press release

From October 15, 2011, through January 16, 2012, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present Sharon Lockhart: Lunch Break, the latest body of work by Sharon Lockhart. The exhibition, organized by Sabine Eckmann from the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis, and overseen at SFMOMA by Curator of Media Arts Rudolf Frieling, will include a large-scale film installation, selected photographs, and a Bay Area edition of the artist's free take-away newspaper, the Lunch Break Times. Through film, photography, and the print medium, Lockhart reflects on the presence of the individual in the context of industrial labor.

To create Lunch Break, the artist spent a year observing and engaging with blue-collar workers during their daily routines at Bath Iron Works, a naval shipyard in Bath, Maine. This allowed Lockhart to shed her outsider status and establish a level of intimacy and comfort with the workers. As the artist explains, "In all of my projects, I work hard to make the participants partners, so that the exchange is a personal one." Lunch Break did not materialize without a struggle, however. Lockhart's first attempts to enter the historic shipyard—the largest private employer in the state and owned by General Dynamics, the world's fifth-largest defense contractor—were repeatedly rejected by the company. But, after spending time in Bath, she secured a meeting with the local union, which supported her work and successfully lobbied for her access to the factory.

The film depicts the activities of the workers during their midday break at the shipyard. Extending ten minutes of footage into eighty minutes, Lockhart's camera passes through a long corridor of the factory in extreme slow motion, tracking 1,200 feet of the hallway without panning, zooming, editing, or changing in tempo. The factory workers conduct their normal lunch break routines, some reading, some taking a nap, some in groups and others alone, talking, eating, drinking, and listening to the radio. The depicted space in Lockhart's film is echoed in the architecture of the gallery installation at SFMOMA, a viewing space designed by Frank Escher and Ravi GuneWardena, and enhanced by a composition of industrial sounds collected from the factory space by filmmaker James Benning and composer Becky Allen.

"The extremely decelerated movement and the swelling soundtrack create anticipation for what is to come, while also establishing a sense of pause that allows the viewer to experience the film more like a photograph or tableau vivant," Frieling says. "In Lunch Break we can examine details that would be too quickly passed over at the regular speed of film. The viewer's attention and perception are constantly at work."

The contemplation of the workers' activities during their time off from production brings into view an everyday situation that foregrounds the presence of the individual. In contrast, the related photographic series emphasizes the actuality of individual objects, routines, and spaces: stickers on a lunchbox or the makeshift booths where workers sell snacks and various items.

Yet while Lunch Break focuses on day-to-day details, it reflects a much larger contemporary political and economic reality. The project's attention to the local and to the rarely portrayed experience of the working class take on a particular social and political relevance in the context of global capitalism, war, and economic recession.

Lunch Break Times

SFMOMA will offer visitors a free special-edition newspaper titled the Lunch Break Times, which Lockhart conceived as an artist project to further the dialogue of the Lunch Break exhibition. For this edition of the newspaper, an array of local writers, activists, and artists from Maine and the Bay Area will weigh in on various aspects of the history and current state of industrial labor.

Sharon Lockhart: Lunch Break Catalogue

Accompanying the exhibition tour, Sharon Lockhart: Lunch Break is a fully illustrated color catalogue, distributed by the University of Chicago Press. The catalogue includes essays by Sabine Eckmann, Mark Godfrey, and Matthias Michalka, as well as an interview by filmmaker James Benning in which Lockhart discusses her creative process and an interview with architects Frank Escher and Ravi GuneWardena conducted by András Pálffy.

Related Public Programs

In conjunction with Sharon Lockhart: Lunch Break, SFMOMA has organized a series of public programs, including a conversation with the artist and screenings of four of her recent films. Double Tide (2009), for instance, documents the work of a female clam digger in the mudflats of coastal Maine. Expanding the focus of Lockhart's recent films Lunch Break (2008) and Exit (2008), Double Tide creates a portrait of a relatively unseen and singular form of labor. Filmed on the rare occasion in which low tide occurs twice within daylight hours—once at dawn and once at dusk—Double Tide takes as its subject a worker whose job is defined by the most elemental and unchangeable forces of nature.

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Sharon Lockhart
Lunch Break
Kuratoren: Sabine Eckmann, Rudolf Frieling