Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence included the denunciation of slavery. In it he accused the British King of waging war against human nature, and violating the rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him. However, this visionary passage was deleted from the final draft of the document by congress. To this he responded:
The clause too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. Our northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under those censures; for tho' their people have very few slaves themselves yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.
In 1976, Paul Sharits received a Bicentennial Film grant awarded jointly by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts. With it he created Declarative Mode, a film that celebrates the spirit and dynamism of Jefferson’s adamant declaration of human liberty for all races in pure rhythms.
The film consists of two identical prints shown simultaneously, one projected inside the image of the other. The inner image is out of sync one second in advance of the larger image creating a dynamic inter-play between the overlapping frames. The film was dedicated to Dr. Gerald O’Grady and Lillian Mak. Shaits described the film himself in the following way:
Declarative Mode is an imageless pure color work “abstract” in form but “narrative” in content. This is a “non-structural” film, even while it contains much “flicker.” One cannot predict the scene by scene fabric; nor is there an overall unifying principle. The film attempts to be like life full of unexpected twists and turns. It is an homage to Jefferson’s anti-slavery section of the Declaration of Independence (which was voted down by the first congress) and it is my declaration of independence from the tyranny of preconception, of working from an overall structure of structural logic This new chronicle form, or “abstract narrative” prefigures a long work in progress –Passare-which will be a book of temporal color with each chapter being about 30 minutes long.
Curator: Don Metz, Associate Director/Head of Public Programming