I interviewed Redemption creator Mariana Luiza at IDFA DocLab 2023. See more context in the rough transcript below.
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So this is episode number 13 of 19 of looking at different experiences at IFADocLab 2023. Today's episode is with Redemption, which is an immersive art piece by Mariana Luisa. So this is a multi-room immersive installation where there's a video in one room and it's all painted white and there's different smells and then you go to another room it's painted black there's an immersive installation that has a projector on the ceiling and it's pointing down with the screen on the floor and there's some water on top of the screen and so you get this experience of like the light coming from the projector reflecting within the context of that room And there's also different dimensions of smell that are permeating throughout the room as well. And so there's this juxtaposition between these two rooms that are exploring the different tensions that are symbolically being explored within the piece. So I'm going to read the synopsis to give a little bit more context and flavor. So in 1911, during the Universal Races Congress in London, the representative from Brazil presented a painting titled Ham's Redemption, featuring a black grandmother, a mestizo mother, a white father, and their light-skinned infant at the center of the frame. The painting became a symbol of racial whitening ideology in Brazil throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. More than 110 years later, creator Mariana Luisa, who identifies as black, critiques Brazil's racial legacy and offers a poetic, counter-colonial answer to the painting in an immersive installation. Redemption transforms space, image, and sound and is sent into a labyrinth. At the start of the journey, the virtual space is flooded with archival footage. As the exploration continues, we find ourselves in the dark and deep hollow of Colunga, the center of the Earth. Through a mirror of water, we find an alternative destination of Ham's redemption and meet the cosmovision of the Bantu people, ancestors to most Africans in Brazil. We feel the smoke, the magma, the skin, and the merging of life and death. Here, the experience of time is no longer linear, rather, as the Batu people believe, it curves and repeats. So this is an immersive art installation that is creating these different expositions between this racial whitening ideology and the more indigenous perspectives of the Batu people and their cosmovision and more symbolic translations of a lot of that. There's a lot of decoding that we ended up doing within the context of this conversation. But in order to experience the piece, it's merely just trying to evoke and cultivate these feelings that you get with this juxtaposition. So it's a piece that's kind of operating on many of these different layers. And throughout the course of this conversation, we're able to break down both the process of creating it, but also some of the deeper symbols and meanings behind it all. So, that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Wasteless VR Podcast. So, this interview with Mariana happened on Tuesday, November 14th, 2023, at Ivedoc Lab in Amsterdam, Netherlands. So, with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:03:09.168] Mariana Luiza: I'm Mariana Luisa, I'm a screenwriter and filmmaker, and I work for film industry in Brazil, writing mostly fiction scripts. But I've been doing an investigation for my own documentary feature film, and I ended up deciding to explore other languages, like immersive installation, and it's what I'm doing, so it's my first time doing an immersive installation. Each for the client.
[00:03:39.254] Kent Bye: Yeah Maybe could give a bit more context as to your background in your journey into making numbers of art and immersive installations.
[00:03:47.522] Mariana Luiza: I study Script in New York in New York Film Academy, and then I decided to study editing in Brazil. I'm Brazilian And I was more a person who was a watcher of VR and curious about VR and installation than a person who was working for or creating. After all this research I've done, I noticed that the message I'd like to tell couldn't fit in a film on screen. So I decided to research more other languages and explore other technologies to tell what I want to tell.
[00:04:29.464] Kent Bye: Yeah, so that's a very intriguing starting point, I guess, is that the limits of film and having to go into other modalities to explore how to tell the story. So maybe we can start by, like, what is the story of redemption that you're telling? And then what were the limits of why film was too constraining and what you're able to do here with this immersive installation here at DocLab?
