Learning about the world of multiple cinemas

Our regular contributor. Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher.
MEDIA: Feeding the imagination, desires, and emotions of increasingly mobile and displaced lives, transnational media landscapes take shape.

Mediascapes. Pratiche dell'immagine e antropologia culturale
Author: Ivan Bargna
Publisher: Meltemi Editore, Italy

For more than one hundred years, the cinema of the global north was considered the norm with all other uses treated as particular cases of «ethnographic» film. This view changed gradually within the context of a broader shift associated with the «mediascape» context – a word coined by Arjun Appadurai in order to simultaneously denote media, as well as the world created from it. The idea of «mediascape» indicated the importance of our visual environments, and simultaneously highlighted the fluid and fragmented nature of cultures as a result of intensifying global flows. Today, the climate crisis made us aware that the world is one and «we are all on the same boat». But the rising hostility towards those coming to Europe to save their lives on real – not figural boats – indicates that even in Europe, the once proverbial bastion of multiculturalism, respect for cultural diversity is at risk of being forgotten. Thus, it is important to understand that our one global world is composed of a plentitude of cultures, fluid, fragmented and diverse, and that cinema is part of this plentitude. This is the goal of Mediascapes, a book edited by Ivan Bargna, an Italian anthropologist, specialized in media and the arts, professor at the prestigious Italian Universities Bicocca and Bocconi in Milan, art curator, and ethnographer who conducts research in the Cameroon Grassfields.

A net of interactions

Mediation is not marginal or secondary in relation to a reality accessible in its immediacy – the reality is always already mediated. What we consider real is constructed in a net of interactions between various media, old and new, familiar and foreign. Thus, claims Bargna in his introduction, understanding cultural diversity requires that we pay attention to the processes by which different social formations produce and reproduce themselves, creating a proper media landscape and participating in the global mediascape. The contributions in the book investigate how the daily planetary flow of image, video, film, and television fictions are locally remodeled and re-mediated with political, social and personal strategies.

Diverse “souths” of the world are not limited to passively consume what has been produced elsewhere but actively produce audiovisual cultures.

Active production

The book documents the multi-centric contemporary world and invites the reader to re-think the differences between north and south, between centre and periphery. It makes visible how diverse «souths» of the world are not limited to passively consume what has been produced elsewhere, but actively produce audiovisual cultures that remediate tradition and modernity. This is particularly important and innovative because it shows how cultural creativity is exercised not only in production, but also in circulation and consumption not limited to redistribute what was produced, but poetically re-contextualize and reinvent what has been generated elsewhere.

In her article «Political spectacle, imagined landscapes and monarchic eco-propaganda on the north of Thailand», Amalia Rossi reports about the research performed in 2008-2009 in the northern Thai province of Nan, where particular pressures for control of strategic natural resources are accompanied by one true «war of images». Sara Beretta, in «Dgeneration: video and subjects of contemporary China», presents the latest, digital or Dgeneration of Chinese filmmakers. Her research discloses social and cultural reality in which those films are produced. The infrastructure of the pirate market before and after the web has made an alternative space possible for the circulation, consumption, and production of information, images and signifiers, stimulating self-reflection of a generation that does not aim to change society, but nevertheless represents and interprets its fractures (p. 100). Fiammetta Martegani in «Did David Betray His Soldiers? An ethnographic reading of the representation of the soldier in art and in Israeli cinema», analyses iconographic representations rooted in visual arts and animated cinema, applied within the Arab-Israeli conflict. Giovana Santanera in «Afro-modernity in powder: video experiences from Lagos to Duala» reports on her research on video production in Lagos, Nigeria and Douala, Cameroon, confirming the democratic nature of low cost, easy to use digital technologies, while also detecting pluralities of experience in what people say and do with the media, confirming the heterogeneity of «African modernity». Virginia Evi in «The land of the Red Men. Ethnography of a cinematographic experience», compares the production of the film The Land of the Red Men by Marco Bechis, one that describes the fight for the land of Guarani Kaiowa in Matto Grosso do Sul in Brazil, and the local uses of the film three years after its premiere at the 2008 Venice Film Festival – in particular, the role of the film within the political claims of the Kaiowa. Sara Mramani in «Artistic expression, representational practices and migrant spaces. The Milanese case of via Padova», shows the potentials and limits of visual anthropology, starting with the knowledge that every representation is not only a social and cultural construction but also an instrument in the fight for acknowledgment and self-determination of the individual and group. Finally, Ivan Bargna in «Spectacle of pain and aesthetics of poverty. About Enjoy Poverty by Renzo Martens» focuses on the video made by the Dutch artist in DR Congo in 2009 to analyze the relationship between humanitarianism and the production of images contributing to the construction of the other as a «victim». In the video, artistic activism takes the form of an almost ethnographic docu-fiction and remains ambiguous: the objective of artist-ethnographer is not to reach a representation that is most adequate or most participating in the pain of the other, but to demonstrate the limits of representation, including the impossibility to remain outside (p. 17)

Cultural creativity is exercised not only in production but also in circulation and consumption.

This precious book importantly contributes to the knowledge about contemporary mediascapes, in particular on various uses of cinema around the globe. It will be an interesting read not only for experts but also for non-expert audiences curious about cinema and the world beyond their own. It’s a pity it only exists in Italian. For now.