Original Creator: Experimental Filmmaker Michael Snow
Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator”—an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields—bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week, on his 83rd birthday: Michael Snow.
Through decades of striking experimental film, music, and installation work, Michael Snow has established a strong reputation in the global art scene and is considered a Canadian national treasure. He began his career while attending Upper Canada College and later the Ontario College of Art, creating his first film, a short, four-minute animation entitled A to Z in 1956.
He held his first solo exhibition at age 26 in 1957, and soon after established a name for himself in his hometown of Toronto. But his rise to international notoriety emerged only when he moved to New York in 1962, where he began rubbing shoulders with influential creatives like Philip Glass and Yvonne Rainer. It was here that he created his first widely praised experimental record, New York Eye And Ear Control (1965), that reflected Snow’s interest in improvisational jazz recorded by some members in Albert Ayler’s group.
“A Y” from the soundtrack of New York Eye And Ear Control
Wavelength And Success In Filmmaking
Soon, Snow became connected to the community of filmmakers involved with Filmmakers’ Cinematheque, which has now grown into the Anthology Film Archives. This led him to apply his creativity to the medium of film, and in 1967 he completed Wavelength, a film still celebrated for its structuralist qualities. Filmmaker Jonas Mekas, curator of Filmmakers’ Cinematheque, called Wavelength “a landmark event in cinema,” and its critical reception greatly boosted Snow’s reputation as a filmmaker.
Moving into the 70s and 80s, Snow focused his creative energy on installation work. In 1981, he created Flightstop, sculptures of Canadian geese in flight, for the Toronto Eaton Center. This led to a well-known court case regarding preservation of artistic integrity when the center placed ribbons on the geese for the 1981 Christmas season. The court sided with Snow in their judgement.
In 1989, Snow created his piece The Audience for The Rogers Center (then known as SkyDome), also in Toronto. More recently in 2006, Snow’s installation The Windows Suite graced yet another building facade in Toronto. Snow described the piece as “a two hour and fifteen minute loop of many very varied sequences which are shown on plasma screens in seven windows on the façade of a new building in downtown Toronto, The Partages Hotel. The sequences are shown continuously every night from 6 PM to 3 AM. One sees the images from the street and the work is permanent, it’s supposed to keep on going forever.”
The Audience (1989)