[00:04:51.101] Mariana Luiza: Redemption is a project that comes from this research about a racial whitening project in Brazil that happened in 1911. The Brazilian government created a thesis to whitening the whole population until 2012. So in 100 years, they import 8,000 million European immigrants. and gave support to them to develop in Brazil. And at the same time they neglected all the black people who got freedom from the slavery. So that was the main idea, whitening phenotypically and also epistemically the whole population. And nobody talks much about it. So my first idea was to do a documentary. And I started investigating all the pictures and archives and documents to put on a film. But then I realized that much more than critique a project nation, I'd like to propose something else. That's what we call, like, redemption. The name comes from this painting, that's Ham's redemption. There was a painting that was the symbol of this project. So Brazilian government took this painting to show how they would whitening the whole population. And we, on the immersive installation, we first showed this painting. Then we explain how the government thought about this project, how they make it up. And then we propose physically another way of thinking society. And what I would like to do The principle of eugenics comes from a racial superiority. So I didn't want to make any compare or go on a dichotomic way saying that this is bad, this is good, this is better or superior or inferior, primitive or developed. No, what we want to do is to propose something else and to make people think about other perspectives. So we decided to project the film on a water mirror to play with Narciso Smith. So instead of looking at the mirror and seeing your own reflection and reinforce the importance of your own reflection, you're going to see something else and another way of living. and with other perspectives. And also, we changed the environment and the place by bringing ancestral technology with essential oils. We did a mix of essential oils from the forest, because the main idea of the Eugenic Project when they decided to bring Europeans is to, they are saying that it's to develop and bring progress to Brazil. And progress and development was really close to the forest, all the forests in Brazil and build up buildings and make a state and civilization and blah, blah, blah. So we want to bring civilizing values from the forest. So that's the main idea. And it would be difficult to put everything in a film, so we decided first starting with a labyrinth. to show in a white place, to show how they want to do something clinic in Brazil with this idea of hygienic and eugenics and whitening. And then moving to another space that has a different smell and also makes the expector to look down instead of looking on a wall or looking up. So I think all the movements that the person has to do on the installation, it's also part of the experience and putting this on a film screen wouldn't work.
[00:08:43.883] Kent Bye: Okay, so there's a lot of symbolism in this piece that you're helping to decode here that first of all there's two rooms in this piece and that the first room you walk in you see the redemption painting and then you go into this room that smells like skunk or like a weird bad odor but you're watching this film that is a lot of archival images and it's telling the story of eugenics and this racial whitening project in Brazil which I had never heard of and but there was like these graphs that were showing that they wanted to essentially have over time having a 0% population of people who were black and so they were basically saying we want this racial purity as their eugenic ideal and that you were giving information like Hitler had a really strong presence in Brazil which I also wasn't aware that that was one of the largest presence outside of Germany So you've got this both Nazi and eugenics history that you're digging into and then you walk through a flap of the door through a tunnel and then into a room that you're coming from the white room and going into a room that's black but then you see on the floor there's like you said narcissist myth of looking into the water so you have a projection onto a screen but the screen has like water on top of it which has this really interesting effect of reflecting the light back up but it's also got a very pleasant smell of these essential oils that are also happening. And the imagery is showing these indigenous scenes of people really being connected to the earth and the planet in a way that the smells are reinforcing how there's something deeper around what it means to be in relationship to the world around us. And so there's like this deeper indigenous knowledge that is being transmitted through the symbolism of the story. So yeah, overall, I get this contrast between these two rooms. And I guess when you're starting to think about how to expand out beyond just a film, where did you begin to start to piece together each of these different elements?
[00:10:42.650] Mariana Luiza: My starting point was the painting and when I see the painting you see like it's a old lady barefoot, she's on the ground and standing hands to heaven and thanking God that she has a grandson who is white. On her side, she has a daughter that's mixed, and on the right side, a European immigrant who is the father. So the idea of the painting is that he's safe in Brazil, actually. So this was my starting point, and it's a family picture. So I started thinking, well, it's a project nation and it's also a family picture. What should I do to fight against that symbol? And thinking about making another family picture, it's going to be hard because everything I choose I will be rejecting something. So if I put a family that it's not a mother, father and a son or can be a homosexual family or if I choose something, I will be not choosing anything. So I could not put everything in one frame. And this is the idea of nation. So when you put borders and you classify, you are always missing something. And I think that missing something is part that I would like to combat. So I decided to destroy the painting. I think the better idea is to destroy the nation, because once we think about nation, we think about genocide and hungry and barbarian and everything that the classes and state brings when they decide to put people in a place and classify it. So that was the main idea. And we also brought characters who, the major characters, are black men who are not on the painting. And this was very important to me because in Brazil now, the statistics says that 23% of the, no, every 23 minutes, a black man dies. It's murder. So for me, the paint also reveals that the black man doesn't even have a role in the society. The black woman has to give birth to white children. So yeah, that was the main idea. We decided to film this collection of poetic images of evoking fire, fire that comes from the ground. So it's the magma. And that's why you look to the ground when we are going to see the reflection on the water. And we also want to play not in a dichotomic way of water and fire, but as a partner. So, you are going to see a lot of fire projected onto the water, and the water is not going to put out the fire. So, that's the main message, like, much more confluence than friction. That's the theme of Edifadoc Labs. So, we have two videos in friction, But we want to propose that maybe if we open up our minds and look at other perspectives of life, of how we can live on the Earth, maybe we can confluence and do something good instead of this idea of superiority that the Eugenic Project has.
