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Colin Snapp: Observatory at Galerie Alexander Levy

Colin Snapp, "Observatory" (installation view). (All images coutesy of the artist and Galerie alexander levy).

Colin Snapp: Observatory
Sep 15, 2018 - Nov 3, 2018
Galerie alexander levy
Rudi-Dutschke-Strasse 26
D-10969 Berlin


Similar to how the works of certain artists might be described as “mixed-media,” one can describe the artistry of Colin Snapp as “mixed perspective.” Working primarily in film and photography, Snapp strategically documents how people conform to ritualistic patterns of conduct. He captures distant figures observing ordinary cultural mores like walking, standing still, or photographing a pleasant landscape. The significant difference is, in Snapp’s work, these behaviors are deprived of any visible purpose. Families gathered at a national park, for example, might come off looking like lemmings: an endless flux of some unidentified, yet uniform mass disappearing at the edges of the frame, as though falling off a cliff. Along with this, the mediating borders of the camera’s lens become an awkward presence, denying the observer any pretence of clear-eyed objectivity.

I had the opportunity to interview Snapp regarding his most recent body of work, delving into subjects like ritual, cultural identity, and the pervasive anomie of Western society.

Jeffrey Grunthaner: Can you speak about the methodology behind the images you’re presenting? They have the aura of images captured by a security camera, but nothing is found footage, correct?

Colin Snapp: Yes, that's correct. None of the work in the show was appropriated. The images were created using a variety of methods. Many were taken though natural filters such as tinted windows. I then rephotographed them off a video camera LCD screen. This gives the images a faded or worn-out quality. By using hi-fi cameras to create lo-fi images I’m essentially bypassing the cameras original intent and creating something that is inherently unique. The average person spends a significant amount of time perceiving the world through some form of layer or another. If im going to document the world in a way that’s at all contemporary, then I need to consider how it’s currently being experienced and make works reflective of that experience.

JG: I’d like to talk about the way you re-present expansive, natural sites in the context of a white-walled gallery. Why do you chose to present your works framed (or on TVs), rather than in another way (say, pinned to a wall or projected)?

CS: It has to do with the architecture of the space. Much of my work is indexical and series based; and I often use traditional techniques such as frames and pedestals. My practice is site-specific, and I really enjoy the challenges that artistic presentation requires. I’ve become increasingly interested in exhibiting in a variety of settings. I recently exhibited a film at a concert venue in LA in front of three thousand people. A month earlier I screened that same film on a billboard in rural Washington state with just a handful of people. I cant say which screening was more successful. But I did learn a lot from both presentations — as each one highlighted different qualities of the movie.

Colin Snapp, "Observatory" (installation view). (All images coutesy of the artist and Galerie alexander levy).

JG: Showing in European galleries, do you see your work as introducing non-Americans to the fissure and faults inherent in American life? Do you think you could do the reverse — maybe develop a critique of European society within the context of an American gallery?

CS: That’s something I often think about. I prefer to create my art in the US, but exhibit it in Europe. America is what I know and what I feel comfortable talking about in any depth. I’m sure I could make some interesting work in Europe, but it would be from the perspective and mind of a tourist. In the US I feel I can work with more complexity, and actually study tourism while not being one.

Colin Snapp, NV Regional (2013 - 2017), HD video still. 

JG: Let’s talk more about tourism. On the one hand, given the contingency of your birth, you are more familiar with Western and mid-Western landscapes than most. On the other, these places were explored and known to native American peoples long before there was any such thing as “America.” Do you think it’s somehow fundamental to the American experience to be a perpetual tourist? At home but never truly at home?

CS: I wouldn't say it’s only fundamental to the American experience. I think you can go anywhere in the world and find people that don't feel like they fit in and are perpetually adrift in their own country. This is even more the case when you look at how we travel and navigate the world. The infrastructure of modern travel is set up in a way that makes it difficult to experience culture in an in-depth manner. There always seems to be a layer of separation. Cruise ship travel and packaged bus tours are perhaps the most obvious example of how superficial and distant we have become from the places we visit.

Colin Snapp, NV Regional (2013 - 2017), HD video still.  

JG: Perhaps more of a comment than a question — but could you talk about identity in your work? I find it striking that groups of people you capture, perhaps because they are tourists, are often reduced to facelessness, always in the midst of repetitive movements or gestures, like participants in a ritual they don’t understand. Does ritual play a significant role in your work?

CS: In some facet or another ritualism is at the core of all my work. The ritualistic nature of travel is particularly interesting to me. I choose to focus on locations that act to highlight this. My film Nv Regional is perhaps the most straight forward example. It’s a 90 minute film that portrays a mass of tourists asending and descending a hillside on the backside of the hoover dam. These tourist are walking to a view point to see the dam yet the actual dam is never revealed. The viewer only sees a steady stream of tourists that seem to be on some form of pilgrimage. In a sense it could be filmed anywhere. By not revealing signs or known landmarks my work focuses on processes and movements, rather than the actual locations. My work is about looking at something that’s considered banal or mundane and re-framing it to create a new meaning. I consider the basic act of taking a photograph one of the most ritualistic things that humans do.

Colin Snapp, "Observatory" (installation view). (All images coutesy of the artist and Galerie alexander levy).

JG: Are you currently working with new footage or materials similar to what you presented at Alexander Levy? Are there any new directions you’re hoping to go in?

CS: Yes, I’m currnetly working on several new projects im excited about. The first being a film about the spiritual nature of malls in America. I’m also working to create a sculpture exhibition with the trash and detritus left behind on Mount Everest. I would like to start focusing on more extreme forms of tourism, such as mountaineering and diving. WM

Jeffrey Grunthaner

Jeffrey Grunthaner is an artist & writer currently based in Berlin. Essays, articles, poems, and reviews have appeared via BOMB, artnet NewsThe Brooklyn RailAmerican Art CataloguesHyperallergic, Heavy Feather Review, Arcade Project, Folder, Drag City Books, and other venues. He's the author of the poetry pamphlet, Aphid Poems (The Creative Writing Department, 2022), and the full-length poetry collection Paracelsus' Trouble With Sundays (Posthuman Magazine, 2023, with art by Kenji Siratori). Some recent curatorial projects include the reading and discussion series Conversations in Contemporary Poetics at Hauser & Wirth (NY), Sun Oil for Open White Gallery (Berlin), and FEELINGS for synthesis gallery (Berlin). 

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