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An artist captures the joys of solitude amid a month living in a beach shack

‘I am overwhelmed by simplicity. There is so much to see.’

In 1998, the pioneering US feminist artist Barbara Hammer (1939-2019) spent a month at an artist residency in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Feeling ‘compelled to do absolutely nothing’ while living in a dune shack without running water or electricity, Hammer documented her solitude with a journal, a tape recorder and a 16mm film camera. For decades, these materials remained in her personal archive, until, as Hammer was nearing the end of her life in 2018, she entrusted her friend, the celebrated US filmmaker Lynne Sachs, to craft a film with the materials.

For the project, Sachs recorded Hammer reading from her decades-old journals during her final months. Hammer, who is known for her provocative and often controversial artworks, here provides a widely accessible yet distinctive account of solitude, beauty and where these two experiences met during her month on the beach. Her intimate, diaristic account is accompanied by gorgeous nature shots in which she plays with filters and frame rates, seemingly with no other motive than creative exploration. And, connecting past and present through her editing, including the use of words on the screen, Sachs’s treatment provides Hammer’s experience a delicate narrative structure.

In one sense, A Month of Single Frames is a touching coda to Hammer’s life, as the film concludes with the artist revisiting her own poignant meditations on mortality. But, percolating just beneath the surface is a more expansive celebration of artistry, and the artist’s ability to observe, contemplate, refract and give new contours to the world.

Director: Lynne Sachs