[00:14:12.644] Kent Bye: Yeah, so I guess the thing that's coming to mind is that as you're walking into this installation you're seeing the image and then you're watching the film that gives a lot of this context of eugenics and this racial whitening project and you have the smell that doesn't smell so great and you go into the next space and as you're looking down on the screen There are some really beautiful moments where there's these sparkles that are moved around, but it's being projected onto the water, so the water is actually reflecting up onto the ceiling. The ceiling is actually white, so I actually see a lot of reflections from that, but there's a really nice effect of how those sparks were going all up and down, and like you said, it's reflecting off the water, so it's actually working in harmony rather than putting them out. but they also have this burning of the image where part of the narrative that you have in the second part is that this picture that we see in the beginning is hanging in the forest now and that is a process by which there's laying down of some sort of like flammable material and then it's lit up and onto fire and then you see this picture burning and so the picture is going away. So there's a call back to this original image. Maybe you could describe what does that mean to be burning that image and is it eradicating it? Is it reclaiming it? Or how would you describe what that burning of that image means?
[00:15:31.099] Mariana Luiza: Yeah, we chose fire as this element and we are playing with Candomblé gods, so our main concept was Kayango, that's a god who has the fire of magma, so it's the principle of everything. So we thought about fire as the principle of changing something, transformation. and burning a symbol that's a monument, cultural monument in Brazil. It's like reinforcing our perspective on the history. Because when you give a street name, and in Brazil has a lot of street names on our eugenic doctors, and also a lot of monuments on the colonizers. So when we burn it, we want to reinforce that we don't accept this anymore. And we want to construct another symbol. So burning a symbol, it's another symbol. It's making another symbol. And the idea was to burn this nation project. Like, when we decided to burn the painting in a forest, we are saying that we are reinforcing the forest values. And the forest is also a civilizing value instead of the European civilizing values that Brazilian government thought that was the best for Brazil.
[00:16:57.779] Kent Bye: So that was the main idea to bring fire and all the other scenes are evoking on fire to burn out the project so in a poetic way Yeah, and you've had a couple of chances to present here at if a doc lab both at the R&D summit as well as at the doc lab live art of resistance event that happened last night and each time that you start you introduce yourself by talking a little bit more about your identity and how you identify and sort of revelations you had around your identity. Maybe you could elaborate on that a little bit, especially in the context of this project in Brazil where there is all this racial whitening project and eugenics influence and how that impacted you in some ways.
[00:17:42.575] Mariana Luiza: Yeah, I grew up in a family that's mixed. My father is white. And I started introducing myself using a picture of my grandmother and a painting that she made by herself. And she painted herself white, with her white skin and straight hair. So what scares me most about this picture and the painting, it's not only the fact that she painted herself white, But the fact that I never noticed, it took me a long time to notice. Because maybe, not maybe, for sure, I also thought there was kind of white. And this is one of the epistemical consequences of the Eugenic Project in Brazil. We grew up in a country saying that race doesn't matter, everybody's equal. But race doesn't matter and everybody's equal since you understand that you are inferior than white people. So once you start contesting, you're not equal anymore. So this idea of equality doesn't fit. And that's part of also all my research when I realized that I was denying my black identity and also a lot of mixed people, racial people in Brazil were doing the same. I understood there was not something particular to my family. There was something related to a national project. And I started trying to find how Brazil constructed this national identity based on eugenic values. And that ends in redemption.
[00:19:21.362] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah. So it's a lot of ways very personally connected to your own story, your own journey and trying to reckon with this racial whitening project and how it both impacted your ancestors and yourself and your own life. And so, yeah, as you enter in this piece, there is this short documentary film that is telling the story of this racial whitening project and it's got all this archival photos and it's got on the edges this effect that makes it feel like paper that's a hundred years old so you get this real sense of looking into the past of What I'd say is like a little bit more of like a traditional short documentary film. So maybe you could talk a bit about putting that together and the research that it sounds like you were trying to dig into that and if there was any other resources or if this story has been told in other places or how you were able to piece all this together.
[00:20:08.756] Mariana Luiza: We don't talk much about that in Brazil. And now when we were selected to DocLab and the news started coming in Brazil newspapers, everybody was calling me and saying, what? Where did you find it? And it's everything online. It's not hard to find it. It's just that I think not knowing is also part of the success of the project. Yeah, and another thing that was, for us, important to make with both films is the first one, it's more intellectual and more rational. So it goes to this idea, I think I am. But the other one, we propose something else, like, I feel I am. So it's much more to feel it than to understand it. If you know all the fundamental codes for Afro-Indigenous in Brazil, you are going to understand. but you don't need to understand. So it's also hard to explain what we are doing, because we are doing a lot of poetic things with evoking fire, but sometimes you look at it, and when you're describing how we put the fire in the forest, that this is a priest, he's writing a message to evoke fire spirits from the forest. So what he's doing, it's praying, he's doing a prayer. But you don't really need to know that to feel what he's doing. So that was the main idea of the second video. Like, pay attention to your feelings. Because sometimes, and maybe almost all the time, they are more important than the rational. That we are educated to think that the rational is the most important. But no, not always.
