New York

Paul Sharits

Bykert Gallery

Paul Sharits is a filmmaker dealing only with those elements which he considers inherent to the medium. In the piece he exhibited this spring, Synchronousoundtracks (“3-screen super 8 continuous loop projection”), those elements are the movement (and speed of movement) of the strip of film itself, its celluloid transparency, and the sprocketed edges which move it through the projector. Sharits combined these simple elements in a very complex manner, one which both stresses and in some cases subverts their original state.

The piece consists of three film loops projected sideways on the wall; the projected images abut to form a single, tripartite rectangle. The image of each loop results from filming two superimposed sections of footage, one moving right to left, the other left to right. Each frame on the two original sections of footage is a different color so their overlapping creates constantly changing color mixtures. Sharits also filmed the sprocket holes of the two superimposed sections. These then appear at the top and bottom of each projection, predictably, two sets of holes moving over each other in opposite directions. The two original sections were run at varying speeds while being filmed, at which time the sprocket holes passed over a mike head. Thus there is a continuous pockity-pockity sound (something like a passing motorbike) which speeds up and slows down with the movement of the image, becoming its auditory counterpart. What is experienced then are three sections of layered color, each moving at varying speeds, and each with parallel sound. As the speed decreases, the color becomes more intense, the holes and the frames both become distinct, as do the units of sound. Speeding up, there is an almost continuous blur of color and sound. There is a lateral pull of color two ways at once; the moving frames knock against the edges of the projected image, which are in effect stationary frames. Countermovement is self-canceling; a basic fact of film (narrative or abstract), the sense of a one-directional progression through the strip of film, is altered. Rosalind Krauss, writing about Sharits’ previous exhibition in Artforum, April, 1973, points out that “nothing ‘happens.’” Now, with this basic movement confounded, not only is nothing happening, it is literally not going anywhere either.

Synchronousoundtracks is beautiful, and, given the proper information, intellectually interesting for a while. I am not sure just how much of that information is accessible in the film’s visuality. The stasis and abstraction Sharits achieves in this work make it verge on a single whole, an experience similar to that of truly static painting or sculpture. Sharits wants to isolate and strengthen the “primary aspects” of his medium. His work is a result of thinking which was applied to painting and then sculpture during the ’50s and ’60s. His camera no longer records, in any fashion, the external world; it is “nonreferential,” dealing entirely with the nature of its own existence. All this seems like a logical extension at first, but I suspect that it is based on a misapplication of theories. The notions about the physicality of painting and sculpture simply do not necessarily apply to film, whose inherent illusionism is of a different, more basic sort, just as its physicality is not particularly interesting or assertive. Still, much film has dealt with its own nature, without the total elimination of images or depiction. It is possible that Sharits has actually eliminated a primary aspect, or at least that he is simply making his point in a blatant, doctrinaire manner. If representation is not a primary aspect of film, it is certainly the most interesting. Since Sharits seems determined to do without it, it seems that he must do more to make up for its absence.

––Roberta Smith