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Illuminating Meeting of November 30, 2022

On November 30, 2022, SMRN had another warm meeting with a group of members including Gustavo Furtado, Steve Baris, Nina Czegledy, Lynn Marie Kirby, Gareth Davies, Paul Goodfellow, Mena El Shazly, Laura Marks. 

In the first part of this meeting, our member Steven Baris presented his exciting work under the title "Exurban Archipelago Project." According to Steven, his project is an ongoing investigation of the interconnections of the built environment and spatial experience. It began in 2010 and has evolved over the succeeding years in a wide range of media, including painting, video, murals, photography, digital media, and even a gigantic game board. Underlying the project is an implicit claim that whole new kinds of space—and consequently, whole new experiences of space—are steadily emerging across vast tracts of the formerly rural countryside that once lay between the larger metropolitan areas.

Steven has focused on exurbia, a term coined back in the mid-fifties that, for him, names a patchwork of engineered spaces organized according to an entirely different spatial logic than that of the more familiar urban/suburban nexuses. According to him, the critical difference between the older hub and spoke schematic, and the exurban node and network can be summarized diagrammatically. The traditional suburbs remain largely oriented towards the city centers from which they originally sprang, and thus he intuitively maps these areas as so many peripheries radiating out from their centers. Exurbia, on the other hand, operates beyond the gravitational pull of the cities and is instead arranged pell-mell and discontinuously along the outlying expressways. Its larger concentrations of development—its corporate centers, shopping malls, residential developments, and so on—are mostly clustered around prominent intersections along the extensive network of crisscrossing expressways.

Steven explained that this project focuses primarily on just one signature building type that proliferates across these regions: distribution, logistics, or fulfillment centers. These are the massive, boxlike structures often within view of the major expressways. Steven's Exurban Archipelago project explores the rigorous geometries of these imposing architectural forms and how they affect our experiences of the "floating" spaces of this postindustrial landscape.

In the second part of the meeting, our friend Gustavo Furtado gave his presentation titled "Cinematic Ontologies in the Amazon." According to Gustavo, the corpus of films made in the Amazon Forest, many of which deal with travel and exploration, is replete with fever deliriums, from malaria that ails travelers to outbreaks of epidemic disease among indigenous people in contact situations. A subtler form of delirium occurs in films that include experiences and visions that could be considered "shamanic." Gustavo stated that we are not necessarily confronted with a hallucinatory warping of reality that characterizes fever deliriums. Rather the altered vision and perception afford glimpses into another reality not mappable in geographic space or available to the human senses in ordinary conditions, much less to the camera's mechanical or electronic eye. By approaching the shamanic experience, cinema comes upon a rather promising border. Gustavo's paper discusses this border and its significance for film by establishing a dialogue between media theory, particularly the realist ontology of cinema (mostly associated with André Bazin but implicitly present, also, in the documentary realism that prevails in films made in the Amazon) and the theoretical framework of Amerindian perspectivism/multi-naturalism—part of the so-called ontological turn and the "many-worlds" theory in cultural anthropology and the Humanities writ large. Touching on a few illustrative filmic examples but focusing especially on Maya Da-Rin's work, Gustavo's paper examines the ontologies of cinema in the Amazon as manifested through unstable configurations of the visible and the invisible, the enlisting of multiple and changing subjective points-of-view, and by the creation of narrative diegeses that contain within it multiple "real" worlds.

These two presentations were followed by engaging discussions with the members in the form of questions, answers, and exchanges of thought-provoking feedback afterward.

The slides of these fascinating presentations are available on the Resources page.

*This report has been prepared with the help of Steven Baris and Gustavo Furtado.