[00:21:57.523] Kent Bye: Yeah, definitely got that because you have a very, what I think of as like the air element or, you know, this intellectualization or it's using language to describe things. So it's a very traditional documentary form where you're giving a lot of information about the history and the context. And then you're going into the next scene, which is much more poetic and using the film medium and what is more of an abstract and poetic representation, but apparently having a lot of symbolism from these indigenous cultures so that if you're from that indigenous culture, I imagine that they would be able to watch that and be able to decode many other layers of that story. But I was in this place of awe and wonder of noticing like, okay, this is weird. I've never seen like a a screen on the floor with a projector pointing down at it and it's like reflecting up. And so you get this effect of water and also just melt really nice. And so I sort of walk away with this other feeling. So yeah, maybe it's a good time to talk about those essential oils and the smells. You said that's a indigenous technology or it's technology from the forest. So maybe you could elaborate on how you're constructing this contrast between the more pungent smells in the first part and the real pleasant smells in the second part. Just a little bit more about your process of using essential oils in this project.
[00:23:14.045] Mariana Luiza: Yeah, before talking the oils, I will also talk about the water. The water is supposed to be shaking and making waves, because reflection is also part of the experience. So every time you describe the installation, you talk about the reflection. And I'm glad, because that was our main idea. So the ceiling also, it's part of the projection. And the first room, we wanted to bring the values that Brazilian government thought that was the better values, that was eugenic and hygienic and clinic. So we brought a very white light and almost like a hospital to have this clinic feeling. And they smell like a clinic, this room that looks like a hospital, a clinic. And it's explained in an architectural way the metaphor of the eugenics principle, that's hygiene, hygiene in the society. So the light, it's really white and like hospital lights and cold, cold light. And also it smells like a hospital. That was the main idea. So it's plastic and something not inorganic. The sound of the video, it's also something interesting to talk about, this first video, we recorded the same sound of the forest. We recorded animals in the forest, birds, the waves on the trees, and also other animals. And then we kind of domesticated. the sound changing the frequency. So it's the same sound, but the first video it's a domesticated sound of the birds and frogs, etc. So when you enter in the second room, that's the other video in the black room, we decided to bring the forest. So we combined three essential oils from three different trees that open minds, that's the idea because it's always therapeutic, so it's not only the smell, and calms down. So it's to calm down a person who is there, take out distress and also calm the mental and also calm the feelings, and open mind for different perspectives. And we bring the sound of the nature and also the light of the nature. We shot only on magic and golden hour, so shot every like 15 minutes a day. So it's a little bit hard, but it was very good to the environment. And also night lights. So what we decide to do about the light, I think this is something also interesting about the technology, because we're trying to combine the technology from Western technology with Afro-indigenous technology. So it's not only indigenous, but it's the encounter between African and indigenous in Brazil. And some people from some group, there is a language group classified by German called Bantu. that gets together different ethnicities that was 80% of the people kidnapped from Africa to be slave in Brazil belongs to this group. And they have a cosmogram, a philosophical cosmogram to explain life, that it's based on the circle of the sun. So it explains a life of a person, of a planet, of an idea, anything you can explain using by this cosmogram. So when the Sun rises, it's when a person is born or an idea just comes up. And then when it's mid-time, it's the highest point of a person's life or highest point of an idea. Then it starts getting down and six o'clock it's when the Sun goes down. And it's when a person dies. When the sun goes down and when she dies, in Africa, the sun rises and goes down on the ocean. So the ocean is the line, the horizontal line. So when you die, you go deeply into the water. And the sun, at midnight, it's under the water. So we used this concept to film each scene, thinking about each part of the circle, also the circle of the fire, so you have the smoke, you have the flame, and also the light. So we shot when the sun rises and when the sun goes down. And all the night shots, we use light coming from the ground. And we use fire, or technology that creates the idea of fire. So lamps that copy the firelight. Yeah, so it's a combination between technology, like we understand technology in the Western, and also ancestral technology, like the oils, to give this sensorial experience and also to open up for different images and for different perspectives, and also the light.
[00:28:33.323] Kent Bye: Yeah, and when you think about the cycle of a day, you have the sunrise and then the midday at noon when the sun's around the meridian, I guess the solar noon when it's crossing over the meridian and then it sets. And then it's at midnight is at the opposite end of solar noon. So you have these different phases over the course of a day where you have this cycle that's really giving this sense of time of how the Earth is in relationship to the Sun by its rotation. So you have the diurnal rotation of the Sun that, from our perspective, from a geocentric perspective, the Sun is going around the earth, but it gives you this sense of time, which you can also think about how that's a metaphor for time. And so it sounds like with this technique, it's also having these different phases of these key moments of sunrise and sunset that you're using, but was there a deeper cycle that you're trying to represent for like symbolically, like the birth and the death and different phases? So maybe talk about, were there other elements of the story that you're telling that are also represent some sort of cycle?
[00:29:34.194] Mariana Luiza: Yeah, that's a very interesting question because the first film is very linear, it has a starting point and an end. And it's like the time it's written by Western, so we have pre-historical history and we have a beginning, a middle and an end. But for some indigenous and also some Afro diasporic people in Brazil, time is circular. Actually, it's not circular. Time is a spiral. So when you die and you go deep into the ocean, you will rebirth. But it's not a rebirth like the way we think that's going to start in your life. You can rebirth on a memory of somebody else. So it's always like in circles, but repeating, but it's hard to explain in English because of my lack of vocabulary, but think about the heart. Like the heart is always pumping. The pumping is the same, like the movement is the same, but it's not the same pump, otherwise you're gonna be dead. So it's always moving, changing, but in the same rhythm. So that was the idea of time, like we would like to shoot and give an experience of spiral time. And we shot on a spiral time, present, future and past get together. it's not on a line, so they are mixed and combining and living at the same time. Like Einstein, Albert Einstein talked about it and he realized about the time, so it's the same thing that he's explaining in a scientific way. The cosmogram is also another scientific way to explain this part of time, yeah.
[00:31:27.709] Kent Bye: Yeah, and another way that some researchers have talked about it is like a monochronic where time is very linear versus a polychronic or more of a cyclical nature of time where there's many different cycles that are overlapping and combining and that also the past, present, and future are melded in a way. And so in this second piece where you're trying to explore these aspects of spiral time or polychronic time or cyclical time, You have different people, but they're at different ages. Are you trying to say that this is the same character, but they're past when they're a child? Or maybe talk about the different characters that you have in this.
[00:32:02.920] Mariana Luiza: Now, on Condomblé religion, we really believe that who has knowledge, like life knowledge, it's children, who they were just born, so they have fresh mind, they are not contaminated by life, and elderly, who has all the knowledge of the life experience. And also, we want to bring the image of black people getting older, especially black men getting older, because in Brazil there is this statistic of black men murders. So we want to give a sense of a whole circle of life for black people in this project, against this project that wants to exterminate. Also we filmed some spiritual rituals that I think it puts in one same image present, past and future. So it's much more symbolic and easy to understand when you know the fundamentals, but there on each picture you have all the times combined. And yeah, so the idea is to put together children and elderly to show the circle, the complete circle of life that everybody deserves, but unfortunately not everybody has.
[00:33:20.623] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm really enjoying this opportunity to have you like decoding all these symbols. And I have a question around, like, as I went through the piece, I definitely had this intellectual experience in the first part and this emotional part of the second part. But there's all these other aspects of the symbolism that I'm not able to decode without having someone like yourself, the creator who's able to help decode it. And so just wondering in the process of creating art and communicating, like how you reckon this disconnect between all these deeper meanings of the symbols and how to potentially communicate that or if there's like things that people can look at afterwards or they can obviously listen to this podcast to get that or if you're happy with them just leaving with that emotion without really knowing all the deeper intellectualization of what it all meant.
[00:34:10.097] Mariana Luiza: That was the purpose. There was something that happened on the opening that was very interesting. A girl from Spain, she visited and she watched the first film once. And then she sat down on the floor and was watching the second film in the black room. And she watched it in looping five times. And she left crying, crying a lot. And then I went to talk to her because I was like, I want to know what she thought. And she looked at me and said, I didn't understand anything of the second video, but it touched me so hard. And then I told her, yeah, it's not to be understandable. It's to feel. It's more important. So I feel, I think that I succeed because my idea is to make you feel emotional. So if you got emotional, you were able to feel everything we planned. So, yeah, if you really want to understand, we can get, like, the codes. But it's not to be understandable. It's much more to feel. And that's the message, like, I feel I am much more than I think I am. Yeah, so that was the main idea, to get feeling. I can explain if you want to ask any image, I can tell you, but I think that's more interesting to know what you feel when you saw the man, like, putting fire on the forest and burning, then explaining what he was doing.
