Taking a break: Maine's blue collar workers
When you first walk into the Davis Gallery of the College Museum of Art, you may be startled by what you see. Standing in the middle of the gallery is a large hollow structure, pitch black on the inside except for the glow of a movie screen. This 80 minute long film, entitled â€œLunch Breakâ€ bears the namesake of an exhibit of films and photographs by Los Angeles-based artist Sharon Lockhart.
Since July 10, eight of the galleries in the College Museum of Art have been devoted to the exhibit, the focus of which is Lockhartâ€™s visits in 2008 to various factories, farms, and industrial centers in Maine. The product of those several months of travel has been a collection of conceptual films and photographs that document the workers she visited, with a particular focus on their midday break.
In the film â€œLunch Break,â€ Lockhart chronicles workers at the Bath Iron Works (BIW) where she spent much of her time getting to know the workers as individuals. While the film was originally a ten-minute tracking shot moving down an assembly hallway at the BIW, Lockhart slowed it down, added smooth transitions, and created an 80-minute high definition film.
Lockhartâ€™s experiences as a photographer really made this film a unique experience. The film was like watching a graceful, moving photograph; the camera moves slowly down a clustered, industrial hallway with workers going about their normal activity. However, the pace is so slow that the movement is minute and gradual.
Simply put, this is not your typical movie; it is to be admired for all of its subtlety and for the intensely humanistic atmosphere it generates as its unchanging point of view moves about the industrial facility.
The other film, â€œExitâ€ makes use of a static camera to show five, eight-minute shots of workers leaving the BIW shipyard each day of the workweek. Lasting forty-minutes, this film shows the almost repetitive movement of workers, carrying over-sized lunchboxes in their hands, wearing backpacks, and chatting with each other as they moveaway from the camera.
In addition to the two films, the exhibit includes several series of photographs. One series focuses on the various lunch boxes owned by workers that Lockhart. Many of them were covered with stickers and dirt and each lunchbox, in all its individuality, provided a glimpse at the character of its owner. Although a lunchbox is a mundane item, the idea of the exhibit turns the ordinary into a vibrant representation of personhood.
Another photographic series focuses on independent snack stands and businesses operated by workers within their places of employment. Another series shows workers sitting and interacting with each other, most often listening to stories and communicating their experiences both at and outside of work.
All of the photographic series used brilliant, high definition prints that emphasized photographic details and brought to life the many dimensions of industrial life. The common theme of bleakness running through the art works was heightened when contrasted with the vividness of each photograph.
There are also works by other artists featured, some of which included BIW craftsmen. This includes tools and â€œdomesticâ€ objects, which ranged from a lunchbox and fishing lures to a mobile and an ashtray. All of these objects form what Lockhart refers to as the â€œbackboneâ€ of the exhibit, bridging the people she profiled with the objects that they create.
In addition to the exhibition, Lockhart creates The Lunch Break Times, a newsletter that features stories, poetry, recipes, profiles, and other things that caters to the interests of the communities that the artist visited. The exhibit allows Maineâ€™s industrial workers to speak for themselves) and makes everday life beautiful.
â€œSharon Lockhart: Lunch Breakâ€ is on display throught October 17 and is co-organized by the College Museum of Art and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, which is part of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.