Apart from his mono-screen films made to be projected in cinema theatres, Michael Snow has produced a large number of installations in which he reveals the structural components of film and plays with the phenomena of illusion and the critical deconstruction of film projection.
Recently acquired by the Centre Pompidou, his Seated Figures (1988) film is a road movie, in the literal sense of the term. From a car door, the camera lens frames the landscape as it passes perpendicular to it. Progressively, the asphalt of the road gives way to a wild, almost Edenic nature. In allegorical terms, it could also be seen as a quest for the Promised Land with mystical resonances. Engaging a textural meditation on the monochrome as it resonates with the development of the pictorial abstraction, Michael Snow opens the experience of composition to the conditions of its own reception. As the different strata of the landscape scroll across the screen, the soundtrack of the film reminds the spectators of the artifice of cinematographic projection.
Under the pseudonym Max Knowles, Michael Snow provided the most accurate description of this in the Trafic (no. 32, 1999) review: "Whereas the camera in La Région centrale was looking in every direction, turning around an immobile and never shown "central region", in Seated Figures it runs constantly over different grounds without seeing the same thing twice. The title, Seated Figures, refers to the sitting and yet moving figure of the driver of the vehicle, to whom the camera is adjusted. But by association it also refers to the passive presence an imaginary audience that we can hear on the soundtrack, belching, yawning and rustling paper, and, in the final analysis, it refers to the real audience. All seated straight-backed in their seats, just as the image filmed flat and from top to bottom is presented vertically by being projected on the screen. The switch from active to passive also evokes the transition from the filmed image to the projected image. All the "figures" are in some sense positioned against or on or before the "background" of the two-dimensional screen, which shows plane surfaces scanned by the camera (then projected on another plane surface). With the exception of a few fixed images evoking the "X" that punctuated the sequences of La Région centrale, but which function in a completely different manner, the film is run through with an incessant formal movement, upward, downward, from left to right, from right to left, or along the four diagonals, at variable speeds. The journey begins on the asphalt of major roads, then the vehicle enters gravel roads, a sand track, rocky and muddy paths, crosses streams until it comes to grassy paths and finally drives through a prairie scattered with daisies and buttercups. From "Civilisation" to "Eden" in a film-truck!"
Michael Snow, Seated Figures, 1988, film 16mm, couleur, sonore, 43 minutes
19h - 20h30
Michael Snow, Seated Figures, 1988, film 16mm, couleur, sonore, 43 minutes, détail (photogramme)
© Michael Snow. Courtesy the artist.