[00:35:47.199] Kent Bye: Yeah, I definitely had that. I guess there's a part of me where I'm trying to decode the symbols, but there's a certain point where I have no idea what this is about. I can't really decode it. It just was a series of images and so I was just left with being in awe of the imagery and also the reflections and also the really cool dynamics of like I would sometimes get down on the ground and flick the water a little bit and look up and see how the water was like reflecting in the light and how the light and water were reflecting, but also just really appreciating the contrast between the smells. Because I went through it twice, actually, because I went through it first time. I was like, I was going to do this interview, but I don't really fully understand it. So I need to go through it again. So I went. I went through seeing if I could decode more, but like you said, there was a certain level of impenetrable that I really couldn't decode it, which I guess is part of the intent, which is nice to hear. But yeah, I think the smells is also a really interesting use of a modality. It's a multi-sensory experience in that sense, but I've noticed that a lot of pieces that use smell, it's operating in such an unconscious or pre-symbolic way. It's the type of associative links that come up that I can't always articulate but it's just like a deep visceral embodied level where I have a feeling and I felt that especially the second time that I had gone through just really noticing how it made me feel going from the first room to the second room and just how much of a relief it felt to be in that room and so there was like a visceral embodied reaction that I had in this piece that I feel like smells operating at this really weird level that oftentimes is not even perceivable by the people that are going through it.
[00:37:25.881] Mariana Luiza: Yeah, yeah, there is the idea to bring other senses. So it's smell, it's another sense of seeing and being part of place. So what you wanted, much more than comparing one room with another, it's just to open up people's perspectives to see life and another point of view. Because instantaneously we aim to think and to decode things. So we want to understand, to explain, to classify. And this is very European. way of thinking. This is how the colonial process and also how the races came up, like you classify people or you classify knowledge. So this is culture and this is folklore. So with the second room, we want to go against that. So we bring smells that open others' senses, open up your senses. to decode with other parts of your body and not only the brain. So you don't need to explain to understand. It's not to be understandable. So it's to be feel it. And I think it's working because I've been It's funny and very interesting that some codes, like for fundamental in Brazil, it's the same in Africa, so I've met a girl from Zaire and another girl from Zambia and another one from Namibia and the three of them understood some fundamentals, like they explained differently a little with different details, but they understood and they agreed with me that they don't need to understand. I was really happy that Europeans who didn't understand the code were getting emotional, because that was part of the plan, so I think I succeeded. It worked.
[00:39:30.132] Kent Bye: Yeah, for sure. And because you are in the second part working with these holders of Afro indigenous knowledge, like maybe could elaborate a little bit about your process of how you worked with these different communities and how that collaboration went with you describing them, what you were trying to do, and then how that process of creating all these more ritualistic or symbolic scenes that you created with them.
[00:39:53.912] Mariana Luiza: We shot the film in Bahia state, that's northeast of Brazil. And we shot with a community that's the community of the director of photography, Flavio Rebouces. So it's his people, and now it's my people as well. I'm from Rio de Janeiro, from south. But one of the priests that we shot, it's a priest of Candomblé religion. And he's my priest, so it's the religion I follow. So it's also my community. And what we like to do, it's to make scenes, shooting what they do on their life, daily life. Except for children, that we create roles for the children. So there is a snake, coral snake grow, and this panther boy. So they are enchanted, enchanted people. But we filmed this Mãe de Santo, that's a sacerdotess, and she was praying a boy with some leaves and blessing him. She was also praying for the fire, evoking the fire. We also shot this priest putting fire on the forest, a fisherman. So yeah, the idea was to shoot daily life scenes, but evoking fire, with fire as the concept. So we spent like four months in Bahia, because we're like creating connection and also making everybody part of the film, like to understand and to think together about the scenes and to know what they could do. We shot a lot, like we have 30 hours of footage. And we couldn't put everything. We had only 15 minutes because we didn't want to make a long film to be watched, screened on the ground, so it wouldn't be much comfortable. So I think the size is okay for the experience. But yeah, we shot a lot and we're like learning from them and also learning other codes or fundamental codes and putting into the film. So the last scene, you can see like children playing kites. And this is part of a story, an old story that they tell in Brazil. During the slavery, some black people riding the cosmogram, I told you, on turtles and also on birds. and let them to send the message to Africa. And was a message to not forget. So our idea, we put these cosmograms on kites and give to the children to fly the kites and fly the message. to Africa or to the ocean. So yeah, that's how we are combining all the fundamentals and the stories from the past with messages to nowadays. And regarding the kids that are animals, we have a girl that she's a coral snake. And the coral snake is a symbol, not only for indigenous and Africans, but also in Asia, a symbol of the circle when the snake bites their own tail. The Ouroboros? Yeah. So she opens and she finishes the film. And also the panther. The panther is a symbolism from Central Africa. In Africa, the panther is not a leopard. And the leopard is the symbol of power. So, the Sacyrdotes were using the leopard skin. In Brazil, there are no leopards. There are panthers. So, we paint the hair of the kids. to pretend that they are painter and they are sacred, enchanted people who are evoking also the power and the force of the forest and the fire. Nice.
