As I crested a flight of stairs, my eyes pulled my body into Sharon Lockhart's video installation Lunch Break. Visually, I entered a long, long tunnel, its further reaches vanishing deep in the bowels of a factory. Aesthetic, claustrophobic, magnetic, the tunnel was a space in between work areas in a shipyard. At intervals along the expanse, workers could be seen eating, reading, conversing, or just staring into space. At first I thought it was a still projection, but when my attention returned to the image after a brief chat with a friend, the worker who had been in the foreground had almost disappeared. The camera crept through the tunnel at a speed just on the threshold of perception.
As a veteran of 1970s video art, I've endured my share of works attempting to stretch time. This was something else. Lockhart's lingering pace offered a chance to inspect, to soak in the sights of an intimidating place. Her camera makes strange, accessible, and even beautiful a tough world of work, the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. The formal melding of workers and shipyard could have been dehumanizing, but the effect is quite the opposite: the workers, neither romanticized nor patronized, come through as individuals.
Lunch Break, which dates to 2008, has been widely shown and discussed, but for the SFMOMA exhibition Lockhart also produced the free Lunch Break Times, a newspaper -- yes, news on newsprint -- with all kinds of stories about the Maine shipyard, labor, and lunch breaks. Contributors range from SFMOMA curator Rudolf Frieling, Lucy R. Lippard, and Yoko Ono to Jean R. Lockhart — Sharon Lockhart's mother. The exhibition also includes several still photographs, more pieces from what Frieling describes as "a long-term collaboration with the workers."
At 7 pm tonight Lockhart will appear in person as SMOMA screens another work from the Bath Iron Works series, Double Tide, described as "a meditative portrait of a woman digging for clams." General admission is $10; museum members, students, and seniors get in for $7.