This paper explores the aesthetics of the casual in Sharon Lockhart’s cinema, arguing that Lockhart radically extends what P. Adams Sitney described as post-WWII American avant-garde cinema’s “native posture of hanging out,” their unconscious following of Walt Whitman’s chant “I lean and loaf at my ease.” I argue that Lockhart’s films, characterized by extreme static long-takes of landscapes and subjects who, whether at work or play, “hang out” in front of her camera, develop a social and environmental ethos that might best be understood in the context of what Stanley Cavell called Emersonian Perfectionism, premised in part on Emerson’s avoidance of “clutching” at the natural world. Pinpointing Lockhart’s aesthetics as one that performs such an avoidance, I consider how her work also enacts what Leo Bersani following Georg Simmel calls “sociability,” or, “a form of relationality uncontaminated by desire,” to show that Lockhart’s uniquely suggestive, non-intrusive aesthetics perform the ethics of living “less invasively in the world” that deploy the dynamics of queer sociability to advance an environmental ethos. I will go on to argue that the sociability which underpins much of Lockhart’s recent cinema and her adjacent projects helps to identify a broader tendency in contemporary experimental cinema (in the works of Tacita Dean, Daïchi Saïto, and Malena Szlam) where casual glances at landscapes achieved through less durational process shots and faster cuts undermine an ends-oriented logic of environmental consumption.
This is an in person event but a Vimeo livestream will be available.
Rebecca A. Sheehan is Professor of Cinema and Television Arts at California State University, Fullerton. Her book, American Avant-Garde Cinema's Philosophy of the In-Between (Oxford University Press, 2020) examines the intersections between American avant-garde cinema and film-philosophy. She is also the co-editor of Border Cinema: Reimagining Identity Through Aesthetics (Rutgers University Press, 2019), a collection that looks at border studies through the lens of media aesthetics. She is currently at work on a manuscript entitled Cinema’s Laocoön: Film, Sculpture and the Virtual, which examines the interface between cinema and sculpture, paying particular attention to sculpture’s role in Deleuze’s conception of the time-image and the relationship between sculpture and virtual reality. Sheehan’s work on topics ranging from experimental cinema, sculpture and cinema, epistolary cinema, the biopic, and border cinema has appeared in edited book collections and various journals including Discourse, Screen, Film Studies and Screening the Past.