New York

Paul Sharits, Study A for Location X: “3rd Degree,” 1982, mixed media on vellum, 18 x 23".

Paul Sharits, Study A for Location X: “3rd Degree, 1982, mixed media on vellum, 18 x 23".

Paul Sharits

Greene Naftali Gallery

Paul Sharits, Study A for Location X: “3rd Degree,” 1982, mixed media on vellum, 18 x 23".

Paul Sharits’s 2009 mini-retrospective at Greene Naftali—a congregation of works on paper and a restored version of the four-projector 16-mm film installation Shutter Interface, 1975—was truly a landmark affair, introducing a new generation to the raw force of the artist’s oeuvre. The film installation in particular, with its gorgeous looped and overlapping frames of solid hues, subjected viewers to aural and visual assault: As the flickering band of “temporal chords of color” raced across the wall, a strident sound track (designed after the alpha rhythm of Sharits’s brain) blared at nearly deafening volume. The gallery’s second exhibition of two more films and additional drawings was no less illuminating, and no less intense. It included renderings of straining, infected hands, a film that appeared to burn over and over, and another that magnified cinematic grain and infused it with brilliant color. The show further revealed Sharits’s uncommon forte, which is to portray or provoke discomfort while delivering sublime, sometimes rapturous, even transcendent experiences.

Alienating and electrifying the viewer proved key in Apparent Motion, 1975. For this thirty-minute treatise on the cellular qualities of celluloid (and a somewhat didactic illustration of the illusion of movement), Sharits used an optical printer to apply color gels to up to six superimposed layers of magnified 16-mm filmstrips. The projected reel’s spasmodic dots induced a blissfully hypnotic state, yet the piece also exposed cinematic illusions in classical structural fashion by foregrounding the materiality of film. 3rd Degree, 1982, a seven-and-a-half minute, three-projector installation—in Sharits’s words, a “locational film”—delivered a similar result: A match is lit and waved in front of the camera, the film slows down and begins to melt, and then it speeds up. Through a stroboscopic effect and refilmed segments, images blur, appear to move backward and forward, and fall in and out of sync. Meanwhile, the staccato rhythm of a woman’s voice intoning the words look, I, won’t, and talk repeats ad nauseam. The phrase, spoken as if out of defiance, is punctuated by the sound of the projector.

In addition to the two films, this show also included Sharits’s schematic “scores,” diagrams for his film installations, and two “Frozen Film Frames,” ca. 1971–76, 16-mm filmstrips pinned between two rectangular Plexiglas panes. The diverse display was in keeping with Sharits’s efforts, laid out in his 1978 text “Cinema as Cognition: Introductory Remarks,” to exhibit not only films but the materials representing the thought process that led to their creation. To show such objects together, he says, “refuses to locate . . . meaning in one object or hierarchy of objects”—it also, of course, further demystified the material mechanisms of cinema.

To Sharits, it was important that the viewer could come and go during a film’s screening. His invitation to viewers to release themselves from the cinematic illusion resonates with the burning and other acts of destruction in his oeuvre. These, he observed, are “an appreciation of the film in a sense,” allowing the medium “to reveal itself, open itself up to us, show what it is.” He looked upon film “with a certain empathy,” as he might perhaps perceive “a living being who might be being burnt.” In the recent show, an untitled work on paper (ca. 1980) cradled two 16-mm test strips; their gelatin emulsion—made of skin and bones, lest we forget—seemed to be barely clinging to the acetate base.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler