Skies | 2012 | DV | 2:36
A condensed version of James Benning’s Ten Skies with the skies removed. Nothing but the clouds remain.
Skies is an attempt to destroy a beauty of the past in order to re-invigorate the avant-garde. It is a declaration of war on the old and dated. It has taken me thirty years to finally declare that a 100 minute film about cloud formations is a beauty worth destroying. The picturesque shots of the skies in Ten Skies certainly have the same kitschy nature as the paintings that Asger Jorn’s détourned. Since when has the avant-garde begun looking towards postcards for inspiration. Was Benning secretly commissioned by the tourism council of Southern California? What’s next, twenty-five sunsets or eleven parking lots?
In 2007, I tried to bring Ten Skies to Winnipeg since many experimental film enthusiasts in my community were interested in seeing it. I reached out to his distributor and it was simply too costly to rent (even with support of the Winnipeg Cinematheque and another artist-run centre). I ended up holding a private showing of a VHS-rip of the film (the only unofficial version of the film available at the time) to about 30 people, many of whom were filmmakers, just to see it, conceding that it wasn’t ideal projection circumstances. Much discussion ensued as a result of both the “film” and the format, and in particular, Benning’s use of sound. I had the opportunity to see Ten Skies “for real” once I moved to Toronto.
I made Ten
Skies from the VHS-rip that I showed at that screening. It was further inspired by the Film Comment article “Best of the Decade: Avant-Garde.” The best of the decade list from 2000-2009 was determined by 46 participants, many of whom were programmers for prestigious experimental film festivals. In addition, many of the participants were also artists. Of the 46 participants:
David Gatten had two works on the best avant-guard films & video list and was listed as one of the top filmmakers, Jacqueline Goss was listed as one of the top filmmakers, Toronto’s own Chris Kennedy was listed as one of the top emerging filmmakers, Matt McCormick was listed as one of the top emerging filmmakers, Lewis Klahr had two works on the best avant-guard films & video list and was listed as one of the top filmmakers, Phil Solomon had two works on the best avant-guard films and videos list and was listed as one of the top filmmakers and Scott Stark was listed as one of the top filmmakers.
Not to worry though, I’m sure all of these pollsters had enough integrity not to vote for themselves.
My film was intended as an attack on established conceptions of beauty and a critique of the above mentioned “avant-garde” establishment. It was also an attempt to think through what is appropriate for appropriation.
Skies] is an achievement of a different order, destined for eternal, well-deserved obscurity!” – Michael Sicinski, CinemaScope Magazine (2013).
“In her influential 2009 essay, “In Defense of the Poor Image,” artist and theorist Hito Steyerl associated an attachment to the “rich image” of photochemical film with “the cult of mostly make genius” and an investment in authenticity, deeming such positions “conservative in their very structure.” The notion that Ten Skies is an anachronistic and even elitist holdout seems to be part of what lies behind Canadian artist Clint Enns emphatically digital Ten
Skies (2012), a 3-minute video that uses the chromakey function of Adobe After Effects to superimpose images on top of each other, dispensing with the skies to leave only the clouds. Enns delights in trashing the pristine images of the original, transforming them into a smudgy mess of lossy video. In the accompanying artist’s statement, he explains that the remake is to be taken as a “declaration of war on the old and dated.” – Erika Balsom, Ten Skies (Australia: Fireflies Press, 2021): 141-2.
Although I did take great pleasure in “trashing the pristine images of the original,” I was also attempting to make something beautiful. That is, I see beauty in that “smudgy mess of lossy video.” Hito Stereyl asks us to rethink concepts of beauty since traditional conceptions have often excluded these types of images – those made by traditionally excluded communities and those without financial resources. On that note, my video cost only my time to make versus Benning’s film which literally cost more to make than my entire income from last year. – Clint Enns (2021).
September 3, 2013. Basement Media Fest, RAW Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Curated by LJ Frezza and Nicholas Tamburo.
August 18, 2013. Basement Media Fest, Sight Unseen, Baltimore, Maryland. Curated by LJ Frezza and Nicholas Tamburo.
June 15, 2013. Basement Media Fest, Spectacle Theater, Brooklyn, New York. Curated by LJ Frezza and Nicholas Tamburo.
May 25, 2013. Resonance Structure, EFFPortland 2013, Portland, Oregon.
May 5, 2013. Milwaukee Underground Film Festival, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
April 15 – 19, 2013. XI Image Festival, The Media Art Monographic Show, Manizales, Columbia.
pril 13, 2013. mmNemonic DVices, Images Film Festival, Toronto, Ontario. Curated by Blake Williams, Julian Carrington and Nick Benidt.
January 9, 2013. now what, Microscope Gallery, Brooklyn, New York. Curated by Elle Burchill and Andrea Monti.
September 28, 2012. Do iPhones Dream of Electric People, WNDX, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
July 2012. “Ten Skies.” Breathing Space, Autonomous Centre, Čakovec, Croatia. Organized by Heidi Phillips and Kruno Jošt.