February 26, 2007
Ten Skies, 2004
While James Benning's 13 Lakes captures the materiality, self-equilibration, and memory of water, the film's equally rigorous and abstractly hypnotic companion piece, Ten Skies illustrates the mutability, ephermerality, and transience of nature. Shot in Val Verde, California, the film consists of ten minute, stationary shots of ten isolated skyscapes set against the ambient sounds of the unseen (but implied) diverse landscape, as each cloud formation dissipates, morphs, displaces, or is otherwise transformed by its environment: the shifting symmetry of parallel line trails created by the residual plumes from jet engines that have long traversed the airspace, the tincture of orange that suffuses the lower frame from a setting sun, the obscuration and otherworldly discoloration from a distant, raging fire, the rapid movement of billowy clouds to the top of the frame, accelerated by the propulsive, rapid expansion of liberated exhaust fumes from an industrial factory operation, the tranquility of a near static sky momentary interrupted by the intrusion of real and artificial birds in flight (an earlier image of a traversing airplane is visually repeated a shot of a small flock of birds darting across the frame). In illustrating the decontextualization of cloud formations from a fixed point of reference in their insubstantiality and amorphous autonomy, Ten Skies reflects their seeming existence outside of time, creating a contemplative, peaceful, and indelible illustration of environmental fragility and transitory - yet paradoxically eternal - quotidian sublimity.