Epileptic Seizure Comparison

Film strip from Epileptic Seizure Comparison (1976) by Paul Sharits
© Paul Sharits, courtesy Anthology Film Archives

Alongside Tony Conrad, Michael Snow, and Hollis Frampton, Paul Sharits is considered one of the primary representatives of structural film. He was particularly interested in the so-called flicker film: a rapid sequence of black-and-white or monochrome images whose varying intensity and rhythm create an intense experience of flickering. Those who view these films often have the impression of seeing patterns or even abstract colored spaces. These are not real spaces or patterns being depicted in the image, but neuronally elicited reactions. Sharits dealt with this phenomenon, the viewer’s subjective perception, as well as film as a material and filmic arrangements in space. While still exploring these aspects in films such as Ray Gun Virus (1966), N:O:T:H:I:N:G (1968), and T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (1968) as frontal single-screen projections in the cinema, with installations such as Shutter Interface (1975) and Epileptic Seizure Comparison (1976) he switched to a gallery setting, whose open and flexible structure enabled the construction of spaces specifically tailored to the perception of the flicker effect. He called these works locational pieces, in which, as Chrissie Iles points out, the relationships to each other of colors in space and the projection conditions predominate.[1] In Epileptic Seizure Comparison, Sharits heightened the intensity of his examination by using synchronously perceptible multiple projections and, at an acoustic level, fireworks that had been correspondingly positioned in space.

The material used in this installation stemmed from medical films that document convulsions by two epilepsy patients and originally served to study brain activity during the seizures. In his work, Sharits translated this material into a new form that for the artist was no longer of a documentary nature. He writes: Seizure Comparison is an attempt to orchestrate sound and light rhythms in an intimate and proportional space, an ongoing location wherein non-epileptic persons may begin to experience, under ‘controlled conditions,’ the majestic potentials of convulsive seizure. When viewers enter the space, they are completely enveloped by pulsating light. The stereo sound shields the space to the outside like a wall. In this way, the feeling arises that one is participating in the seizure as it is being shown in the images.[2]


  • original Title: Epileptic Seizure Comparison
  • Date: 1976
  • Genre: Film

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