‘Do the easy thing first,’ Tom Sachs’s film Paradox Bullets (2018) begins, while a time-lapse video follows workers moving around an artist’s studio with the efficiency of a pit crew. ‘Do the easy thing first. As a warm-up to ease into the hard thing.’ After a moment of reflection on the approach, the scene starts up again. ‘The opposite is equally valid,’ continues the unmistakable voice of Werner Herzog. ‘Do the hard thing first because it takes more time, you are fresh, you can work in daytime, stores are open, and help is not out to dinner.’ In the studio, a team constructs and erects the geodesic dome that they had struggled with just a few seconds earlier.
Themes familiar from Sachs’s other industrial film-style video works – the mid-shot camera angle, desertscapes, vintage cars, a practising faith in analog mechanics – come in handy for artist Ed Ruscha, who’s managed to get his off-white Chevy booted on an isolated desert road, likely on account of the stack of tickets he’s let pile up next to him. His phone just died; he’s truly alone in the elements. ‘Avoid frustration, and keep attacking the problem until it dies. Never yell.’ In the same unorthodox methodology to problem solving – subjects of Sachs’s previous films include How to Sweep (2012), and assembling the fully functional Waffle Bike (2008) – Ruscha empties the contents of his trunk onto the street and gets to work. Something will work out. ‘We are mystics, not rationalists […] Irrational thought must be followed absolutely and logically.’
After its special screening at Frieze Los Angeles, Sachs was quick to share the credit of the film’s concept with his fellow artists. ‘We’re mystics, not rationalists’ is from Sol Lewitt’s Sentences on Conceptual Art (1968). Ruscha is a ‘conceptual father.’ He turned to his narrator. ‘I think you wrote the motto for the film, which is that the opposite is equally valid,’ he said. ‘It’s on the back of the zine!,’ he laughed.
Jennifer Higgie, frieze editorial director, jumped in. ‘Actually,’ she noted, ‘it says that the contradiction is equally valid.’ Also true.
Tom Sachs, Paradox Bullets (2018) was screened at Frieze Los Angeles on 15 February, followed by a discussion featuring Sachs, Werner Herzog and Van Neistat, moderated by Jennifer Higgie. For more information regarding the fair’s talks programme, click here.
Ed Ruscha in Tom Sachs, Paradox Bullets, 2018, film still. Courtesy: the artist