Paul Sharits

Shutter Interface


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Not on display

Paul Sharits 1943–1993
Film, 16 mm, 4 projections, colour and sound
Overall display dimensions variable
Lent by the Tate Americas Foundation 2014
On long term loan


Shutter Interface 1975 is a film installation with four projectors. Each projects a 16mm film made up of sequences of pure, identical colour, two to eight frames long. Each sequence of colour frames is separated by a single black frame, leading to an incessant, but irregular kind of pulse in the field of the projection. The four films are projected onto a wall by projectors placed on black painted pedestals, and positioned so that one third of each image overlaps with the neighbouring image, producing seven strips of colour on the wall (four distinct projections, three overlapping areas). The filmstrips looped on each projector are each around six minutes long but are deliberately of different lengths, so the relationships of colour appear to be in constant flux, and the duration of the film seems infinite. In fact, their relationship could be characterised as one of phasing, since the cycle eventually reaches a moment where it ends and begins again. (Phasing, as a compositional device, was worked out in the early 1970s by the American composer and musician Steve Reich).

The projection is accompanied by a soundtrack emanating from four speakers, which runs along the filmstrip. It was important to the artist that the sound is both connected to the image and distanced from it. It is connected because the soundtrack was laid onto the film only underneath each black frame; as a result, the pulse of black frames and the pulse of the sound correspond to each other. Sharits explained, ‘The sound is only where there are black frames. There is this constant field of colour punctuated by these black frames that you can’t really see – this is where I chose to put the sound and that creates a firm relationship. You can’t directly observe this relationship but you feel it.’ (Quoted in Cathcart 1976, reprinted in Film Culture 1978, p.106.) Sharits wanted the sound to be ‘all-pervasive’, and for it to ‘have something to do with high-amplitude alpha-waves’ (quoted in Cathcart 1976, p.105.) However Sharits also wanted the sound – in its identity – to be separate from the image, in such a way that the installation would feel different from classical cinema, where sound is subservient to, and always connected to, the image on screen. He said of works like Shutter Interface that, ‘In these “locational works” it seems almost by accident that the sound and images happen to be in the same space.’ (Quoted in Cathcart 1976, p.104.)

Shutter Interface was Sharits’s fifth film environment, the first having been made in 1971. His term for these works was ‘locational film pieces’. Shutter Interface premiered at Art Park, New York State in 1975, and was made during a residency there. Sharits next installed it in a survey exhibition at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo in 1976. When he first showed these works, the very idea of placing projectors in the middle of a gallery space as sculptural presences was considered exceptionally radical. Sharits was exploring ‘uncharted territory’, as observed by historian Rosalind Krauss in her essay for the Albright-Knox exhibition catalogue, (Krauss 1976, reprinted in periodical Film Culture 1978, p.90). To situate the projectors thus was to cause viewers to confront the apparatus of cinematic illusion (the projector) and to think differently about the space of reception: whereas in a cinema there are seats positioned in front of, and below a projection booth, in Sharits’s installation, the spectator entered to see the machines in their space. This treatment of the viewing space and projectors, initiated by Sharits and other structuralist filmmakers of his generation in the early 1970s, has since become a convention of film installation and is now taken as commonplace in a gallery context.

In Shutter Interface in particular, Sharits confronted and exposed the workings of the projector’s shutter. Her explained that, ‘The central idea was to create a metaphor of the basic intermittency mechanism of the cinema: the shutter’ (Sharits 1978, pp.122–3). The shutter is the device in the projector that swings down between each frame on the strip, blocking the light so that the interval between frames is not projected towards the screen. The shutter, opening and closing twenty-four times a second, facilitates the illusion of movement, allowing the viewer to perceive motion rather than a succession of still images with breaks between them. As part of a career-long project to explore the apparatus of film and to question its illusionism, Sharits attempted in a number of works to reveal the workings of the shutter. In the 1960s he had done this by creating flicker-films like RAY GUN VIRUS 1966. In the mid-1970s, he realised that he could create a ‘metaphor’ for the shutter by overlapping projections so that the black frame standing for the shutter would be present in a different way. The effect of showing the shutter was to give the illusion of stopping time, since the ability not to notice the shutter is how cinema creates the illusion of time progressing. For this reason, Sharits’s works revealing the shutter create a kind of tension: the viewer sees film moving through projectors, but also senses the stasis of constant stopping. Krauss described the impact of this, writing that Sharits’s ‘use of the flicker makes it seem that one can catch the single frame as it comes by projected; that one can actually see each single moment of which motion itself is composed. The feeling of being able (almost) to stop the flow of time in order to “see” it, promotes an extraordinary tension within the viewer.’ (Krauss 1976, reprinted in periodical Film Culture 1978, p.97.)

Shutter Interface was one of the earliest film installations; it exemplified the investigation of the cinematic apparatus that characterised the structuralist film movement. Its historical significance also draws on its psychological intensity which Sharits achieved through the incessant but irregular pulsing of the image, the complex relationship of sound and image, and the contradictory sense the viewer was given of both movement and stasis. Additionally, the work reflects Sharits’s early training as a painter and ongoing interest in colour and the connections between colour, materiality and psychological affect.

Shutter Interface exists in an edition of five, of which Tate’s copy is number four.

Further reading
Rosalind Krauss, ‘Paul Sharits’, in Dream Displacements and Other Projects, exhibition catalogue, Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York 1976, reprinted in Film Culture: Paul Sharits, no.65–6, New York 1978, pp.89–102.
Linda Cathcart, ‘An Interview with Paul Sharits’, in Dream Displacements and Other Projects, exhibition catalogue, Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York 1976, reprinted in Film Culture: Paul Sharits, no.65–6, New York 1978, pp.103–8.
Paul Sharits, ‘Shutter Interface’, in Film Culture: Paul Sharits, no.65–6, New York 1978, pp.122–3.

Mark Godfrey
October 2013

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