A kick out of a kick

lockhartnoTwo films at the Fabric Workshop and Museum are both supposed to be about nothing (oh, yes, guess what! they’re part of the Big Nothing exhibitions organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art). One of the films seems to hit on the something of nothingness with some success. The other is soooooooo slooooooow, I’m not sure if success is the right word for it, although from the point of view of garnering bucks and exhibitions, it may be the more successful of the two.

I saw David Hammons’ “Phat Free” at the Carnegie International a number of years ago, but all I remembered about it was the noise and the main idea, not the actual imagery. So I was surprised that the film was so blurry and hard to read. (And my picture of the film was even blurrier, so I don’t have one worth posting).

The piece is brief, showing a man kicking a bucket down the street, sometimes doggedly, sometimes with soccer-athlete flair. The work offers no reason, no plot, just the sound of the bucket, the sound of the traffic, the look of the city.


Although the action is apparently pointless, it has the charm of the simple pleasure of doing something for the hell of it. I suppose if I tried hard, I could find something to say about the fact that the kicker, who appears to be dark-skinned but may not be because the movie is dark and barely readable, is wearing a baseball cap, with his shorts hanging low to near-ankle height. I prefer to ascribe the outfit to youth (although I couldn’t tell from the darkness whether he was young or not; I could tell that he was probably a male), and I prefer to ascribe the kicking to youthful exuberance and pleasure in using his body.

But I also cannot forget that this is made by David Hammons, whose wit on racial issues can slice your nose right off your face. Why a bucket? Why an empty bucket? Although the kicker reminds me of Tantalus pushing a rock up a hill for eternity, this kicker gets to finish by kicking the bucket up to his hands. That’s good news and that’s the climax, the denouement and the end.

As energetic as the Hammons piece was, the Sharon Lockhart piece, “NO,” was not (top still is from “NO”). Some of you may have seen this film at this year’s Whitney Biennial. The story line is a Japanese husband and wife pile hay, moving it by hand, bale by bale, and then rake the hay to cover an empty field on their farm, thereby transforming the field’s texture and color. The camera is static and the film seems to be in real time; watching the process is slower than watching paint dry.


While the Hammons piece offers a vicarious sense of an action in which you can almost feel the joy of giving the bucket a kick, not so “NO.” The two people performing the work get the satisfaction of labor and progress and completion of a big job, but the viewer gets none of that. It’s stone boring repetitive labor.

I was confounded by the wife carrying hay to the pile closest to her husband and vice versa. It seemed inefficient, something I cannot believe real farm laborers would be. Is there a ritual rule being followed here? a cultural directive? Or, were they having a little joke on the filmmaker?

I also don’t buy the whole argument about it being a real-life landscape painting on film being constructed in real time. The whole point of a landscape painting has something to do with timelessness.


Furthermore, rarely does a work of art that is primarily about another art form have much juice.

That I came to these thoughts as I watched was not a good sign. But you can see for yourself, if you can bear to sit through it. Clearly there are people who disagree with me.

I’ll take David Hammons any day.

The movies are up until Aug. 14.