'Mr. Snape' Mori Gallery exhibition. 2004

by Lucy Vader, 2004
Mr. Snape's text sculptures are nothing if not the deliberate threat of an abrasive held to the dewy cheek of lexicon.

It is one thing to comprehend figurative sculpture, a domain pleasantly occupied by Mr. Snape. Abstract and psycho-abstract sculpture is another, a domain he also occupies, if somewhat precariously. However, text sculpture stands alone as a deeply offensive realm of sculpture based on the mutilation and humiliation of the last taboo: our words.

Michael likes the way letters look, consonants and vowels, (here he would begin the mutilation, he would say: consonants and bowels, competence and dowels, trowels, and so on) and where they sit in space and place and trite rubbish like that. He gives letters and words individual significance. Alone, as though definition was a mere accoutrement. What matters is their shape, what happens to them when viewed from the side and the back and beneath other letters. Meaning leaks through as a stain or after image.

These text sculptures are an irritant; they scuff the surface of lexical comfort. Great slabs of steel cut in a careful and brutal manner into words – and vestiges of words, hints of words, declarations of letters, singular and merged. They are word screens and dialogic lacework made from unapologetic four meter lengths, by two meters high, 25mm curved plates of steel.

The debasement of words, words which Michael simultaneously elevates beyond definition, is confounding. Young minds fall in love with letters, sounding them, rounding them out around lolling tongues, eking the forms across chalkboards and screens, they are a means of expression and universally understood that they must not be tampered with. Words are sacred cows. Words are etched into the psyche to be tamper-proof, recognised at the id level to be kept safe.

Unlike numbers, which individually possess meaning as symbols of this or that, letters on the whole are singularly impotent (apart from 'a'), symbolising little more than a cog waiting for deployment in the greater machine of a word. This is part of why the notion of the text sculptures is so offending. Why should words be fascinating to toy with? Toying with them borders on obscene. And yet they must be toyed with, examined from different angles, the curve of the b stretched into forced perspective, the obscure arc and straight edge of the e dangled and tipped flat. The final frontier of letters must be conquered to complete the circular (or elliptical) revolution of a jaded society. A naked woman is not shocking. But a word laid strewn, its form splayed devoid of shame, its meaning flung from its wiry little frame, fragmented and puerile, is ghastly to behold.


Looked at from below, perhaps, Mr. Snape is self publishing poetry. Upside Downside Suicide Riverside undeniably rhymes. The key is the ides. Time flies. But it is really about shape. A superficial neatness of letter formation, a tidy solid square interior.

The words (they're not really words) are taunts, goading the viewer to peer with sore eyes for meaning. And Michael's cruel secret is there is no meaning at all. He took the sacred cow to the market and sold it. But my friend Blind Freddy can see that there’s meaning. Michael just won't confess.

A Deepening Crisis / A Crisis Deepening doesn't really say that at all. The letters aren't right. They're mutilated. Does it mean what it suggests? Is Mr Snape playing social/global commentator? No. He likes the space the debased letters form, the tangled italics tracking forwards and back like parquetry. Shallow, really. In the shallows, one can stand.

These latest sculptures are an uninvited rape of text, a dry hump against the thigh of language. And I know for a fact that Michael has been aching to launch this arrogant chauvinistic attack on the last taboo for twenty years. He told me so.