Abstract, experimental, hypnotic: Fischinger & Sharits

Richard Heslop’s Floating
September 2, 2012
Music, Movies and Misanthropy: On Boyd Rice and Iconoclast
September 5, 2012
By Diamuid Hester
A couple of experimental filmmakers I’ve been able to check out during my time in New York which is, unfortunately, drawing to a close.
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Raumlichtkunst, (c) Center for Visual Music
Oskar Fischinger’s work, the subject of the Whitney Museum’s “Light Art” exhibition (until Oct 28), represents some of the first attempts at immersive, multimedia performance in his early combinations of abstract imagery with the musical compositions of Alexander Laszlo.  On display is “Raumlichtkunst” [Space Light Art] (1926), a projection of three separate films whose abstract geometric forms, spirals and images of melting wax, overlaid upon monochrome fields of reds, yellows, purples, blues and black circulate through one another in indefinite, mesmerizing ways. Fischinger spoke of his work’s attempt to induce “an intoxication of light from a thousand sources” and, in the exhibit’s darkened room, immersed in the cadence of his beautiful, now dancing now tunnelling now oozing, images and surrounded by the ebb and flow of Laszlo’s percussive music, the installation is intoxicating – hypnotic, even.
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Celluloid’s hypnotic effect is similarly the focus of Paul Sharits’ work, featured as part of the New Museum’s overwhelming and, I think, carelessly curated “Ghosts in the Machine” show (until Sept 30). A contemporary and collaborator of Gysin and Burroughs, whose interest in film’s potential to induce trance-like states famously led to their “Dream Machine” experiments, Sharits’ films likewise attempt to loose the imagination from corporeal – real constraints. The work on show here is his Epileptic Seizure Comparison (1976), a stroboscopic film shown in a secluded corner of the museum’s first floor in which alternately monochrome frames and footage of epileptic attacks flicker to a rumbling, groaning soundtrack. The experience is necessarily disconcerting and, if you can bear it, in time yields a hazy, nightmarish effect.
UPDATE Sept 5, 2012:
The Center for Visual Music, credited with the restoration and re-creation of the Fischinger works on display at the Whitney, would like me to point out that its title is Oskar Fischinger: Space Light Art – A Film Environment not “Light Art” and his visuals are accompanied, not by Laszlo’s soundtrack, but by Edgar Varese’s Ionisation (1929-31) and two versions of Double Music (1941) by John Cage and Lou Harrison.