Sharon Lockhart b. 1964
Teatro Amazonas (1999)
Director: Sharon Lockhart
Year: 1999
Time: 39 mins
Music: Becky Allen

One of the most aesthetically rigorous and fecund artists in contemporary experimental filmmaking, Sharon Lockhart has been confounding boundaries between cinema and photography for over three decades, complementing her tight formal exercises with an ethnographic sensibility rarely found on the screen. Teatro Amazonas is undoubtedly among her most radical and intriguing works. The setting is an opera house built in Manaus during the rubber exploration boom of the 19th century. The audience in this Fitzcarraldo utopia, presumably unacquainted with the kind of music to be performed, was personally selected by Lockhart herself. comprising locals descending from both native Amazonians and Europeans. Hidden and fixed, the camera records the audience watching a performance of a musical piece by Becky Allen, specially commissioned for the event. Allen's piece is a powerful minimalist work for choir in which acoustic space, initially overtaken by the singers, gradually gives in to silence - or, to be more precise, to the audience's own choral noise. A sound mass initially emanates from twelve invisible groups of five musicians intoning one single note in vowel cycles, vanishing imperceptibly till only one of these groups is left, therefore allowing the audience's presence to slowly emerge in all its boredom and discomfort. Lockhart thus forces a series of identifications on the part of her "ideal viewer": on one level, of course, it is a matter of observers observed, of viewers viewing viewers, both probably restless to the same degree; but on another level there is also a perhaps uncomfortable identification of the urban bourgeois viewer with the director, the composer, the (secretly local) choral group and the camera, somehow mitigating the previous identification. The way in which this strange triangle, composed by the artists and the two spectators, is designed to shift between such identifications endangers some of the most basic and unconscious notions of gaze hierarchy and fixity which are at the very heart of both the ethnographic and cinematographic enterprise, forcing us to reconsider, if only for a while, our own place in the trinity. -- Eye of Sound