[00:44:04.967] Kent Bye: And you said earlier that you wanted to have people look down in the second part and obviously there's water in the ground that's reflecting, but was there other symbolism that you were trying to do with people, the first room, looking up a little bit when they're watching the film versus like looking down?
[00:44:20.972] Mariana Luiza: Because in Christianity, it says heaven is in the sky. And also, we are learned to look to heaven and to raise up the head. But for us, in Candomblé religion, the power, it's under the ground. It comes from the magma. That's the first fire. And so we are combining also the Narcissus myth to walk into a mirror. but also look down and change a little bit the perspective. It's also another way to change perspective, point of view.
[00:45:00.662] Kent Bye: Nice. And you had said earlier that you were trying to bring into harmony the fire and water. When I think about those two elements, I think about, well, water can put out fire, but you're trying to create a situation where they're not actually in conflict, but they're in harmony. So maybe you could elaborate on that fire and water and why you wanted to create a context under which that they're working in harmony.
[00:45:22.400] Mariana Luiza: Yeah, when you look at the cosmogram again and think about the circle of the sun, the sun comes up from the water and goes down from the water, and the sun is the biggest fire and the ocean is the biggest water, and both live together. Like, in a poetic way, of course, because the sun is not even hit by the water. But what you'd like to do is to think much more about confluence than friction. So instead of oppositions and dichotomy, that's another decode thing we learn in school. It's something or another thing. You are good or bad, there's nothing in between. So I'm right, you're wrong. Instead of saying that our perspective is better than other perspectives, we want to propose a combination of both. Because everybody needs water and fire. Humanity doesn't live without fire and without water. So they are not opposite. Not at all. But sometimes we learn from school to decode things in opposite and dichotomic. And this is not African and also indigenous philosophy way of life. They think much more in the between. And it was the proposal. So combining watching fire, projecting water, it's also make you think, oh, they live together because they are not opposite.
[00:47:00.323] Kent Bye: Yeah, and last night at the DocLab Live, Art of Resistance, you were asking a question around nations and stateless existence of some of these indigenous cultures. And you had mentioned how some of these friction elements can be introduced by the mental constructs that we have around creating borders and nation states. And so I'd love to have you elaborate a little bit on what different insights you have in terms of what the future of humanity could be without nations or kind of a stateless existence or how that plays into this piece or your ideas around this project?
[00:47:36.658] Mariana Luiza: I think we should be very, very developed as a society to think about stateless. But I really like this idea. I was saying yesterday, I mentioned Pierre Clastres, that's an anthropologist, French anthropologist. He studies indigenous society. And he says that, well, I will mention first, like Amazon forest, we have Yanomamis who are being exterminated. And they lived in the forest, in the Amazon forest, 10,000 years, much more than Christians. And since that time, they still live in the forest without deforesting the environment. So they live together with the forest. And they are considered prehistory according to this classification. Because to be in the history, you have to build up a class, and a state, and a government, and borders. But if you think on the timeline, by the time that Europeans are colonizing Brazil and the whole America, bringing barbarians, Hungary, inequality, Yanomamis were fighting to live in an equality situation, in an equality society. I'm not being romantic, saying that they are perfect, they don't have conflict. Of course they had gender conflicts, they have other conflicts, but because every society has conflict. But what Pierre Clastres says, and I mentioned him yesterday because I'm in Europe, but I could mention Nego Bispo, who is a philosopher, a Brazilian philosopher, and he says a lot about the confluence. So when I mentioned the confluence yesterday, I was mentioning what he's saying and what a lot of other indigenous and quilombola philosophers are saying since forever. But I decided to mention Pierre Clastres because, well, I'm in Europe and maybe this is a way of code, decode things. I would mention somebody who went to university, who studies, so it's a code that everybody will give importance. But he's saying the same thing as indigenous are saying since forever. And I think what I'd like to provoke yesterday is, is these people real in the prehistory because they are stateless or they are more developed because they just realized that state brings conflict, war, genocide, hungry, barbarian, everything we know. So I think it's really hard to think about a society stateless, especially nowadays that we are in a war that's about a state. But I wish we could open up the perspectives and start thinking about it and learning from Yanomamis, for example.
[00:50:42.040] Kent Bye: Yeah, definitely very timely with everything that's going on to think about these other modes of being for sure. Yeah, I guess as we wrap up, I'm curious what you think the ultimate potential of this type of immersive storytelling and immersive installations might be and what it might be able to enable.
