Vital Coasts, Mortal Oceans: The Pearl Button as Media Environmental Philosophy

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In The Pearl Button, Patricio Guzman explores the role water played in shaping how the Selk’nam inhabited the coasts of the Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia through “cosmovisions,’ sequences that extend beyond human perception, even as they link the habitation of indigenous peoples to subsequent colonial and political projects. Guzman’s “cosmovisual aesthetic” warrants dissection in the form of a video essay because of its complicated interplay between editing and shot distance, which establishes a critical bioregionalism that acknowledges the unique qualities of place, here the Tierra del Fuego, as well as the forces of globalization that threaten it. Guzman’s cosmovisual aesthetic ranges from extreme close-ups to reveal minute details in objects to aerial shots that articulate the shapes of coasts and even to telescopic shots depicting planets and nebulae. He works with archival photography and the superimposition of images/sounds in order to create a pluriverse of peoples and environments, which moves beyond human audiovisual and temporal perception. In doing so, The Pearl Button links the ways in which the Selk’nam inhabited Chile, depending on its waters, to the ocean as the source of the colonial project of Spain and site of political murders under the later dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Guzman’s cinematic elaboration of Indigenous worldviews resonates with contemporary Chilean philosophers Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, and Ricardo Rozzi. From cybernetics to ecological philosophy, this video essay weaves the insights of these Chilean philosophers with Guzman’s cosomovisions in order to highlight the complex ecological insights at the intersection of Indigenous thought and film form. In particular, it extends Rozzi’s practical model of Field Environmental Philosophy to communicating ecological philosophy through media.


Brighton, UK

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