Of Stan Brakhage’s ephemeral Desert, Fred Camper once wrote that “large and small, and inner and outer, worlds dance about each other in a kind of equivalency,” which is high praise for a piece that wasn’t even shot in an actual desert, and was instead just a series of extreme close-ups of a motel room table. Daïchi Saïto’s earthearthearth attempts the same sort of mysticism, albeit not from a sense of abstraction, but from the sheer magnitude of malleable physicality on display. At least that’s where the piece ultimately builds toward; the short, at first, seems constructed around a series of quick edits that function in tandem with Jason Sharp’s swelling score. These opening frames capture a wide range of dim light gradients breaking free from the darkness, with daybreak erupting from the confines of night; these flashes happen so quickly that one’s left with the imprint of an image, even when nothing is on screen. Soon, Saïto begins to superimpose these scenes on top of one another, gently layering his images with careful ease. It’s after this transitory segment that we enter into a more aggressive domain, where we’re no longer shrouded in complete darkness — it should be noted that the work comes with a recommendation to “watch in a darkened room,” which would be the only way to properly detect the opening’s visual subtleties — and now have to contend with garish color pigments and harsher noise.
The footage that follows now consists of wide, sweeping landscape shots that have been color reversed and manipulated on a tangible level (Saïto shot earthearthearth with a 16mm Bolex camera in the Atacama desert during an artistic residency in northern Argentina). These materialist manipulations encourage a more granular conception of these towering mountains, as wave after wave of intense winds blows a seemingly endless amount of loose sediments from these land masses, a process made visible only through these post-processes. But it’s around here that things begin to lose steam — or, perhaps it might be more accurate to say the work plateaus into a long, sustained section that’s still impressive without becoming inert. The score becomes less erratic, but doesn’t abandon its heightened tenor or volume; it’s certainly loud, but in a way that just hovers over the images and subsumes viewer attention in the process. So the images march on, all majestic in their own right, but perfectly content with sustaining at the same visceral register for half-an-hour. Sierras are made of pebbles, pebbles are what form sierras; we enter and exit from these two worlds, and then the sun sets once again.
Published as part of IFFR 2021 — Dispatch 4.