In Sharon Lockhart's film Podworka, the camera does not move, people rarely speak, and nothing in particular happens. And yet the film bristles with a riveting intensity, each shot a revelation that attests to the power of pensive observation.
The 31-minute Podworka, on view in the upstairs gallery at Blum & Poe in Culver City, consists of six unwavering shots, each photographed from a polite distance in a courtyard in Lodz, Poland, where children of various ages play. In one, we see an unsteady toddler, a tippy tricycle and a muddy puddle; another combines gangly youths, all knees and elbows, swinging in and out of the frame as they cavort on monkey bars. Yet another explodes with a loud, erratically bouncing ball that appears and disappears followed by a boy, and a shot toward the end shows older boys clamoring zealously up to a rooftop, bounding dangerously close to its edge, and dropping down again - hard - while a dog lazily wanders just at the edge of the frame.
Lockhart gives her subjects their space, and in place of story, character or dialogue we instead glean more abstract concepts, like the power of the frame itself, that edge around the image that marks inside from outside. But we don't just see the frame - we feel it, viscerally sensing the tension provoked when figures or objects move across its lines.
Color and texture similarly resonate, the grays and browns of rock, old brick and dirt contrasting with splashes of color on clothing and toys. And the drama? Will the dog really walk exactly along the edge of what we can see? Will the tricycle tip over? Will the ball bounce beyond the courtyard and be lost? Will a boy fall off the roof?
Lockhart, an LA-based artist who teaches at the University of Southern California's School of Fine Arts and who earned her MFA from Art Center College of Design, made Podworka on a quick visit to Poland. It continues a series of other films by Lockhart that explore cinema's unique qualities of time, space, the frame and movement. In the dazzling Double Tide, the camera frames a woman as she digs for clams on a Maine beach at dawn and at dusk, using two, unmoving shots to capture both the splendor of the landscape and the wrenching rigor of the work itself. Pine Flat is composed of 12 unmoving 10-minute shots, each of which features children from the town of Pine Flat in the Sierra Nevada foothills. These seemingly quiet films - including Podworka - invite meditation and contemplation, and each works against the bustle of contemporary living, the fury of information, and the distraction of multi-tasking.
Give yourself a treat and take in all 31 minutes of this lovely film on view at Blum & Poe, September 23 - October 29, 2011, with an opening reception Friday, September 23, 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.