New York

“Frames”

Hunter Gallery

Whereas Mortensen was a still photographer who incorporated the resources and methods of filmmakers into his imagery, the thirteen artists on view in the “Frames” show are filmmakers who were asked by director Dorothy Zeidman to exhibit static, two-dimensional objects that relate to their film work. “At the very center of the film medium and the cinematic apparatus there is the frame,” Zeidman wrote in the press release. “The ‘motion’ of motion pictures is an illusion, based on a progression of still pictures or frames changed so rapidly that objects or people appear to move.” The works on view had one thing in common: they all explored the relationships that exist between image and time or image and narrative when such illusion is created. Yet, in spite of that common denominator, there was an enormous diversity of methods and means employed by the artists, and their explorations made the show rich in both formal variations and informational content.

Several of the artists exhibited stills from their films, but only one—Suzan Pitt, who showed four frames from Asparagus—chose to isolate single images. All of the other artists exhibited multiple images, and focused on the relationships that link pictures, and pictures and words, when they are placed within larger spatial and temporal frameworks. Robert Breer showed simple geometric drawings that were animated into one second sequences in his films 69 and 66, and that were here juxtaposed in design that could be read either sequentially or as pattern; John Rubin exhibited color frame enlargements from The Catalogue and Lozenge Lickings that looked like blow-ups of microscopic forms and stacked them in vertical arrangements; Paul Sharits showed frozen film frames from Declarative Mode, and organized these tiny colored squares into a dense, rhythmically sequenced arrangement on glass that suggested the abstract compositional harmony of music. John Knecht chose a sequence of frame enlargements depicting the torso of a man holding a spatula from his film The Primary Concerns of Roy G. Biv, and arranged these serially in a rectangular format five images high and four wide. Knecht showed four variations of this arrangement: one was still footage from the film, one showed “straight” color renditions of the same material, and two were the results of his running the images through the Xerox machine three times—at full magenta, cyan and yellow—and then bipacking them in an optical printer. The patterns of light and movement created by the multiple images varied in each case, suggesting how color influences the perception of time and change in serial photography.

Several of the artists in the exhibition worked with both images and text to examine the relationship between still photographs and narratives that develop over time. Bette Gordon, for instance, showed color location stills taken for her film Empty Suitcases, juxtaposed these photographs—a woman, flowery fields, residential and factory buildings—with fragments of a text that referred to a woman’s emotional life, dreams, thoughts about photography and political activities, but which never referred directly, to the content of the pictures themselves. James Benning exhibited tiny black-and-white film frames depicting people and scenes from the American landscape which were arranged sequentially in plexiglas boxes and juxtaposed with letters and numbers; all of these visual forms referred to motifs that were interspersed throughout the fragmented and layered text (available in the gallery) of his film Grand Opera. George Griffin created a large collage with both drawn and photographed images and texts from Lineage that playfully examined the interrelationships between the various formal, emotional, documentary and narrative elements of film “magic.” Griffin also showed two Xerox compositions that document the actual architecture of a New York City block while simultaneously exploring the distortions inherent in filmic vision, and one “flipbook” that, unlike film, allows the viewer to choose the order and time sequence in which he or she will contemplate serial images of the same urban subject matter. This “flipbook” related Griffin’s work to that of Michael Snow, whose contribution was the published book Cover to Cover.

Other artists exhibited projects that were auxiliary to their work in film. Leandro Katz showed a pyramid arrangement of 32 black-and-white time exposure photographs of a jungle waterfall that allowed him to freeze and read minor temporal movements; Rob Danielson (whose work, I felt, was the weakest in the show) exhibited two parallel rows of five photographs each, one depicting the movements of stars in the night sky, the other images from scientific texts and Nancy comic strips. Alan Berliner’s Cine-Matrix, in his words, “interprets the function of editing as a process of organization,” and consisted of a matrix of 72 three- by four-inch cardboard “frames” of various colors and designs arranged an abstract pattern. And Dana Gordon’s Camera Vaudeville/By Myself (A Photoplay) was composed of six double sets of color photographs that documented the artist’s “private” performance of dancing, jumping, posing etc. two years ago—and that, during the time span of the exhibition, transformed this private performance into a public one done for an audience in a different time and space.

Few of the works in “Frames” (Suzan Pitt’s, Leandro Katz’s and Paul Sharits’ were some exceptions) came off as successfully resolved and/or esthetically pleasing “objets d’art,” but the presentation of beautiful art works was not the point of the show. “Frames” was designed to allow filmmakers to experiment with and comment on static media, and even though the projects varied in quality and complexity the show was successful in presenting a point of view on material that is not normally seen in art galleries. While many artists who use paintings, drawings or photographs as their primary means of expression view single images as finished products, most of these filmmakers see individual pictures or symbols only relationally, as parts of larger temporal, spatial or conceptual networks. This alters both the meaning and the perception of single objects, and creates complex, often layered, visual experiences.

Shelley Rice