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The World, Considered: Sharon Lockhart's Watchful Eye

Sharon Lockhart Untitled 1997.jpg

Whether she's capturing the ritualized routines of a Japanese middle school girls' basketball team, poetically portraying the lunch breaks of shipyard workers, or recording the beautifully constrained dance movements of Israeli choreographer Noa Eshkol, filmmaker Sharon Lockhart intently interprets the world under her watchful lens.

Her extended film pieces carefully consider ordinary moments, drawing out single-shot scenes that swirl with kinetic movements or contemplate a quiet scene - like a clam digger troweling Maine's coastal mudflats at twilight - almost as a painting in motion. For the viewer, these scenes offer an antidote to the hyper-fast editing of the contemporary media environment, where commercials speedily flip through images, movies blast through quick cuts, and the internet compresses time, where waiting 30 seconds can feel like an infinity. In a sense, Lockhart's films are the real reality programming. Her unwavering focus captures one moment, as chance occurrences enter the frame. Her 2009 work "Pódworka" portrays the ruins of courtyards of Lodz, Poland, where children appear in front of the camera, running over the rooftops and into the dilapidated buildings, using abandoned spaces as a kind of playground. The intrigue of kids at play in what seems to be a hazardous landscape evokes the kind of opposing feelings that Lockhart so deftly elicits; an image isn't just an image, it's a hypnotic tapestry that interweaves symbols alongside emotional affect.

Sharon Lockhart will be joining artist Laura Owens at a listening party benefit for the Society for Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound at the Frank Israel-designed home of Marisa Arango this Sunday. Artbound caught up with Lockhart to discuss why she's interested in visual systems, how collaboration inspires her work, and how her films aren't really ordinary documentaries.

Collaborations seem to be a through-line in your work. How do you choose the people/works that you interact with on a creative level?

I would say that I find my work through collaboration. Often, when I am looking for a project, or a way of proceeding with a project, I find a set of collaborators that answer the questions I am asking. The collaborators, and what they bring to the project are so integral to it that I can't say they are something I choose; they just fill the need that the project created.

Lunch Break installation, 'Duane Hanson: Sculptures of Life,' 14 December 2002- 23. February 2003, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 2003. Chromogenic print. 72 x 121 inches (182.9 x 307.3 cm.) | Courtesy of the artist.

Your work often deals with systems. What interests you about them?

Systems are a way of getting outside the conventions of narrative or aesthetics that I want to challenge.

When constructing your 2012 video installation documenting the dance movements of Noa Eshkol, what unexpected revelation did you have about her works, when you were looking at the footage during the editing process?

First of all, I would challenge the idea that I documented her dance movements. I saw the work as a much more complex meditation on the nature of authorship. Although there was a lot of post production work and I did edit out some dances, for the most part the footage is as it was shot. What I learned about Noa Eshkol was learned as we prepared the dances for the shooting or as I developed other aspects of the project with the dancers.


You also seem to be interested in choreography, not just in a dance sense, but in the ways that movement of the human body can be systematized and organized. What interested you in the Japanese middle school basketball team that you profiled in your video, "Goshogaoka?"

One of the misconceptions about "Goshogaoka" or much of my work is that I am profiling or documenting the subjects of the film. The subjects are always participants in a collaboration that often is wholly outside the activities presented on the screen. In the case of "Goshogaoka," the project was about the relationship between cultures, so it was as much about the audience viewing the screen as it was about the girls and their basketball drills. What interested me was that they practiced in front of a stage and a proscenium and their activity was one that immediately posed the question of cultural interaction.

Models of Orbits in the System of Reference, Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation System: Sphere Three at Five Points in Its Rotation, 2011. Framed chromogenic print. 20 1/2 x 16 1/2 inches. | Courtesy of the artist.

Models of Orbits in the System of Reference, Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation System: Sphere Three at Five Points in Its Rotation, 2011. Framed chromogenic print. 20 1/2 x 16 1/2 inches. | Courtesy of the artist.

The sounds of the chanting and synchronized footsteps of that work seem to be a kind of hypnotic soundtrack. What aspects of sound help inform your creative practice?

With this project, I heard the sounds of the girls before I saw them. I followed the sounds inside the building and met the girls. Sound is always a huge part of what I do. All of my soundtracks are highly modulated to create the effect I'm looking for. At the same time, all of them use real sounds as a counterbalance to something that might seem completely constructed.

For this listening party, what kinds of sounds are you bringing with you?

I picked a selection of folk and country songs. Over the years I've done several projects that involved researching the American songbook and the ways songs have played a role in the life of the country. "Girl From the North Country," a Bob Dylan song he recorded with Johnny Cash in 1969, is one song I picked. I love the way the song is so evocative of the land and the relationship Americans have with it. I also love the collaboration between Dylan and Cash and the unusual harmonies they come up with towards the end. It is at once personal and social. Merle Haggard's "Kern River" was always a song that touched me but spending so much time in the foothills north of Bakersfield made it so much more real to me.


Also, how do you imagine that your selections will pair with Laura Owens' picks? What ways is your creative practice alike or different than what she does?

I am really looking forward to what Laura will present. We both worked on this separately but I think there will be an interesting symbiosis. We collaborated early on in our careers on an exhibition and there are many things we share. I think one thing that we both always try to pay a lot of attention to is how our work interacts with space and architecture. I think we also both share a connection to folk culture.

The Testing of Assumptions: Glenn Gates, Straus Center for Conservation, Harvard University, 2005. Five framed chromogenic prints. 46 x 60 inches each. | Courtesy of Blum and Poe Gallery.


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Top Image: Sharon Lockhart's Untitled, 1997. Framed chromogenic print. 48 x 48 inches (121.9 x 121.9 centimeters.) Edition of 6. | Courtesy of Blum and Poe Gallery.

About the Author

Drew Tewksbury is Managing Editor and Producer of Artbound. He has come from a diverse media background, having worked as a producer for NPR show News and Notes, a regular music columnist for L.A. Weekly’s West Coast Sound, and Se...
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