[00:50:59.819] Mariana Luiza: I think it's the future of cinema. It's a combination of film and other way of storytelling, so I'm very, very interested. And I also think VR can take you to this immersive experience in other ways, so open up more the perspective. So I think it's a language that we can explore more to maybe put people together and combine and confluence.
[00:51:35.578] Kent Bye: Anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?
[00:51:41.237] Mariana Luiza: No, I think I gave the whole idea that's like, let's feel and combine feel and think, like feeling and thinking to be like, let's decode less and feel more.
[00:52:02.396] Kent Bye: Well, I guess we probably didn't succeed at decoding less in this podcast because we were decoding a lot, but hopefully people can experience it for themselves to have the full visceral experience of both the smell and the feeling by watching your piece. So, but yeah, I really appreciate the time that you took to decode all the things that you are creating and just talk about your process as well. Really quite fascinating to hear about. needing to go beyond the constraints of film to be able to tell the full extent of the story. And I think it succeeds on a lot of levels. So thanks again for taking the time to help break it all down. So thank you.
[00:52:34.645] Mariana Luiza: Thank you very much. It was wonderful.
[00:52:37.166] Kent Bye: So that was Mariana Luisa. She did an immersive art installation called Redemption that was showing at Ifadac Lab in 2023. So yeah, there's a lot that's going on in this piece. And I guess the paradox is that part of the intention for Mariana is to create these different juxtapositions of pungent smells and this room that's painted white. And you're looking up and watching this archival footage detailing the history of the racial whitening ideology that permeated throughout Brazil. And in the second piece, it's in a black room that smells very nice through these different essential oils. And you see this really awe-inspiring art installation with the projector on the ceiling projecting down light onto this screen that has water on top of it, as Mariana said, evoking different aspects of the Narcissus myth. but also just trying to translate a lot of the different symbols of the Bantu people to create an antidote to this racial whitening project where you have this hierarchy of advanced civilization and what is perceived as this less than or lower on the hierarchy of these indigenous traditions. But in fact, those indigenous traditions are very connected to the world around them and these different cosmological visions of even how they view time and the nature of time. So it puts you in this associative link, awe-inspiring sense of feeling as you go into the second part of the piece. And yeah, throughout the conversation here, we're unpacking all the different symbols, all the processes that she's used to create this 15-minute film that's there in the second part. But it's really quite mysterious and very specific cultural symbols that are coming from their tradition. So it feels very encoded with a lot of this very culturally specific indigenous knowledge, as well as just trying to represent a whole range of different ages. and experiences throughout the black experience there in Brazil. So yeah, just a really provocative piece overall. And I feel like it's using like multi-century dimensions of both the smell and the lighting and yeah, just creating traditional forms and then using these next forms of immersive art installation with projection, with more of the physical reflection of the water. And yeah, I just really appreciated not only the piece, but also being able to break it down and understand a lot more of it. even if that's to kind of despite the intention of Mariana to have people just be left with their experience and their feeling without having to know all the specific details of either how it was made or what all what it might have actually meant. So yeah, that's certainly a challenge with this type of symbolic piece is that, you know, there are a lot of things to be decoded and thinking about if the feeling is what's most important, then, you know, it's not necessarily important that people even need to decode it, but if there are opportunities to decode it, then what are other ways to start to do that? We obviously do that in the context of this conversation. And maybe that's the answer is that there's just conversations that happen afterwards to start to break it down. But I'm the type of person who would probably listen or watch either the behind the scenes or to really understand a lot of the deeper symbols. So yeah. So I guess that's why I have the podcast here to be able to do that and have those conversations and to share them out with the community for other folks who also want to dig in to some of the behind the scenes or the deeper intention for what's being communicated in this. One of those pieces that's mysterious when you go through it. And so, yeah, just the process of trying to understand the process of symbolic communication, but also the specific meaning of this Cosmo vision of the P'ntu people and how that's integrated throughout the course of this piece is something that I'm really super fascinated especially when you start to think about we're in the need of these different paradigm shifts and this is taking a pluralistic approach of being very open to these other ways of Seeing other ways of knowing other ways of understanding the world I think that's just something that we really need right now in the world and this is a piece that is starting to integrate and embody that so Yeah, that's I think the power of immersive art is that you can start to break out of what traditional forms of 2d film we're able to do in this immersive art installation is able to address all these larger ways of breaking out of the shackles of what film as medium can do and start to integrate all these other dimensions of the multi-sensory experience to explore the topic that she's exploring here. So yeah, just a really impressive piece of immersive art that sadly you kind of have to experience it to understand all the full dimensions of it. But hopefully throughout the course of this conversation, you can get a little bit more of what was trying to be done with it and project yourself into that based upon other experiences you may have had. So, anyway, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast, and if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.