The Space Between
by Chris Kennedy
(screening notes from 2007 MFA exhibition)
The work of David Borengasser forefronts the artifacts of film. His process is that of small formats (16mm and super 8), hand-processing, and re-photography. Color shifts and grain are more than just by-products of his method. They create a pointillism that amplifies our sense of the emotional rhythms of his work. By zooming in and breaking down the colors into their constituent parts (most exemplary in the film Faces on Mars), Borengasser reveals the constellation of colors that we can either resolve into an image or pull further apart.
The three films featured here explore narrative corollaries to the space between colors. Film Diary shows the first few years of marriage, an energetic film that places primacy on momentum and proximity, through single frame filming and extreme closeups that draw the viewer in. The film begins with color images that have been bleached down to a single color layer. Each image represents a color – red, yellow, and cyan – that are combined additively to make a full color image, a moment that is represented conjugally during a shot of the evening stars.
The ebb and flow of marriage is readdressed in Red Rock, an almost Emersonian film in its use of natural metaphor. The film returns to the idea of a couple, perched on a rock near a beach. These are bodies both in and of the landscape, an extension of the rock and light, moving over the course of time, but also part of the flow of time. Their pastoral setting is interrupted by a middle passage, a long walk down an overgrown path. The sun shines forcefully through the rushes, both cleaving the vegetation in two and opening up a path through which the two must walk.
Made with Freda Banks, Faces on Mars looks at this journey from a different angle. The couple is again the focus, but they are enclosed and disturbed. The camera slowly delineates the space they are in, mapping the tension between the two characters. Soundtrack and grain amplify the mood, externalising their frustrations. Camera flares, from the end of the film roll, briefly erase the image, momentarily displacing them from their thoughts. They are driving somewhere, together, but the landscape begins to visually break apart, sympathetically mirroring their division.
Some commentators, quick to declare, yet again, the death of the medium, would condemn Borengasser's use of film as nostalgic. However, his work, and the work of people like Jenn Reeves, David Gatten, and Michael Robinson, is pointing to something akin to a New American Transcendentalism. Echoed in the music world, where artists have re-embraced psychedelia, acoustic instrumentation and lo-fi recording, filmmakers are again creating a non-doctrinaire aesthetic form, both drawing from artistic intuition and a deep set of folk and grass roots. In film, it is represented by works that return to the material of the form, but use that material as emotional, or even spiritual, amplification rather than ways of signaling political truth. Borengasser's particular talent is in narrativizing those material elements, telling stories through color, emulsion, and grain.