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Route Sharing II: Liminal Exhibitions for Liminal Cinemas in Oaxaca

By Viridiana Martínez Marín

Liminal exhibitions are dynamic: they change depending on the collaborators and the films being shown. To explore the idea of liminal exhibition, I’ll refer to the work of Salón de Cines Multiples (SACIMU), a group that comprises myself, Bruno Varela, Marcela Cuevas, Byron Davis, and Luis Rivera. We are a group of filmmakers, researchers, writers, and film programmers who organize ourselves according to the need for non-commercial film exhibition and programming infrastructure n the state of Oaxaca. Although we are interested in all the diverse potentials of cinema, we have an affinity for experimental cinema made in collaboration with the community.

In the state of Oaxaca, there is little infrastructure for alternative exhibition. However, cineclubs and traveling exhibitors have attracted audiences through projects like El pochote Cineclub, which was founded in 1993 by the artist Francisco Toledo and concluded in 2010. One year later, the programmer Isabel Rojas started Oaxaca Cine, which has since provided film exhibition infrastructure for venues like the Juarez Theater, and organized cycles and shows of national and international cinema that could not otherwise be seen in the center of the state.

With these powerful histories, we at Salón de Cines Múltiples have felt called upon to carry on exhibitions of experimental, analog, and community cinema in Oaxaca. It is a large state with 570 municipalities and 4.132 million inhabitants. We work from the center of the state; however, we are interested in working mainly in peripheral communities. We collaborate with friends like the Yope Project Space contemporary art gallery, the cinema Sala Elia, The General Archive of the State of Oaxaca (AGEO), and other alliances with which we are working outside the center of Oaxaca. We currently have a series of scheduled projects that have been ongoing since the second semester of the current year. Here I will focus on SACIMU's inaugural project.

SACIMU’s Bruno Varela, a filmmaker and one of the most prominent audiovisual figures in the State of Oaxaca, has been an active member of the Experimental Film Laboratory (LEC) association in Mexico City, which invited Richard Tuohy and Dianna Barrie, members of nanolab in Australia, to celebrate its tenth anniversary. Richard and Dianna hosted a workshop on how to use optical printers, and at the end showed the results of their work---a creative experimentation on 16mm color-negative film.

Together we also screened INTERSECTION, a program of eight 16mm films. The screening was organized and overseen by the SACIMU team; projectors and sound equipment were managed by Bruno Varela; and support and logistics by Kasser Sánchez from Yope. We invited the public to come to the INTERSECTION program through SACIMU and Bruno Varela’s social networks and Yope’s Instagram. The result was a success---a wide attendance, even though it is not common to attend 16 mm shows in Oaxaca. We received audiences of various ages and experience who were interested in the operation of analog and experimental cinema.

We all contribute something to this process; the division of labor for this program and workshop occurred organically and was rooted in ideas that we have thought through as a group, such as the notion of tequio, a word of Nahuatl origin that means the expectation or obligation of work or tribute in a community. In Oaxaca, the sense of tequio is essential for cooperation, exchange, and community organization. If a community garden needs repairs, people organize themselves so that each one contributes their work and materials to generate a collective benefit. It is an ancient practice that is carried out at parties, schools, and in the streets. It is a constant activity in Oaxacan common life, and so it is natural to organize in this way. We also think of the notion of Guelaguetza, a word and practice of Zapotec origin that means "to cooperate.” In Guelaguetza, responsibilities are rotated. The work is reciprocal. It is a collaborative system of sharing and exchange. Any community member who contributes their work or materials for the production of an event can request the receiver of their contribution to return the action as needed.

At SACIMU, we believe in the idea of expanded cinema—that cinema is not only audiovisual production, but also the act of conversing, generating affectivities, friendships, and alliances with other practitioners. We create alliances with artists from other disciplines: visual arts, writing, dance, music, and photography, as well as practitioners in other fields like botany, agronomy, and biology. We propose events that are based on collaborative exchange, not only from conversation but also from our different practices.

For example, we organized a session to think about cinema and the archive, like representations of the historical figure Francisco Villa, and how they have influenced historical narratives in Mexico. This took place on June 16 at the General State Archive de Oaxaca (AGEO), the state enclosure for the conservation and diffusion of historical archives. There we showed Los rollos perdidos de Pancho Villa (2003) by Gregorio Rocha, an important figure of essay films, experimental cinema, and film archives in Mexico. The film is about the archaeological investigation that Rocha did to find the 1914 film The Life of General Villa—a lost film by Christy Cabanne and Raoul Walsh.

SACIMU just started activities in the month of May; we self-manage with the support of allies like YOPE and Sala Elia, AGEO who give their Guelaguetza to help us organize our events. The exhibition equipment belongs to the members of the collective who, as a Guelaguetza, trust and lend projectors, speakers, chairs, and other materials. We hope to hold events at least once a month to continue generating support, collaborations, and new collaborators in our current rhythm.

The precariousness of resources for cinema in Oaxaca is a problem that is experienced in various states outside of the large cities in Mexico. The only viable solution is mutual support, the generation of alliances, and the potential of cinema to invent new forms of existence, new modes of community, and experimental participation. The objective of this economic and material organization is to be able to generate resources through scholarships and national and international incentives to support the management of the sessions and the corresponding payment to the agents involved. However, we are organizing the agenda of events and tracking the results of the work that we will carry out in the subsequent months. We hope to use this as a basis to apply for incentives.

In a sense, the audience can be thought of as a "film practitioner,” since it seeks to generate a link between the knowledge and practices of the agents involved by proposing interconnections with the cinematographic. For example, if we think about the linguistic diversity in Oaxaca—15 languages with 176 variants—we could approach the worlds that make up those languages through cinema as a mediating agent that is not extractivist, but diplomatic of access to others' knowledge and worlds. A liminal exhibition practice would be to read together some fragments of the Manifesto on Linguistic Diversity, the book by Yásnaya Aguilar. The texts of the manifesto are essential for thinking about the plurality of peoples and communities with their own practices and political organizations in Oaxaca and how cinema can be a means of communication and representation of the voices that inhabit those communities. A language listening session can then generate an expanded cinema activity where, after a performance, members and allies of SACIMU ask the practitioners to close their eyes and share the images that come to their mind and memory. This is going beyond a regular film exhibition, but without leaving behind its essence that of curatorial care and management. It is a liminal position, because liminality implies mutability; it implies being and letting oneself be–a constant becoming. In the contextual and social conditions in a territory like Oaxaca, where there is a multiplicity of communities, each with its own center and forms of organization, it implies not staying in a fixed position, but moving between territories and opportunities for collaboration.

Viridiana Martínez Marín is a researcher, professor, and cultural manager. She is a PhD student in humanities with a focus on cinema theory and analysis. Her current research is about liminal cinema and liminal practices in Latin America.

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